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Haitians Helping Haitians: The Social Construction of Helping Exchange Networks
Unformatted Document Text:  3 What is the basis for Ruby’s belief that what goes around comes around? Is she keeping track (mentally or otherwise) of her inputs and outputs – that is, of her gifts given and gifts received? If so, does she try to maintain a certain balance between them? What constitutes an input or output for Ruby? For instance, are the things that “go ‘round” and “come ‘round” only tangible, material goods or do psychological and emotional rewards factor into this system of exchanges as well? Is a return gift person- or thing-specific; that is, will a return come from the same person or be of the same type as the original? Is there a time limit on when she can expect something to “come back around?” And can she see a return on a gift more than once? These are the kinds of questions that are at the forefront of my research using a Haitian immigrant community as a case study. Haitians Helping Haitians There are numerous centrifugal forces, for which space does not allow me to elaborate on, that often pull Haitians’ interpersonal relations apart. These include immigration policies that frequently force family members to live apart for extended periods of time and various forms of prejudice and discrimination Haitians face in the United States. We may well wonder, then, what centripetal forces – i.e., integrative factors– counterbalance them. The answer is predominately reciprocity – an informal yet routinized system of giving and receiving and a culturally proscribed orientation toward sharing and helping fellow Haitians. Being immersed in the Haitian community, I have been able to witness and experience numerous instances of Haitians helping one another. At times, I felt like the anthropologist experiencing culture shock over different tribal practices. As anthropologist Miriam Slater (1976) once noted, it may not be necessary to eat soup with a chicken head floating in it in order to do good fieldwork (p. 130). Indeed, differing expectations could crop up anywhere -- even during a friendly gathering at a

Authors: Shaw, Eric.
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3
What is the basis for Ruby’s belief that what goes around comes around? Is she keeping track
(mentally or otherwise) of her inputs and outputs – that is, of her gifts given and gifts received?
If so, does she try to maintain a certain balance between them? What constitutes an input or
output for Ruby? For instance, are the things that “go ‘round” and “come ‘round” only tangible,
material goods or do psychological and emotional rewards factor into this system of exchanges
as well? Is a return gift person- or thing-specific; that is, will a return come from the same
person or be of the same type as the original? Is there a time limit on when she can expect
something to “come back around?” And can she see a return on a gift more than once? These
are the kinds of questions that are at the forefront of my research using a Haitian immigrant
community as a case study.
Haitians Helping Haitians
There are numerous centrifugal forces, for which space does not allow me to elaborate
on, that often pull Haitians’ interpersonal relations apart. These include immigration policies
that frequently force family members to live apart for extended periods of time and various
forms of prejudice and discrimination Haitians face in the United States. We may well wonder,
then, what centripetal forces – i.e., integrative factors– counterbalance them. The answer is
predominately reciprocity – an informal yet routinized system of giving and receiving and a
culturally proscribed orientation toward sharing and helping fellow Haitians. Being immersed in
the Haitian community, I have been able to witness and experience numerous instances of
Haitians helping one another. At times, I felt like the anthropologist experiencing culture shock
over different tribal practices. As anthropologist Miriam Slater (1976) once noted, it may not be
necessary to eat soup with a chicken head floating in it in order to do good fieldwork (p. 130).
Indeed, differing expectations could crop up anywhere -- even during a friendly gathering at a


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