By Angie Schaffer
“I have made a point not to talk about my religion, my politics and my age,” professor Julien Lafontant says, a minute before he delves into these intimate topics (although we still do not know how old he is).
Growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Lafontant’s politics draw on his childhood in Haiti and his international travels. Although he still has family and friends in Haiti, he has not been back to his homeland for many years; the reason for this is the political turmoil in the region.
“I feel there is no hope for the situation in Haiti, but I do love my country,” he says sadly.
All hope for a country for this French professor is not lost; Lafontant is enticed at the idea of becoming a U.S. citizen. Among the perks: freedom of the press. Recalling a plethora of printed criticism of President Bush, Lafontant shakes his head.
“If you do that in my country, you will be six feet under. Certainly, you have to admire the freedom of speech in the U.S.”
Lucky for a man who always likes to “express openly” what is on his mind, a quality that he says is “ingrained in me.”
“I always like to express openly what I have in my mind,” he says. “I am not afraid of consequences.”
And somehow we reached the topic of voodoo. Although raised a Catholic, Lafontant often snuck to watch voodoo rituals as a child in Haiti.
“Voodoo is a true religion, not just superstition,” he says. He compares it to Catholicism — in voodoo, there is a ruling God and many smaller deities, called Loa, which Lafontant says are similar to the Catholic saints. He believes voodoo is treated as a group of superstitions instead of a true religion because its practitioners are mostly black and the world “does not want to see it as a religion.”
He goes on to say people ridicule Voodoo worshippers praying to trees, then go into their churches and pray to wooden crosses.
It seems obvious that Lafontant is not one to dabble with protecting overly-sensitive pride. And he has not even begun.
Lafontant views French, the national language of Haiti, as the “language of a former colonizer.” He says: “Many Haitians feel they have to speak French to show they belong to a certain social class. I am against that, because Creole is the language of the people.”
And yet Lafontant’s job here at UNO is to teach French. His reason?
“Monolingualism is a disease,” he says. “In this world, you must be bilingual, trilingual, if it is possible.”
He says this is a quality employers look for and learning a foreign language now is an investment for the future. However, learning in his class takes on a new meaning.
“My classes are … very hard and some students complain about that,” he says. “But I don’t want my students to leave without a good understanding of the subject.”
Former students agree. One posted this message on www.unounderground.com: “He will make you memorize something EVERY NIGHT!!”