“After my mom passed away, I took over her mini supermarket stall. It was a lot of responsibility at 9 years old, but I had to care for my family. Our stall was similar to the farmer’s market here in town except we didn’t pay rent. A wealthier man in town owned the land and allowed us to set up our stalls because he wanted people to better their lives. My business gave me a sense of purpose and helped care for my family.
When I came to the U.S. in 1986, I let my business go. You needed a permit here. Things were different.
I started working in the packing houses packing every kind of vegetable that was in season. I eventually was able to work in other industries, but I had an accident at my last job that left me to take care of the home and garden.
I was my own boss in Haiti and I want my daughters to do the same. I have tried to instill the same mindset in my daughters because I know the value of being your own person and boss.”
Claire, a retired business owner, spends her time gardening and caring for her family.
“When I first arrived to Miami after leaving Haiti, I felt alone. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak English. I remember calling my mom and dad when I arrived. I left Haiti to find a job and make money for my family because there weren’t any jobs. I was focused. I didn’t have time to play around.
I heard that a man named Canes, who had lived in a nearby city in Haiti, had a transportation business in Immokalee. He bought a van and would give Haitians a ride to Miami from Immokalee to shop. I remember using quarters to call him on a street pay phone because it was 1987. We didn’t have cellphones back then. Canes told me that I could get a job right away working in the fields. The ride would cost $10.
When I went inside the van I was so happy to see Haitian people. Everything had been so foreign to me until that moment. All I had was my suitcase and I was on my way to Immokalee.
I was an autopus (bus) driver in Haiti. I had only finished the 6th grade and I didn’t know much about farm work. Canes told me that if I had the will to make money, I would. I didn’t need to worry anymore.
I arrived in Immokalee that afternoon and woke up the next day to pick in the fields. I didn’t even know how to say Immokalee, but I knew that the people who lived there came from everywhere and there were jobs. After working in the fields I would shower and go to English classes at Bethune to learn English to survive here. I kept telling myself “Gabriel, you can do more”. There wasn’t a lot of money picking in the fields. I had married my wife and God blessed us with two daughters. I knew things had to change and 19 years ago I became a middle school bus driver.
I am happy with my job now because my wife likes my job. My daughters like my job. Even my church likes my job. My supervisor encourages me and helps me understand things.
I don’t have much knowledge, but I am happy with the Gabriel I am now. "
Gabriel, a local school bus driver and deacon reflects on how his journey changed once arriving in Immokalee. Creole translation was provided by his daughter, Ginoux.