The Catholic Mission and Nation-Building on the Colombian Islands of San Andrés and Providence, 1900–30

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:50 PM
Promenade Ballroom C (Westin Chicago River North)
Sharika D. Crawford, United States Naval Academy
This paper examines the cultural project of nationalization of the English-speaking, Protestant, Afro-Caribbean population on the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providence in the early decades of the twentieth century. Central authorities and local officials understood nationalization or, what they called, “colombianization” to mean islanders’ adoption of the Spanish language, Colombian customs, and the Roman Catholic religion. Transnational actors like foreign Catholic missionaries hailing from the United States, Great Britain, and Spain were essential components to the project’s success as they were responsible for evangelization and educational activities. In this paper I make two interrelated arguments. First, I posit that early twentieth century Colombian nation-builders ignored pseudo-scientific understandings of race but rather stressed culture in order to incorporate ethnically and racially diverse populations into their homogenizing agenda. This was especially true for marginal populations in contested territories like the borderlands of San Andrés and Providence wedged among the Anglophone Caribbean, Spanish-speaking coastal areas of South America, and the U.S. enclaves nestled in the Atlantic lowlands of Central America. Second, I argue resistance from Protestant islanders coupled with tenuous relations with local officials and central authorities in Bogota explained the Catholic Mission’s mixed results in the early part of the twentieth century.