FAU’S Haitian community

Florida Atlantic University is home to three organizations representing the Haitian community.


Members of Neg Kreyol, Inc., a FAU student organization for Haitian men. Courtesy of Neg Kreyol, Inc.

Mary Rasura, Senior Staff Witer

Haitian immigration has been constant through the history of the United States since the colonial era, both as enslaved and free people. Dec. 12, 1972, marked the largest immigration movement of Haitians to South Florida seeking political asylum from the prosecution of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. 

Florida Atlantic University was founded a little more than a decade earlier in 1961, with Haitian migration developing alongside the university’s growth. Haiti is less than 1,000 miles from FAU, making you closer to Haiti than California.

Today, FAU is home to three Haitian student organizations: Konbit Kreyol focuses on all Haitian students, Neg Kreyol, Inc., is focused on Haitian men and Fanm Kreyol, Inc., is focused on Haitian women. 

Vania Bocage is a Haitian-American member of the Boca Raton House of Representatives and a senior public management major. She plans to join Konbit Kreyol this semester and stated that her main connection to Haiti is through her Haitian father’s ancestry. 

“I would say when I was younger, I wish I had more of a connection because when you’re not fully something, the people that are, they want to know ‘why aren’t you in tune with your heritage? Why don’t you know much about the language, the food, the culture?’” Bocage said. “And a lot of that made me feel sad, and I didn’t really have a place.”

Going to university in the U.S. can be a tool for social mobility, leading to immigrant parents being aware of this when raising their children.

“Being from an immigrant family, as a child they raise you in a certain type of way to where you’re expected to achieve success. Haitian parents worked extremely hard to be able to provide their children, their American children, a certain lifestyle to be able to be successful in America,” Bocage said. 

Jasen Santerre, a senior business management major and member of Neg Kreyol, Inc., feels similarly as a Haitian-American first-generation college student. He acknowledges that his parents were unselfish in leaving their country behind for the U.S.

Santerre believes the level of opportunity present in the U.S. that isn’t present in other countries leads to his parents wanting him to succeed. He says that he understands and respects why his parents, and Haitian parents in general, have high expectations. 

“Because our parents didn’t have the opportunities and resources to be as successful as we have in the U.S.,” Santerre said. “We have all these tools, resources to make us great, but in other countries, they don’t have that. So it makes sense why the expectation, why the bar is so high.”

Jacqueline Charles is a longtime Miami Herald journalist who has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for over a decade. Migrating from Haiti to the U.S. is a treacherous journey, she said.

“Today, we are in an ongoing crisis of Haitians fleeing, taking to the sea by boats, dangerous boats in order to escape,” Charles said. “They’re not just escaping the economic and social breakdown in the country but they will tell you that they are escaping for their lives. They’re risking their lives to save their lives.”

One of the most well-known natural disasters that affected Haiti was the 2010 earthquake. At the time, Haiti was in the news showcasing the devastation, leading to young people wanting more nuance in media representation.   

“You had a lot of young people that sort of just wised up to Haiti, but they really wanted to push the beautiful beaches and the beautiful culture and the delicious food, and this rich history of former slaves defeating their colonizers, the French, to become the first black Republic,” Charles said. 

Bocage believes Haiti offers more than what is typically covered in the news. 

“The news media has portrayed Haiti, they’ve portrayed Haiti to be a poor, developing country. We’re just full of diseases and malnourished children and things like that,” Bocage said. “While there are some cases of it, the media makes that the full scope. And from what I’ve been told by family members and other people, Haiti is actually a beautiful country. Beautiful language, amazing, delicious food and just rich culture, and I wish more people would be able to experience that.”

Abigail Augustin, a junior exercise science major and the president of Konbit Kreyol, is also a Haitian-American first-generation student. She is additionally a member of Fanm Kreyol, Inc., and the vice president of Tri-Alpha First-Generation Honors Society. Augustin is a scholar in the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program, a mentorship program that helps low-income first-generation college students finish their FAU degree in four or less years, debt-free. 

“When you’re first generation, you might not know where to go or what to do. Whatever question I had, I would just ask the director or the assistant director [of Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program],” she said. 

Augustin states that she is grateful to have the opportunity to pursue her college education when her parents did not. 

“I’m put in a situation where now I’m able to have the connections and I have the educational tools for furthering my career and things like that and they didn’t have that opportunity,” she said.

Members of Fanm Kreyol, Inc., a FAU student organization for Haitian women. Courtesy of Fanm Kreyol, Inc.

Annabelle Lanoue is a sophomore health science major and Haitian-American. She was raised mainly by her Haitian grandparents and Creole is her native language. She is also a first-generation college student and joined Fanm Kreyol, Inc., for the relationship it would provide with other Haitian women.

“There’s many organizations that recognize and bring women together,” Lanoue said. “But when you find something that’s specifically for your culture, where you get to bond with a sisterhood with women from your culture, and you guys get to encourage each other and get each other to your goals and where you want to be in life. I thought it would be a wonderful thing for me to join Fanm Kreyol.”

Lucas Endicott is the regional director of Course Study at Saint Paul School of Theology and a longtime researcher of higher education in Haiti. He wrote last year an academic article entitled “Educated for Somewhere Else: Borderlands and Belonging in Caribbean Haiti” where he interviewed nine educational leaders in Haiti who had each received a degree outside of the country. 

According to the article, only 2% of the total population in Haiti has received a professional or technical education. However, 81.73% of second-generation Haitians in the U.S. attained some college education. The article states this is demonstrating higher education achievement than other immigrant groups. 

Endicott discusses in the article how there are more students graduating from secondary school in Haiti than there are spots in universities, with 47% of students in 2009 not gaining a space in Haiti’s public universities. 

“It’s pretty amazing how few spaces there are for as many students who want that,” he said. “And so then those students are compelled to do one of three things: either they go someplace else, so they primarily go to the Dominican Republic to college or university there, or they wait for their spots, or they enter a job market.”

The article states students entering directly into the job market are doing so “for better or for worse.” In his research, Endicott found that pursuing higher education outside of Haiti is looked upon favorably.

“One thing that they mentioned was that if you go somewhere else, you get a certain amount of respectability,” Endicott said. “Because now your degree is from France, or from Canada, or wherever it may be, or from Florida Atlantic. And you come back to Haiti, and you’re perceived now as more valuable as when you left.”

Editor’s note: This story is in the UP’s latest issue that can be found physically on the distribution boxes around campus or digitally through our Issuu page.

Mary Rasura is a senior staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @maryrasura.