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Haitians In Tijuana Look Back At A Decade Of Displacement Following 2010 Earthquake

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Ten years ago this past Sunday, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that left at least 100,000 people dead. Since, thousands of Haitians have come to America's southern border, only to find themselves marooned in Tijuana.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 10 years ago. This past Sunday, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that left at least 100,000 people dead on the anniversary. KPBS reporter max Rivlin. Neither spoke with Haitian earthquake survivors in Tijuana where thousands of Haitians have migrated since the earthquake

Speaker 2: 00:20 tucked into a Canyon near the U S border is little Haiti and it's among the first stops for the thousands of Haitians who beginning in 2016 began coming to America's Southern border. The thousands of Haitians are fleeing a decade of tragedy and instability following the earthquake. First, the destruction of the Capitol in the quake than a cholera outbreak. Then hurricane Matthew in 2016 Haiti's divided parliament has been unable to form a government for over a year and violence has increased sharply. Fritz Nell is 38 he was in archivy 40 miles from the Capitol. He was working on a construction site when it collapsed. During the quake, his arm was trapped and he shows me where the scar is still is for. It's now left Haiti in August, 2016 as the security situation on the Island began to deteriorate. He didn't want to give his last name because of worries about crime.

Speaker 3: 01:15 I whipped the shitshow. I left Haiti. Of course. After all of those disasters I was just forced to for safety.

Speaker 2: 01:25 He first went to Brazil to look for work and has been in Mexico since may with his wife and child. He's had trouble finding work in Mexico and says he's been robbed by the police. Like many of the estimated 3,500 Haitians living in Tijuana, Fritz Anelle is stuck. He cannot enter the U S legally and if he was deported to Haiti, he'd have no money and no job for it's Nell and his family are getting by on the generosity of the ambassadors of Jesus church that supports little Haiti. McGall 35 is a psychologist. She was in Porto Prince 10 years ago and was coming home from a job interview when the city collapsed around her. She wandered the streets before she found her family who were safe. She then helped earthquake survivors deal with their trauma. Mikhail now works with the Haitian community in Tijuana.

Speaker 3: 02:15 I like [inaudible]. I don't know if we are just a people that has an incredible capacity for survival and amazing resilience. It is something that cannot be logically explained. [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:32 one of the leaders in the community there is John Arnold, Lazard Lazard's eight year old brother died in the earthquake. He left the country because he couldn't deal with the memories of the dead

Speaker 3: 02:45 [inaudible] babies at the office and then after the earthquake, the burials, it made me very frustrated, very sad and I wasn't able to tolerate it internally. Maybe [inaudible] did you know

Speaker 2: 02:58 now Lazard, a student in Tijuana and helps with the Haitian bridge Alliance, an organization that assists Haitians in California and Mexico. He told me that he originally intended to migrate to the U S but because of the situation with immigration enforcement, he's going to school in Tijuana and plans to make a life of it. They're helping other Haitians. Lazard helped host a vigil on Sunday night to Mark the anniversary. It began with a moment of silence. Soon Haitians began to pack the small church they use in the evenings, which is run by the group ministerial Yamato final

Speaker 4: 03:36 to sing and to pray.

Speaker 5: 03:44 [inaudible]

Speaker 4: 03:45 10 years later and thousands of miles away, they came together to remember the dead and a decade that has found thousands of Haitians. Still trying to put the pieces back together. And to Juana max with Linda Adler, Cape PBS news,

Speaker 1: 04:01 joining me is KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nadler and max welcome. Hi. The Haitians into Asana are stuck, as you say, because of us immigration laws, but what is their status inside Mexico? Can they stay there indefinitely?

Speaker 2: 04:16 The immigration status for many of these Haitians in Mexico is really difficult to navigate. A lot of them only speak Creole, uh, don't have a firm grasp of Spanish and are generally distrustful of Mexican authorities. A lot of people I spoke with had been harassed by Mexican authorities. That being said, there is a large contingent of people who've been there, you know, since 2016 and have begun to put roots down. So, um, as more Haitians kind of commit to spending longer amounts of time and maybe even spending indefinitely in Mexico, there have been, um, more kind of efforts done to create a better relationship between Mexican authorities and create a pathway to actually getting work status, work permits, owning restaurants, owning businesses. So people are not out on their own here. It's just a really tough thing to navigate, especially over the past year as a take. Juana has seen so many migrants.

