Growing Haitian Community Calls Salisbury Home
Pastor Roosevelt Toussaint said when he first came to Salisbury in 1993, there were only a few dozen Haitians in the Salisbury and surrounding area. Now that number has risen to the thousands. Toussaint said he has seen his church congregation grow from a handful of members in the 1990s to the present with more than 300 in attendance every Sunday. And there are several other Haitian churches in Salisbury experiencing similar growth.
“[That’s] because they have to stay here , so they are trying to adjust, and really it seems like they are liking it because they’re not leaving. They are staying here,” Toussaint explained.
Like Toussaint, most Haitians have come to Salisbury and other parts of Delmarva from either Florida or New York, because they can find work in the area, mainly in the poultry processing plants of Mountaire Farms, Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods, just to name a few. These are jobs that can’t be found in Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 300,000 people and left many of the country’s residents homeless. But even prior to the earthquake, Haiti already had a high unemployment rate and remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Jeff Pointdejuer, who also lives in Salisbury, said it is a long journey from Haiti, but for him and his family, Salisbury is now home.
“Family is so important to me,” Pointdejeur said. “That is why I work hard so the have better life, and education.
Rudy Pierrot, 25, has made Salisbury his home for several years. Married with four children, Pierrot estimates there are at least 2,000 Haitians that live in the Salisbury area. He said the area offers Haitians job opportunities for their families, with a high quality of life.
“I like it here,” Pierrot said. “It’s a peaceful place.”
The Haitian population is so growing fast in the Salisbury area, you can’t help but notice the businesses, restaurants and mom and pop markets popping up all the time.
Jean Charites, owner of Caribbean Express Market on Florida Avenue in Salisbury, provides a variety of groceries and other items for his fellow Haitians.
“A lot of products the Haitians need would be difficult to get, and like me I have to go to New York, Washington DC, some of the products from Florida, and I have what they need,” Charites said. Walking into his market, a shopper will find everything from goat meat to red snapper to a variety of spices, drinks, sauces, tropical fruits and vegetables.
Anderson Lespinasse, who came to the U.S. from Haiti 15 years ago, is a graduate of Sussex Central High School in Georgetown, Del. He went on to get a degree in business administration, and two years ago opened the Papayo Market grocery store on Main Street in downtown Salisbury.
“I fell in love with it , especially since back in Haiti my grandmother, she used to sell, and I take that and bring it up here and convert it to the American dreams, so here I go, this is a dream!” Lespinasse said.
One of the newest, but vitally important resource for the Haitian community is Radio Oasis WRBY 100.5 FM. WRBY is a low-power radio station in Salisbury that broadcasts mainly in creole.
“We need that fountain of information that we miss at home,” said WRBY General Manager Habacuc Petion. “When they come here, they don’t know much about the culture of the U.S. and then how to go about the mainstream of of looking for a job or anything. So we feel like having a radio station would be the best way to communicate.”
Fritz Jeudy, who works as a housing counselor for the Telamon Corporation, said Delmarva has come to be a refuge for many Haitians because of the work they cannot find in Florida or New York.
“They spread the news that its a nice place, a quiet place to live,” Jeudy said. “So in effect in the next decade, it’s going to be a big big explosion because it’s very quiet.”
And Haitians are quickly acclimating to the area with local soccer leagues and weekend festivals, like Flag Day, Haiti’s biggest holiday.
Back at Word of Life Center, Pastor Toussaint knows he may have to add a few more Sunday services to accomadate the influx of Haitian-Americans to the Salisbury, Seaford, Georgetown and Accomack County, Va. areas of Delmarva, but to him that is a good thing.
“When I see efforts are being made to open businesses, to create an avenue for my people, to make them comfortable, you know I’m happy.”
– Written by Paul Butler and Kye Parsons