“You know Haitians…” : the challenges of community organizing among the Haitian diaspora in Paris, France

Chanel-Blot, Mitsy Anne
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This dissertation focuses on the experiences of Haitians living in France who are active in organizations seeking to benefit Haiti. Focusing on “hometown associations”—collectives formed by members of the diaspora who are generally from the same town, that engage in activities and projects for the benefit of their home country—my main question is how do a group of Haitians, committed to transnational engagement between France and Haiti, manage the challenges, pressures, and expectations in being a “diaspora” in light of the category’s increasing institutionalization? Previous research has examined the impact of hometown associations in nations such as Mexico, but I sought to understand their importance in the context of personal, national, and international agendas, agendas that often neutralize or undermine the purpose of hometown associations. Despite increasing attention by national and international policy makers citing diasporas as integral to the survival and growth of struggling nations, my research shows that there is little support given to such collectivities, especially in the case of the Haitian diaspora. I argue that diaspora as a category has become more institutionalized, and as a result is inhibiting progressive, grassroots change more that it empowers. My research hopes to highlight this trend so that policy makers and humanitarians can take a step back to better identify the future of diaspora as a geopolitical force for change in countries like Haiti, and gauge whether it can still function under the weight of its signification.