Unbeknownst to many, there is a whole spectrum of social classes in Haiti. These social classes primarily include the Haitian bourgeoisie, the Haitian middle class, and the very poor (what the media typically shows us of Haiti). The Haitian bourgeoisie is real and exists at the very top of the social totem pole; the class divisions trickle down from there. At the very bottom of the totem pole are the “habitants“, the slum dwellers. It seems the higher you are on the social scale, the more concerned you are with your social status, social faux-pas, and who you and your family members associate with. In Haiti, the bourgeoisie rarely ever intermingle with the lowest class folks; these status lines are pretty cut and dry.
However, when Haitians immigrate to the States, these divisions become less clear for several reasons, one of which is that the general American public is not privy to Haitian social standings. And while the native Haitians (among themselves) still respect these boundaries, their first generation Haitian-American offspring don’t necessarily abide by these same rules.
For example, Haitian parents from very different social classes may send their kids to the same school and these Haitian-American students intermingle without concerning themselves with what social class their parents might be in. In fact, oftentimes Haitian-Americans students find that they have most in common with their Haitian-American classmates based on nationality and their shared experience of trying to reconcile both their Haitian and American cultures. Their parents, however, might feel totally different about the degree of commonalities between them.
Growing up, whenever I’ve shared that I’ve made a Haitian friend at school, my parents would often ask questions like “What’s their last name? Do you know their parents’ name? What town are their parents from?” trying to piece their family history together in a way that would help them determine whether I was socializing upward or downward. Usually, much to my parents chagrin, I’d not know much more than the new friend’s last name (often intentionally), as the other information is really of no concern to me. For this reason I’ve sometimes found it easier to date American guys rather then deal with the intricacies of the background check involved with dating Haitian guys. (I should note, despite my efforts of silence and ignorance, the Haitian immigrant community is a small one and 9 times out of 10, my parents would already know something about that someone’s family anyway).
The great thing about this “State-side Blending” of Haitian social classes is that Haitian-Americans from all social levels can find themselves on even ground in terms of education (which in my opinion is the root of one’s future) — and often do become true equals, and even close friends — something that may have never happened in Haiti. But isn’t that what coming to “the land of opportunity” is all about — having opportunity?
Have you experienced this? How have you been affected by your family’s perception of social class? How has it affected your own personal perception of social class?