Speaker 1: 05:11 So what kind of route did many of the immigrants travel from Haiti to get to the Tijuana border?

Speaker 2: 05:18 A few of the people I spoke to had first gone to Brazil in 2016 or before 2016 and then come up through South America, uh, through Panama and, uh, into Mexico that way. So it was a really long journey along the way. They could have spent years in a certain location working, finding whatever work they can. A lot of people worked, uh, in, in Brazil before the Olympics, uh, in 2016. So this, uh, they go where the jobs are. That's really what they're, they're looking for. Obviously the security situation in Haiti is less than optimal right now, but mostly there's just no economy to speak of. So people have to go elsewhere to find money.

Speaker 1: 05:56 One, the Haitian immigrants you

Speaker 2: 05:58 spoke with says he's a student in Tijuana. So the immigrants, as you say, have a chance of actually establishing a life and staying in Mexico. Yeah, that was one individual who was already in university, uh, in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. So his university was destroyed. He had nowhere to go. He told me, you know, he had to leave because of, uh, his, his brother had died. There was just too many demons for him there. Um, and kind of luckily for him on his way to Mexico, he had spent time, like many Haitians do, and the Dominican Republic, and he spent four years there, picked up Spanish, speaks better Spanish than me, and is now in Mexico and is, you know, enrolled in school and he's one of the people who is gonna try as he told me, he cannot go back to Haiti. He's gonna make a life for himself there.

Speaker 1: 06:45 Well, can you describe what the area you, you talk about little Haiti looks like?

Speaker 2: 06:49 So this is an, um, a, an area that that is sometimes referred to as smugglers Canyon. It's this informal settlement. This embassy of Jesus' church has created, um, housing and kind of pretty formal housing. That's a two story structure for recent Haitian immigrants. So people who have just come to Tijuana and are trying to get started in their life, that's where they end up often. Basically it's got running water outside, it has a faucet, um, inside. It's pretty bare. A lot of people sleeping to a room. Um, but that's not uncommon in Tijuana, especially for migrants.

Speaker 1: 07:28 So people from Haiti are still coming to Tijuana?

Speaker 2: 07:32 Oh yeah. Uh, several people I spoke to had arrived within the past four months. Uh, so again, as the political situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate, um, people are leaving and Mohs. They, they ha see no future for them either politically or economically. And so even though, you know, we're 10 years removed from the earthquake, there's been so much that, that that's set off and so many things that have happened since then. Of course, even before then, Haiti was not a rich country by any means. Um, that, that there are still a lot of people who are going to be trying to come to the U S and especially because there are a lot of Haitians in the U S following the earthquake who did get some legal status here. So you've got family on both sides of the border and there's just a huge Haitian diaspora that continues to spread out.

Speaker 1: 08:20 Of course, many people from Haiti are black. Is there any racial problem in Tijuana because of that

Speaker 2: 08:26 huge issue? I mean, before 2016, um, Tijuana is a, um, you know, relatively white city, uh, just even the, the Mexican population runs wider than, um, in other parts of Mexico. So you have, um, people that stand out and can be targeted, not necessarily based on their skin, but based on the fact that they know they're migrants. They know with that for the most part, they are Haitian. This was before the Cameroonians and other Africans really began showing up in numbers this summer. So it's easy to pick out a, for people who want to take advantage of people who don't have legal standing, who don't have kind of legal recourse and have to usually carry basically all of their belongings on them at all time because they don't know when, where their next move is going to be. So a lot of the people I spoke to had been robbed and targeted by, by what they said were Mexican authority.

Speaker 1: 09:18 Did anyone you spoke with say that were homesick for Haiti? I asked

Speaker 2: 09:21 people, would you be willing to go back and would you recommend this trip to others? Almost all of them said they would not want to go back because to go back would be to be looked down on, to be deported back to Haiti or to come back after you've already left the Island. We'll put you in a second class there. So there's a definite dynamic. It's, you know, it's an 8 million people or eight or 10 million people, but it's still a small community. So for, to leave and come back and having spent a year in detention or, or come back and still be indebted to the people that you know, help traffic you is a huge stigma. So people did not want to go back. And when I asked if people recommended it, they said, listen, I can't tell people not to do this because there's not many options on the Island to begin with.

Speaker 1: 10:01 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Riverland, Adler max. Thank you. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.