Young Haitian-Americans Turning to Vodou

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The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on a resurgence of interest in Vodou among younger Haitian-Americans. Looking to reconnect with their cultural heritage, they are often drawn by half-remembered childhood memories of their parents and grandparents attending rituals and practicing Vodou.

It is hard to quantify the religion’s growth because Vodou is often practiced at home, said Elizabeth McAlister, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, who has written extensively about Vodou. But research shows the religion is becoming more prevalent among well-heeled first and second generation Haitians, as well as people of various backgrounds, she said. Ruby LaCroix, 39, of West Palm Beach became intrigued by Vodou when she began to study Haiti’s history in college. She left Haiti when she was 8 years old and had questions about some of the traditions she grew up watching her grandmother practice. “I was looking to find out more about myself, about being Haitian and what that means,” she said.

One thing that I felt was striking about the article was the attitudes of these new practitioners. Much like the largely European-based modern Pagan faiths, there is an emphasis on fighting misconceptions, taking pride in their religious choices, and a slow shedding of insularity among practitioners.

Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.

One wonders if a similar trend also manifesting among younger Hispanic, Latino, and Brazilian-American practitioners of Santeria, Candomble, and other related traditions, or if this is a uniquely Haitian-American phenomenon. Whatever the extent of this new interest in African diasporic faiths among younger people, it does seem to signal a willingness to step outside a purely Catholic/Christian identity among immigrants within a generation or two.

Ricardo Petit-Homme left Haiti when he was 4, and was raised a staunch Catholic. “From christening to penance and then confirmation, I did it all,” the 30-year-old interior decorator said. But not that long ago, he felt spiritually disconnected. He had dreams that needed to be interpreted, questions about his purpose and a burning desire to connect more deeply with his roots. He turned to Vodou.

It’s interesting that even younger Haitian-Americans who had no prolonged exposure to Vodou see that faith as a more genuine expression of their culture and roots than the Catholicism that is so dominant throughout the Caribbean. It is little wonder that I see Haitian Vodou (and other diasporic faiths) as a “cousin” to the modern Pagan faiths. There is so much overlap, not only in matters of theology and praxis, but in the motivations and attitudes of the newer converts. It should be interesting to see how this trend develops, and if we’ll see a gradual growth of networking, activism, and shared resources not only among the various African diasporic faiths, but with other religious minorities who have similar goals.