Flatbush

First step in creating Little Haiti in Flatbush unveiled by New York’s first Haitian-American elected official

May 22, 2018 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An exuberant Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte celebrates the intersection of Newkirk Street and Nostrand Avenue being renamed on Friday for Toussaint Louverture. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte envisions creating a “Little Haiti” in Flatbush where, she says, Haitian Creole is by far the most prevalent foreign language spoken.

As a first step in the process, the intersection of Newkirk Street and Nostrand Avenue was renamed on Friday for Toussaint Louverture, credited as the inspiration for and leader of the Haitian Revolution, the first large-scale slave uprising since Spartacus’s revolt against Rome, 1,900 years prior.

“This neighborhood is the heart of the Haitian Diaspora in New York,” Bichotte told the group assembled in front of St. Jerome Catholic Church on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Newkirk Street. “We want to bring programming here,” she continued. “We want to start a restaurant week. And we want to promote affordable housing. And we want to bring people here — not just tourists — but we want to teach people Haitian Creole!”

As planned by advocates, the area to be designated Little Haiti will coincide with the southern end of Little Caribbean, created in 2017 amid controversy that it had been so designated without input from the community or its elected representatives.  Bichotte did not attend last year’s unveiling of Little Caribbean, nor was Shelley Worrell of CaribEING, credited as the driving force behind the creation of Little Caribbean, in evidence for Friday’s event.

“We’re not seeking to be divisive here, but to unify,” Bichotte said. “I foresee eventually a ‘Little Trinidad,’ a ‘Little Guyana,’ [and] a ‘Little Pakistan’ developing here in Brooklyn!”

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte during pre-unveiling press conference.

In a phone interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, Worrell said, “I have enormous respect for what Toussaint Louverture achieved, but we at CariBEING see Haiti, along with St. Lucia, Martinique, Antique and the Bahamas … as all part of the Caribbean. Our plan is to create a cultural and economic zone to the benefit of all the Caribbean peoples in New York City.”

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Worrell and CariBEING’s goal was to keep politics out of the equation. And they might have succeeded had President Donald Trump avoided referring to Haiti as a “shithole” after revoking the temporary protected status of thousands of seasonal Haitian workers. Suddenly, there was a need to stand up for Haiti and remind people of its contributions to U.S. and world history.

“Shame on you!” said City Councilmember Mark Treyger in reference to Trump’s apparent ignorance of the role the Haitian revolution is said by historians to have played in convincing Napoleon Bonaparte to sell all of the Louisiana Territory to the U.S., rather than just the port of New Orleans as they sought. “There should be a Little Haiti not just in New York City, but in Washington, D.C. as well!”

“But first we should go about changing the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” he concluded with a grin.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who also failed to appear at last year’s Little Caribbean unveiling, said, “When people from Haiti say, ‘Our culture should be celebrated, but it’s pushed back,’ I must stand with them!”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams was on hand to endorse the street renaming and designation of Little Haiti.

“I don’t know why it took so long for people to figure out,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, “that Brooklyn is the Port-au-Prince of America!”

Formally designating a part of Flatbush Little Haiti is expected to come before the City Council in early summer. If approved — and council members present seemed to believe it will be a shoe in — the business and cultural zone will form a rectangle running from Avenue H in the south, to Brooklyn Avenue East to East 16th Street in the West and Parkside Avenue in the north.

On hand to show his solidarity with the Haitian community was Councilmember Rafael Espinal. “I think it’s important to recognize the composition of a neighborhood,” he said. “I’m here as a Dominican to show that I support the Haitian community.”

“There really is no downside,” Bichotte told the Eagle after the unveiling. “Some say, ‘Oh, they have to have their own thing.’ But why not take the opportunity to revitalize the community and help push businesses forward? Now they’ll know where to go for something authentically Haitian.”

 

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