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An integral element of my cultural exploration involved the acceptance and appreciation of my spiritual heritage. Within my Puerto Rican family our spirituality involved Catholic, espiritismo and Santeria beliefs. Catholicism, the dominant religion of Latin America, was brought by the Spanish conquistadores who followed after Columbus' voyage. I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, however my maternal grandfather was an espiritista (practitioner/ head medium in the Kardecian Spiritist tradition.) From as early as I can remember, I was aware of the spirit world and understood that in my family we consulted with spirit guides when conflicts arose. When a family member of mine suffered from some ailment that no doctor could identify, it was my grandfather who intervened by consulting with spirits and using healing herbs. At home, amidst the typical bottles of aspirin, cough suppressants and so on, were various herbs for use in teas, incenses and other natural remedies.

Although I understood and accepted the spiritual environment in which I was raised, it wasn't until I was away at college that I really began to question and investigate why I believed what I did. I must also admit that it was a series of very revealing dreams that encouraged me to seek more knowledge on my spiritual heritage. What I found unveiled a multiracial, multiethnic fabric of spiritual syncretism within a tradition of resistance and struggle for cultural preservation. Such resistance gave birth to various reincarnations of the African-Yoruba faith like Santeria in Cuba and Candomble in Brazil for example.

Central to this Yoruba tradition are Orishas. These spirits whose energy manifests in various forces of nature, serve as intermediaries between God and humans. Enslaved Africans brought their beloved orishas’ traditions to the Americas. In an act of resistance they masked the orishas behind the images of Catholic saints. (hence the name Santeria) This is how the orishas were able to survive the forced conversion to Christianity, suffered by Africans under the slave system.

Honoring ancestors is an important element of spirituality for Africans and Native Americans cultures. In addition to the Yoruba people, enslaved Africans from the Congo region brought to the Caribbean their beliefs and traditions in working with the spirit world. So in the case of Puerto Rico, the native Taino people and people of Congo and other West African origins were long consulting with their ancestors and the spirit world before the 19th Century craze of "Spiritism" developed by a Frenchman who called himself Allan Kardec crossed the Atlantic into the Americas. Perhaps under the guise of a "European" tradition, a society plagued by colonialism and institutionalized racism became open to the tradition mostly viewed as taboo because of its association to Native and African cultures.

I have embraced this spirituality unique to my experience as a Puerto Rican woman in New York. Various Caribbean spiritual communities in this city continue to encourage my understanding of this spiritual heritage. Each person walks a unique spiritual path. My path chooses to use artistic expression as its vehicle. It is through this expression that I am most open to hear messages from those who have come before me and who seek to communicate with others through the work I produce.


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