Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interview at Sacred Tribes Journal: Miguel De La Torre on Haiti, It's People and Religion

A new interview is now available at Sacred Tribes Journal with Miguel De La Torre, Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology. Dr. De La Torre has researched, written, and lectured on a number of topics, including the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, as well as social ethics and biblical interpretation from the perspective of marginalized peoples. I interview him at Sacred Tribes Journal on the topic of Haiti, it's people and its religious expressions. Here is an excerpt:

John Morehead: Although America has invested a lot of money in Haiti over the years and through various presidential administrations, they know very little about the nation. Many assume it is largely a nation which practices voodoo when in fact it has a large Christian population. Can you paint a portrait of Haitian religious expression?

Miguel De La Torre: Before I address the religious aspects I’d like to discuss America’s investment in Haiti. We need to be aware that America from very early on never really wanted to see Haiti succeed. When the Haitian slaves overthrew their slave owner masters, this was really the first democracy in the Caribbean that was established. The democracy in the United States was leery of having a Haitian democracy. People like Thomas Jefferson were very concerned that a nation of free black people, run by free black people might be a bad inspiration for his personal black slaves and those in the South. There has always been this desire to make sure the Haitian people did not succeed because if they were to succeed as a country then that would begin to undermine the mythology of white supremacy. This was active in the time of Jefferson, up to the Civil War, and after the Civil War. So there has always been this relationship with Haiti where we did not want to see it be successful. Saying that, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that the United States has throughout the last century had Haiti as part of its gunboat diplomacy as well as a good neighbor policy. Both tend to appropriate the resources of Haiti for the economic benefit of the United States. I want to emphasize this relationship between the two countries for the last couple of centuries that has not always been positive for the Haitian people.

As to the religiosity of Haiti, it’s naïve to say that all Haitians are practitioners of voodoo. It would be the same as saying all Americans are Protestants. It’s a very simplistic, naïve understanding. There is a strong presence of the Catholic Church, of Protestants and evangelicals including missionaries, of Pentecostals, also of African traditions, and a hybridity of all these traditions. Those in most Caribbean nations do not necessarily conform to just one religion. It is common to be a member of more than one tradition. So when I was growing up in New York City I went to Catholic school and at night we practiced Santeria, and there didn’t seem to be a disconnect in my mind or that of the other practitioners.

Read the entire interview here.

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