In 1969, Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York City, became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. This year, Saratoga Springs mayor Mia Love may reach a historic milestone as the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. The two Brooklyn-born women have another common thread: They are both daughters of Caribbean immigrants. Chisholm’s mother hailed from Barbados and her father from Guyana. Love’s parents emigrated from Haiti.
Chisolm’s iconic career centered on social justice advocacy for civil rights, comprehensive child care, and women’s equality -- which have all become pillars of the Democratic Party’s platform. Though black immigrants come from socially conservative cultures, the socioeconomic mobility offered in Democratic policies have long endeared them to the party. In the Haitian community alone, almost all of the 30 public officials (elected or appointed) are Democrats.
So when news reports surfaced that the first black woman to become mayor in Utah was of Haitian descent -- and a Republican -- the Haitian community’s collective ears perked. Many are fascinated by Love’s political rise, as any other ethnic group would be, when someone from a shared background gains the spotlight for noteworthy accomplishments. At fundraisers, conferences, dinner parties, and cookouts, conversations are filled with a revision of an old adage: Gen Ayisyen nan Utah? Ayisyen tout kote! (There are Haitians in Utah? Haitians are everywhere!).
Born Ludmya Bourdeau (a name that’s a dead give-away to her roots), Love’s story resonates with the larger immigrant experience. Her hard working parents instilled the responsibility to seize the opportunities available in their new home that didn’t exist where they came from. Yet, as many in latter-day generations come of age, the challenges faced in their communities (and ancestral home) leave an indelible mark on their worldview. Limited access to quality public education, affordable housing, healthcare, and tools to start thriving businesses still plague the communities where many Haitians live. And since most of the politicians of Haitian descent live in urban areas -- South Florida, the New York City metro area, and Greater Boston -- their politics are informed by the needs of their community.
Love’s entry into politics nine years ago was driven by a debate on the pledge of allegiance. She’s a proponent of pro-life policies with a focus on limited government. And as mayor of a small, rural town which sits in a congressional district where 60% of registered voters lean Republican, Love’s politics are informed by her community. Albeit the religious beliefs that influence her stance for marriage between a man and a woman reflect many beliefs held by Caribbean immigrants, her overall political outlook is in stark contrast with the vast majority of that community.
Haitians in the diaspora value their individual capacity to alter their families’ circumstances -- they left their homeland to seek refuge from political and economic tyranny in pursuit of opportunity. Nevertheless, the sacrifices and struggles of migration to a new land takes its toll on the individual, and the collective. This recognition serves as a foundation for many public leaders called to serve, to lend their talents and skills in order to improve conditions for those of shared background.
As many Haitians observe Mia Love’s historic journey with fascination and a sense of pride that “one of us” made it, the call for inclusion and shared sacrifice during the Democratic National Convention echoed a fundamental principle of a people who believe men anpil, chay pa lou. Many hands make the load light.
If Love should reach Congress, the support she receives from the Haitian community will depend on her fluency in that principle.