Omar McRobert’s Comments

Omar McRoberts also complimented my three-country research design. I have to give the credit to my dissertation advisor, Alejandro Portes, for encouraging me to compare the same group of immigrants in three countries. Michele Lamont, who was also on my dissertation committee, gave me crucial contacts that helped me expand my research into France and Quebec and she guided me in my analysis of those two cases. And Robert Wuthnow, my third committee member, provided expertise in the area of sociology of religion. McRoberts commented that in the book, I seemed surprised at times to see how religious the Haitians were. When I started my fieldwork, I chose to study religious congregations because I wanted a way to gain trust in the community. I was not well-versed in sociology of religion when I began my fieldwork, so indeed, I learned a lot about how religion matters in people’s everyday lives through my fieldwork, observations, and interviews. McRoberts called my work a “painstakingly, passionately executed ethnography.” He remarked that although academics are more comfortable with analyzing the institutional actions of religious groups on behalf of immigrants or the poor, he liked how I asserted the importance of moral fortification to understand religious-based social action. For example, many people I interviewed relied on their faith quite simply to survive, a necessary first step before they were able to organize as a group and challenge any structural barriers to their mobility and successful integration. McRoberts raised two important questions. Could I go more deeply into what exactly is cultural in my term “cultural mediation?” How is it different than a cultural toolkit? Is cultural mediation always narrative? Or can it be interactional? To reply to the first question, I think my term cultural mediation is similar to other concepts from cultural sociology. But I use the term mediation to refer to the ability of religious beliefs to bring together two things that seem extremely different or even irreconcilable. McRoberts also wondered if I could have said more about the urban context in each of my three cases. It seemed clear that Miami’s urban context, and the high concentration of Haitians in a few neighborhoods there, facilitated the work of the Catholic Church. I noted that Notre Dame d’Haiti was built when Little Haiti was just emerging, and that the church was a big draw for more Haitians to settle nearby. In France and Canada, Haitians had less flexibility in which neighborhood to settle in and even in which church to gather, thus largely limiting any urban concentration, and hence weakening the mediating capacity of their community associations.

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