- Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami by Terry Rey and Alex Stepick
Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith: Haitian Religion in Miami, by Terry Rey and Alex Stepick, is an engaging and fascinating ethnography about religious practice in the Haitian diaspora in Miami, Florida. Miami and its surrounding areas are home to the largest population of Haitians outside the Caribbean. Haitians in Miami are also very religious as compared to others in the city who can trace their roots to the Caribbean, such as Cubans and Jamaicans. Approximately 90 percent of Haitians in Miami attend church at least monthly, which demonstrates that religion plays an important and central role in their lives.
Important themes in the text are transnationalism (specifically transnational religious practice), diasporic religious practice, healing, and the effects of US racism on Haitians. Crossing the Water and Keeping the Faith has two main arguments: (1) that there is a unifying Haitian religious collusio that unifies Haitian religious difference and (2) that Haitian diasporic religious practice can be explained through a quest for “salvation goods” “in the form of luck (chans), magic (maji), protection, health, prosperity, and especially, worthiness” (5). The text contains a foreword, acknowledgments, an introduction, five chapters, a conclusion and three appendices. Borrowing a term from anthropologist Drexel Woodson, the book covers the “religious triangle of forces” in Haitian society: Catholicism, Vodou, and Protestantism (3).
The first three chapters cover the internal diversity within the practice of Catholicism. Most of the adherents described in these chapters can be considered Katolik fran (strict Catholics) who do not mix their observance of [End Page 210] Catholicism with Vodou practice. Through study at Miami’s Notre Dame d’Haïti Catholic Church, Rey and Stepick remind us of the important role the church played in serving the religious and political needs of its adherents. Out of the Haitian “religious triangle of forces,” Catholicism in Miami has had the most political connection to some of the moments in Haitian history that have troubled its diaspora recently (Jean-Claude Duvalier’s exile, Duvalierism without Duvalier, and the 2010 earthquake, for example). The authors also shed light on the religious practices of Miami Haitians of the upper classes through their practice of Catholicism as well discussing the practice and impact of Haitian Charismatic Catholicism (Catholic Pentecostalism in Haitian Miami), which is sweeping Latin America and, among others, immigrant Catholics in the United States. The authors also attend to some of the transnational dimensions of the practice of Haitian Catholicism.
The next chapter covers the practice of Haitian Vodou in Miami and reveals “a decline in Vodouist devotion among Haitians in Miami in general” (126). The authors opine that this decline has several reasons, including the stigma attached to practicing Vodou by US racism and the “taxing financial expenses” of Vodou devotions in Haiti, which some avoid by converting to Protestantism (120). Nevertheless, Rey and Stepick provide ethnographic detail about the syncretic religion created on the plantations of Saint-Domingue centuries ago and its adaptations to fit the conditions of the United States. Through their research we find that Haitian Vodou in the United States is still malleable in the sense that it relies on the practice of other African-derived religions, like Cuban Santería, to exist. The authors use the example of Saint Lazarus, who is central to Santería and has recently become integral to diasporic Haitian Vodou. Saint Lazarus was largely unknown in Haitian Vodou until it was practiced in Miami (143, figure 4.1). There are also Vodouists who incorporate shamrocks for Danbala at Societe Linto Roi (143). The authors demonstrate how transnationalism is a part of the practice and uses of Vodou through the story of a Haitian American nominal Catholic named Sylvain, who visited Botanika Mawu-Lisa and embarked on a transnational journey with manbo Marie-Carmel to Haiti. The chapter effectively displays how Haitians continue to practice Vodou in order to solve everyday...