A Dispersed Diaspora: Haitians in Chicago, 1935-2010

Courtney Cain, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

My research investigates the formation of the Haitian diaspora in Chicago over the twentieth century. Through original oral history interviews with key community leaders, analysis of Chicago-based newspapers, and previously unexamined organizational records, this is the first comprehensive study to look at the Haitian diaspora in Chicago, that is the formation of a community of migrants from the Caribbean nation of Haiti who have settled in the Windy City.  I argue that Chicago’s Haitian diaspora is different from the more recognized and studied Haitian diasporas in New York and Miami and other African diasporic communities for several reasons. First, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian man founded the city around 1770, which highlights the initial formation of Chicago as a diasporic space. DuSable’s legacy also generated unique connections between Haiti and Chicago which would grow over time and lead to the formation of a Haitian community in Chicago during the twentieth century. Secondly, the class composition of Haitians who moved to Chicago is unique; the Chicago diaspora is defined by its middle-classed and educated base which highlights the educational opportunities that brought Haitians to Chicago. Finally, the Chicago diaspora is smaller (about 20,000-30,000 people today) and dispersed around the city. The spatial and demographic characteristics of Chicago influenced the ways that Haitians in the city built and maintained connections with one another and with Haiti; because there is no centralized Haitian neighborhood in Chicago, this diaspora formed through social and familial networks. These networks include professional and philanthropic organizations, churches, social clubs, and social gatherings.