The American Community Survey five-year estimate published in 2013 reveals that more than half of the population of Flatbush is foreign-born, Pie Graph 1and that two-thirds of the foreign-born population is of Caribbean origins.[1] This demographic information is important to acknowledge because just by sheer number, the West Indian population has largely affected the overall ethnic atmosphere of Flatbush.[2]

20150416_101012The integration of old lifestyles with new ones is key in the process of immigrant absorption into America. West Indian immigrants have been able to incorporate their culture and traditions into their lives here, be it in the organizations they run, such as the Haitian Family Resource Center or the businesses they open, such as the Dollar Van corporations.

“West Indian beauty parlors, restaurants, record deals, and bakeries dot the landscape, and Haitian Creole and West Indian scents fill the air.”

More than 20 percent of the foreign-born population in Flatbush is from Haiti, the largest group, followed by Trinidad and Tobago. According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey,10.8 percent of all Haitians in New York City live in Flatbush, making it the most concentrated Haitian population in New York City.  This makes Flatbush a sort of cultural center for the Haitian community and most other West Indian groups, as they have greatly impacted the neighborhood’s cultural character. Nancy Foner, in her book One Out Of Three: Immigrant New York In The 21St Century,[3] explains that in Flatbush “West Indian beauty parlors, restaurants, record deals, and bakeries dot the landscape, and Haitian Creole and West Indian scents fill the air.”

An interesting thing to note about the Haitian population is that 76 percent of second-generation Haitians reported having both parents originally hail from Haiti.[4] This shows the strength of their cultural connections.  They are united in the stores they open, the neighborhoods they live in together, and the churches they go to.  Veteran television news commentator Gabe Pressman has noted that this pride and unity motivates them despite hardship and poverty.[5] They set up businesses to help their fellow countrymen and those who are able to support themselves do not forget their allegiance to their homeland and the relatives they left behind. They are estimated to remit as much as $600 million a year to family back “home.”

Haitian immigrants tend to have an education level lower than the national average plus a median income lower than the national one, according to the Migration Policy Institute. However, since they come from a place where life is typically harder they readily accept the challenge of adjusting to their new lives here.

the 2010 earthquake in Haiti had a major effect on Flatbush’s Haitian community

Even with determination and hard work, the struggle to live here is not just an economic one. According to an article by the International Orthodox Christian Charities[6],the 2010 earthquake in Haiti had a major effect on Flatbush’s Haitian community, as many of the Haitians in Flatbush had to cope with the loss of family and friends in the disaster.

The charity illustrated that with the story of a man it identified as Doug, a resident of Flatbush, who wanted to bring his wife from Haiti to the United States and was very nervous after the catastrophe. He said, “I was reaching out to everyone – local, state and federal government – and nobody was helping me,” he said. “I almost began to despair when a friend of mine told me about the Haitian Family Resource Center, and then everything changed immediately.” The center had many resources to aid Haitians living in Flatbush who were displaced by disaster and were living in the New York area. It even helped those trying to locate family members. After immediate needs, the center focused and still works to provide social services and legal advice on immigration issues, and help to apply for a special immigration status offered by the U.S. government following the earthquake. The fact that a social service organization was created to cater to a specific foreign population in regard to a recent event that affected them is truly remarkable. It reflects the major influence immigrant groups have had in Flatbush.

Another major immigrant group from the West Indies is the Jamaicans. Like most immigrants, Jamaicans came to America mainly for economic reasons. In 2000, their labor force participation rate was 69 percent for women and 74 percent for men over age sixteen. Many hold multiple jobs to provide for their family adequately.

Jamaicans have had a unique economic effect on New York City since they tend to concentrate in distinct occupational niches. For example, a path for many Jamaican women is to start out as nursing home or hospital aides, move up to become licensed practical nurses, and then receive additional training to qualify to become registered nurses.

Jamaican men have created a niche in the jitney van industry, where they develop better and cheaper transportation to fill in the gaps in the public transportation system. Dollar vans are very common in Caribbean countries where mass transit systems are not in place. Thus, when immigrants from the Caribbean came to Brooklyn, they implemented this system, which takes passengers from point A to point B for a dollar or two. Around Brooklyn College, dollar vans travel up and down Flatbush Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, and Avenue H. Many people rely on dollar vans to help them get to work and school on time and use them to avoid waiting for buses or being stuck in traffic.

Dollar vans became an avenue for immigrant entrepreneurs such as Winston Williams, whose company is called Blackstreet Van Lines. For years, police cracked down on the unregulated vans. It was through great effort of Una Clarke, a Jamaica-born member of the City Council, that the dollar vans were able to become legal under 1996 legislation.[7]


[1]“ACS 2013 5-Year Estimates.

[2] Karen D. Lincoln, Linda M. Chatters, Robert Joseph Taylor, and James S. Jackson,

“Profiles of Depressive Symptoms among African Americans and Caribbean Blacks,” Social Science & Medicine 65.2 (2007): 200-13.

[3] Nancy Foner, One out of Three : Immigrant New York in the Twenty-first Century (City: Publisher, 2013), page number.

[4] “Select Diaspora Populations in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute. select-diaspora-populations-united-states

[5] Haitian Flatbush. Interview by Gabe Pressman. 4 New York. NBC New York, August

6, 2010.

[6] “Effect of Haiti Earthquake Ripple Through US Community,” International Orthodox

Christian Charities News and Needs 13, no. 2 (2010).

[7] Eric Larson, “Dollar Vans: Inside NYC’s Huge, Hidden Transit Network,”, April 10, 2014., accessed at