Alyssa Crummey

Essay on Dreaming in Cuban

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia is a novel that follows Celia del Pino and her family as they live through the revolution and its aftereffects. Unlike the rest of her family, Celia stays in Cuba, even after everything that has happened, even after her daughter and the rest of her loved ones leave. Lourdes moved to New York with her daughter Pilar and tried to integrate herself as much as she could into the country and their new lives, however Pilar didn’t share the same desires, and in-fact wished to be more in-touch with her Cuban roots and her grandmother. Unlike Lourdes, Celia’s other daughter Felicia holds on to a lot of Cuban practices, and to her roots, especially when it comes to her religious beliefs and things such as Santeria.

Throughout the novel Dreaming in Cuban there were many mentions the religion and practices of Santeria. What is Santeria? It is defined as “a New World religion forged in Cuba but with roots in Roman Catholicism and the Yoruba religious traditions of West Africa.” (Encyclopedia of ARH). The way in which this religion is viewed and practiced has changed a lot since the time it was first introduced in Cuba and areas with high Cuban populations, some of it’s practices have become integrated in many people’s daily lives, and even in the healthcare system in certain areas.

Santeria itself is a branch which was formed in Cuba as a result of slavery, specifically an influx of slaves from Western Africa, and has ties to Yoruba indigenous religion (Calalloo 1). Within this religion, there is a meshing of both catholic and Yoruba beliefs, which make up components of Santeria. An example of this being that many who practice Santeria believe that “saints from the catholic church are also African spirits” (National Geographic Video 00:01:08). This is due to the fact that every catholic saint has certain attributes which were also matched with Yoruba spirits (NGV 00:01:51). The way that this religion is seen, practiced, and how accepted it is, have all shifted over time, most of these changes occurred after the Cuban revolution “After the Cuban revolution in 1959, Santeria began to spread to urban areas of the U.S.A. including Miami, New York, and Boston.” (Forensic science international 1), and it has become a much more common practice nowadays.

Santeria has also been rumored to have had an influence in politics and on politicians, examples of this being how after a conference in Havana in 1928, the president at the time wanted to celebrate with “the Inauguration of a new park, and on the celebration day, a Ceiba tree was planted in the center of the arena” (Religious Symbolism in Cuban Performance 2). The Ceiba tree was also mentioned in Garcia’s novel, on page 55 when Celia goes to Felicia’s friend Herminia who is a Santera for help “Herminia never mentions the ceiba tree, but Celia recognizes the distinct cluster of its leaves among her many herbs.”. Unlike Felicia who was both a believer, as well as someone who practiced and later on became a Santera herself, Celia participated in some practices however she was much more cautious, this is also mentioned on page 55 as well with the quote “Celia is uneasy about all these potions and spells. Herminia is the daughter of a santería priest, and Celia fears that both good and evil may be borne in the same seed. Although Celia dabbles in santería’s harmless superstitions, she cannot bring herself to trust the clandestine rites of the African magic.” Fidel Castro was another political figure who was rumored to have ties with the Santeria religion, one of the main things that caught people’s attention was when Castro gave his first televised speech to the nation, a “white dove landed on his body, and stayed there throughout the oration” (Religious Symbolism in Cuban Performance 9). White doves had been a symbol of the holy spirit and this event caught the attention of many. Although his involvement was never confirmed nor denied. When considering why a politician may want to have ties to religions or practices such as Santeria well, “many in cuba are initiated to stave off death, disease, curses and other supernatural powers” (Cuban Political performance 8). Along with that, there was a lot of conflict when it came to politics in Cuba so many politicians also participated in the religion if they had many enemies and wanted the power of the spirits to help them stay ahead, as well as to “build alliances with communities” (Cuban Political performance 8).

This religion is also known as a “syncretic faith” (Forensic science international 1), which is the same category practices such as “voodoo” are in. Since Santeria is an African derived religion, it is also very oral based, at-least in Cuba. “These types of religions are rich in symbols and knowledge practitioners use colors, ritual objects, movement, music, and esoteric words to represent mythic events” (Cuban Political performance 1). Many different types of objects are used in rituals, and many different animals are used as offerings for the spirits. Although, typically there are “preferred” items and animals, such as “Candles, tobacco, herbs, and substitutional symbols in place of actual objects are also used.” (Forensic science international 1) When it comes to animals, it varies depending on the different “orishas”, including chickens, doves, pigeons and pigs. There were a few examples of this in Dreaming in Cuban the first one being on page 8 during an offering a Santero tells Felicia ““Elleguá wants a goat,” the santero says, his lips barely moving.” Felicia isn’t happy about this, but her friend tells her “You have no choice,” Herminia implores. “You can’t dictate to the gods, Felicia. Elleguá needs fresh blood to do the job right.”.

