Examining social class and help-seeking behaviors among Haitian immigrants in the United States



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Haitians in the United States represent the fourth largest immigrant population from the Caribbean. As in the case of many immigrant populations, Haitian immigrant adaptation has been challenged by social, political and economic factors, and as a result they have had to seek legal, health, and social services. According to the literature, help-seeking behaviors among Haitian immigrants have been associated with traditional indices of socioeconomic status, namely education, occupation, or income. This study takes a more in-depth look at the influence of social class by approaching it as cultural construct in the context of historical patterns of Haitian immigrant incorporation. Most Haitians arrived during the latter half of the 20th century in four successive waves, the 1957, 1970, 1980 and 1991 wave. Each of these waves of Haitian immigration represented a distinct context of departure and social class composition. A qualitative approach was used to obtain rich information on the role of help-seeking in the immigration and incorporation experience of Haitians from the perspective of immigrants who arrived during the four distinct waves of immigration. Individual and focused group interviews were conducted in English, Creole, and French with a purposive and snowball sample of 43 Haitian immigrants currently living in south Florida. Using a grounded theory approach, the analysis generated six categories related to the Haitian immigrant experience: orientation at time of arrival, establishment of social connections, issues of trust, generational effects, cultural constructs of social class, and perspectives on the help-seeking experience. Key findings emerged that identified the importance of social connections in Haitian help-seeking behaviors in the context of a complex Haitian social class construct imbedded in historical, political, and economic positioning. Specifically, across all immigration waves, regardless of social background--from the highly educated doctor who arrived in the 1950s to the rural peasant who arrived in the 1990s--Haitian immigrants identified an individual of Haitian descent residing in the United States on whom they relied for assistance in obtaining resources. This system of social connections reflected the social constructs of class existing in Haiti and remained a significant factor in Haitian immigrants' help-seeking behaviors during resettlement.