The Public Interest

Should immigrants assimilate?

Alejandor Portes & Min Zhou

Summer 1994

MY NAME IS HERB / and I’m not poor / I’m the Herbie that you’re looking for / like Pepsi / a new generation / of Haitian determination / I’m the Herbie that you’re looking for.”

A beat tapped with bare hands, a few dance steps, and the Haitian kid was rapping. His song, entitled “Straight Out of Haiti,” was performed at Edison High, a school that sits astride Little Haiti and Liberty City—the largest black area of Miami.  The lyrics capture well the distinct outlook of his immigrant community. In Little Haiti, the storefronts leap out at the passersby.  Bright blues, reds, and oranges vibrate to Haitian merengue, blaring from sidewalk speakers. Yet behind the gay Caribbean exterior, a struggle goes on that will define the future of this community. As we will see, it involves the second generation— children like Herbie—who are subject to conflicting pressure from parents and peers, and to pervasive outside discrimination. 

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