Courtney Cain

  • Fellowship year:2016-2017
  • University: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigna
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: DuSable's Diaspora: Hatians in Chicago 1935-2010
  • Since the late 18th century, there has been a unique relationship between Chicago and Haiti, with Jean Baptiste DuSable founding the global city in 1779. Since then, a vibrant Haitian diaspora has formed in the city. However, much of the literature focuses on the Haitian diasporas in New York and Miami due to their size and visibility. My project aims to fill that gap by examining the formation of the Haitian diaspora in Chicago over 20th century. Using oral histories, newspaper data, and other archival information, I argue that Chicago's Haitian diaspora is dispersed by class and space but connected through culture, social traditions, voluntary organizations, and churches. Chicago Haitians are found throughout the city and its suburbs, unlike the concentrated Haitian neighborhoods found in New York and Miami. Also, Chicago Haitians represent a smaller (between 10,000-20,000), more middle-class, and educated diaspora, since educational and job opportunities are the main driving factors behind their migration. Moreover, I argue that there is a long legacy of Haitian influence and presence in Chicago, starting with Jean Baptiste DuSable, that set the stage for a vibrant diaspora to form since the end of the US Occupation in Haiti (1915-1934). The fact that a Haitian man founded the city (whose story has survived mainly through oral history) sets this diaspora apart from the other, more studied and visible diasporas in NY and FL. By examining this understudied diaspora, this project sheds light on the diasporic Midwest and new understandings of blackness in a post-Civil Rights, post-Obama era. That is, my research helps scholars to rethink the Midwest as a diverse space in which Caribbean and Latin American immigrants help to shape what it means to be American in a modern context. Also, the common rhetoric around immigration today calls to mind a Latino immigrant and the common understanding of African Americans denotes a lack of ethnicity; looking at Haitian immigrants in Chicago reshapes understandings of both of these concepts.
    My focus on diaspora brings out important issues of diversity and identity, paying special attention to how issues of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and national origin shape the formation of a community in a new place. Haitians, whom are often seen as triple minorities (black, foreign, and non-English speakers), represent a unique subsection of immigrants whose multidimensional identity calls into question what it means to be black and what it means to be an immigrant in America. That is, Haitians highlight the importance of looking at ethnicity when looking at black Americans and expand the stereotype of immigrants being equated with Latino populations in our current political climate. In an era when immigration and racial understanding are contested topics across the globe, my research helps to highlight the diversity of experience within both concepts.