I had the honor and fun of taking my thesis advisor, Maggie Steber, to Miami’s Little Haiti to shoot together. It’s the heart of the largest Haitian-American community stateside. Ex=pats flock to wholesale outlets here to buy food in bulk for family and friends back home to resell as well as eat. It’s as good as sending money. Women gather and sort pepe (used clothes) in the nearby warehouses and ship it for resale to Cap Haitien and Port-au-Prince. Just as happened in Haiti, I was admonished for taking pictures, then allowed to take them. A Dominican man was selling salmon, just as in the DR where men, not women, do the selling. He joked with his Haitian female counterparts, the ti machann, who sell clothes, medicinal herbs and produce on the sidewalk.
“This is how I make ends meet,” said Madame Dial, shown.
Dial represents the extension of Haiti’s cash market system into Miami and other Haitian-American communities. If these cash businesses seem to defy micro-lending institutions like Fonkoze, it’s because women like those I met in Ansapit and Ka-Blain prefer loans that give them leeway when they can’t repay on time, and that don’t need to be secured with personal assets.
Microlenders see the women resellers as too poor to use a loan to build tangible assets, on which more money can be banked to build more assets. Some are. But others I met, like the Louis family of Ansapit, have built assets without bank loans. The Louises own houses, land, and finance bulk purchases of pepe and farm produce for resale. Theyuse personal credit to absorb the shocks of a dynamic market environment that requires on-the-spot responsiveness and adaptation, where the ‘spot’ is usually a remote outpost with no roads or electricity.
In a brave article on microlending in Haiti, Timothy Schwartz, an American anthropologist based in Thomassin, reports that most of Fonkoze’s loans are concentrated among a handful of high-level komesans that include the country’s minister of women’s affairs, Marie Yanick Mezile. Outside that narrow high-earning band, women are leveraging sol and other traditional unbanked loans to conduct business — from Haiti to Little Haiti and beyond.