Nassau County's Haitian population, which began with a tiny influx in Elmont in the 1980s, has grown markedly in the years since, with pockets of significant populations in western parts of the county, says Hermione Mimi Pierre Johnson, vice president of the Haitian-American Political Action Committee of New York. "The oldest Haitian population is in the New Cassel/Westbury area," Pierre Johnson says. In Suffolk, she adds, Haitian communities are concentrated in Wyandanch, Central Islip and Brentwood.
"One of the things we've been trying to do is introduce the culture to others on Long Island," Pierre Johnson says. "Of course, the first way most people experience the culture is through the food and music."
If you're looking for an authentic Haitian experience, here are just a few places that offer the real deal.
Buy Haitian CDs, DVDs
WHEN | WHERE 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, Cinemazin Movie Mall, 1 Elmont Rd., Elmont
INFO 516-451-0017, fdhma.org
Although most of Cinemazin Movie Mall's more than 100 CDs aren't in English, owner Frantz Saintilien is confident that the traditional Kompa and Coupe music will move the listener. "When people think of the Caribbean, they think of Jamaica," says Saintilien. But Haitian music is distinctive for its drum-heavy, upbeat jazzy sound that makes the beat easy to follow. The store also has more than 100 Haitian movie selections, most of which are in French with subtitles.
WHEN | WHERE 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m.-midnight Sundays, The Vault Café, 481 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont
INFO 347-267-6947, facebook.com/vaultcafe
A combination restaurant and nightclub, The Vault Café is also a great place to enjoy Haitian music while surrounded by artwork depicting scenes from Haiti and those with musical themes. Owners Rony and Frantz Sylvain also showcase Haitian performers and music, with the addition of old-school rhythm and blues on Friday nights.
Find your perfect scent
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, LaParfumerie de Barbara, 1935 Grand Ave., Baldwin
INFO 516-805-2318, needperfumes.com
Owner Barbara Saint Louis explains that Haiti, which was under French control until 1804, is strongly influenced by French culture, including its perfumes and body products. Popular scents include the body splash Bien Etre, the cologne Paris and the body powder Poudre Bourgeois. This is an ideal place to find French perfumes, soaps, body washes and other products for men, women and children.
Explore the cuisine
WHEN | WHERE 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, Fritaille Express, 997 Prospect Ave., Westbury
Open 17 years, Fritaille Express serves traditional Haitian dishes such as griot (fried pork), beef foot, oxtail, black rice and legume, which is a slow-cooked casserole. Although open daily, the restaurant serves a larger menu Friday through Sunday. While most regulars come for takeout, there is limited seating. Expect to pay $15 or less for a full meal with sides.
Learn traditional dances
WHEN | WHERE 7:30-9 p.m. Fridays and 3:30-5 p.m. Saturdays, Mikerline Dance Studio, 83 Ocean Ave., Valley Stream
INFO 347-772-5770, mikerlinedancestudio.com
ADMISSION $10 each, $45 for a month of classes
Owner and instructor Mikerline Pierre teaches at least three traditional Haitian dances to students of all ages. These include Ebo, a freedom dance; Yanvalou, where you move your body like a snake; and RaRa, a carnival-inspired dance. "We make sure that those who take the class understand what the dances mean and why we dance them," Pierre says of the dances that are energetic but easy to follow.
Haitian culture on TV
WHEN | CHANNEL Tele Image, 3-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Channel 18 on Cablevision; 1-2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Channel 40 on Verizon; 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Channel 56 on Time Warner
INFO 516-868-3530, teleimagetvshow.com
Tele Image, which focuses on Haitian and Caribbean culture and communities, has been on the air for 18 years. Tele Image’s weekly programming includes a cooking show, local shopping destinations, visits to community businesses, community news and news directly from Haiti.