Goats and their blood are very common offerings for the spirits for Santeria practices. There are many times in which one might need to refill or offer fresh blood for offerings in this religion. One of those times being “If one God is brought into the home the others have to be fed with fresh blood (NGV 00:02:48). They also often times cannot use sick animals due to the idea that if a sick animal is used, it will bring sickness instead of health, so they have to use healthy animals in order to “receive” health (NGV 00:03:29). Another instance where goats were used as an offering during a ceremony in Garcia’s novel is when Felicia was being initiated as a Santera, “The goats to be sacrificed were marched in one by one, arrayed in silks and gold braids. Felicia smeared their eyes, ears, and foreheads with the coconut and pepper she chewed before the babalawo slit their throats. She tasted the goats’ blood and spit it toward the ceiling, then she sampled the blood of many more creatures.” (Cristina Garcia 112). The ways of living differ slightly for those who practice Santeria, after her initiation Felicia “She dressed only in white, and didn’t wear makeup or cut her hair. She never touched the forbidden foods—coconuts, corn, or anything red—and covered the one mirror in her house with a sheet, as she was prohibited from seeing her own image.” (Cristina Garcia 113).

How has Santeria changed? Well….how has it not? Although a lot of the practices are still either the same, or very similar, the question that one should be asking is…how has people’s perception of Santeria changed? It’s become a much more common practice, and people are also much more open about it now, “it is common in Miami to find dead animal offerings on the banks of the Miami River.” (Forensic science international 2) As well as in court rooms for good luck or in hopes of receiving good news. It has become such a popularity that it is even used to attract tourists to certain areas “Today, Santeria is a major tourist attraction. The beach resorts in Varadero hold night shows enacting the dances of the Orishas (afro-Cuban deities), Santeria souvenirs are sold throughout Havana, and foreigners go to Cuba to get initiated.” (Healing practices and revolution in socialist Cuba 10).

Not only is Santeria much more normalized now but it has also integrated itself into the medical system in some areas. “Herbs are essential to Santeria, and it is through herbs that Santeria practices become entangled with state-sponsored ‘green’ medicine and urban agriculture. According to Santeria beliefs, herbs belong to the Orishas, whose personal essence and power grant them their healing powers.” (Healing practices and revolution in socialist Cuba 11). It has become an inclusion in many people’s lives through it’s many different roots and forms.

Originated with slavery, found roots and places in politics, becoming a new religion/practice within itself that many used and continue to use for comfort, security, health and many other things on the daily. This woman in a case study who is a “follower of Santeria, she takes comfort from her spiritual beliefs, tries to maintain a positive attitude, and optimistically cites the phrase ‘when one door closes another opens’”. (David Strug pg 10), similarly to the way that Felicia from Garcia’s novel, and sometimes even Celia, who wasn’t completely a true believer, turned to the religion for comfort as well. It’s found itself into the healthcare system as well. Santeria has become a key portion in quite a lot to such an extent that “Statistically, it is hard to gauge the pronounced popularity of Santería in Cuba, because while 82% of Cubans are officially documented as Catholics, the initiation into Santería, or Regla de Ocha, requires baptism in the Catholic Church. (santeria in Cuba 4). The author of Dreaming in Cuban also brings this up in the end of her story when she is interviewed and asked why she mentions it, she says “Santería was traditionally an unacknowledged and underappreciated aspect of what it meant to be Cuban. Yet the syncretism between the Yoruban religion that the slaves brought to the island and the Catholicism of their masters is, in my opinion, the underpinning of Cuban culture. Every artistic realm—music, theater, literature, etc.—owes a huge debt to Santería and the slaves who practiced it and passed it on, largely secretively, for generations.” (Cristina Garcia 152).

Works Cited

Case, Menoukha. Callaloo, vol. 32, no. 1, 2009, pp. 307–13, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27655128. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. Random House Publishing Group, 1993.

Gold, Marina. “Healing Practices and Revolution in Socialist Cuba.” Social Analysis, vol. 58, no. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 42–59. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.ezproxy.midlandstech.edu/10.3167/sa.2014.580203.

Maha Marouan. “Santería in Cuba: Contested Issues at a Time of Transition.” Transition, no. 125, 2018, pp. 57–70, https://doi.org/10.2979/transition.125.1.09. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Miller, Ivor L. “Religious Symbolism in Cuban Political Performance.” TDR: The Drama Review (MIT Press), vol. 44, no. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 30–55. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.ezproxy.midlandstech.edu/10.1162/10542040051058690.

Pokines, James T. “A Santería/Palo Mayombe Ritual Cauldron Containing a Human Skull and Multiple Artifacts Recovered in Western Massachusetts, U.S.A.” Forensic Science International, vol. 248, Mar. 2015, pp. e1–7. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.ezproxy.midlandstech.edu/10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.12.017.

Prothero, Stephen R., and Edward L. Queen, II. “Santería.” Encyclopedia of American Religious History, edited by Prothero II, et al., Facts On File, 4th edition, 2018. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.midlandstech.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.credoreference.com%2Fcontent%2Fentry%2Ffofr%2Fsanteria%2F0%3FinstitutionId%3D2507.

“Santeria.” , directed by Anonymous , produced by National Geographic. , National Geographic, 2013, https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/Santeria.

Strug, David L. “An Exploratory Study of How Older Cubans Cope with Difficult Living Conditions.” International Journal of Cuban Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, 2019, pp. 228–46, https://doi.org/10.13169/intejcubastud.11.2.0228.