Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami

Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami

Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami

Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami

Synopsis

Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, significant numbers of Haitian immigrants began to arrive and settle in Miami. Overcoming some of the most foreboding obstacles ever to face immigrants in America, they have diversified socioeconomically. Together, they have made South Florida home to the largest population of native-born Haitians and diasporic Haitians outside of the Caribbean and one of the most significant Caribbean immigrant communities in the world. Religion has played a central role in making all of this happen. Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith is a historical and ethnographic study of Haitian religion in immigrant communities, based on fieldwork in both Miami and Haiti, as well as extensive archival research. Where many studies of Haitian religion limit themselves to one faith, Rey and Stepick explore Catholicism, Protestantism, and Vodou in conversation with one another, suggesting that despite the differences between these practices, the three faiths ultimately create a sense of unity, fulfillment, and self-worth in Haitian communities. This meticulously researched and vibrantly written book contributes to the growing body of literature on religion among new immigrants. Terry Rey is Associate Professor of Religion at Temple University. He is the coeditor (with Alex Stepick and Sarah Mahler) of Churches and Charity in the Immigrant City: Religion, Immigration, and Civic Engagement in Miami. Alex Stepick is Professor of Sociology at Portland State University and Professor of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. He is coauthor (with Alejandro Portes) of City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami. In the North American Religions series

Excerpt

I welcome this book on the religious faith of Miami’s Haitian community, which features Little Haiti’s Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission, where I served for eighteen years as a parish priest. The authors are not theologians but social scientists, but their research and their insights derived from that research helps illustrate how religious institutions, which are usually regarded as “conservative,” can creatively and imaginatively respond to new challenges and create new opportunities for marginalized people.

In the 1960s, Operation Pedro Pan, during which the Roman Catholic Church helped some 14,000 unaccompanied minors from Cuba to resettle in the United States, the establishment of La Ermita de la Caridad (the shrine dedicated to Cuba’s patron saint), and the integration of thousands of young Cuban children into its parochial school system were just some of the ways that the local Catholic Church rose to the challenges and opportunities posed by the influx of Cuban refugees to Miami. In the late 1970s, the arrival of Haitian “boat people”—most of whom identified themselves as Catholics—posed new challenges to the archdiocese, challenges met in large part successfully by the establishment of Notre Dame d’Haiti in 1981 on what was previously the campus of a Catholic high school for girls.

The Roman Catholic Church in America, which began as an immigrant institution, moved up into the middle class and out to the suburbs after World War II. As a result, it became invisible to many poor newly arriving immigrants. The challenge in Haitian Miami was thus to make the Church visible to the new immigrants and vice versa. A subtext to the whole issue of immigration is, of course, class. America has always pretended to be unconscious of class; America’s ambiguity toward race is more openly acknowledged. Yet, the key to understanding race . . .

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