On Saturday, September 23, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute held Trade/Itions: Honoring African Spiritual Traditions, a conference to celebrate the various African religions of the diaspora and build community around these different entities. Knowing the amazing dedication that the CCCADI has to empowering and preserving the knowledge and history of these spiritual communities, I knew this event would be genuine and interdisciplinary. As a first-generation, Latinx woman, it is important to me to learn and respect the history and culture of African religions and traditions that are embedded in our heritage but often erased and ostracized due to Anti-Blackness. Attending Trade/Itions was a way for me to honor the community that gave so much of itself to Latinx history and society.
In June 2011, I, along with my Latin American and Caribbean Cultures class, had the privilege of studying abroad in Havana, Cuba. Dr. Alyssa Garcia’s class was where I learned about intersectional feminism, but, more importantly, I learned to question the narrative that whiteness had created of Latin America and the Caribbean. What has stayed with me since my academic trip to Cuba was the concept of syncretism of Catholicism and Yoruba-based religion of Santeria. As a class, we discussed how syncretism was a tool for the Spaniards to strip African and Indigenous people of their identities, forcing them to assimilate. But the African and Indigenous people also used this same tool as a way to preserve their traditions and culture, however, in secrecy. Although this trip was over six years ago, I go back to it to reiterate the experience of a Latin American country that is engrained in African culture, yet masks itself in a colonial identity. Because of this, Dr. Garcia was intentional on teaching her class from a bottom-up point of view, rather than using an “exploratory and Ivory tower” view.
At Trade/Itions, we saw Summer of Gods, a film by Eliciana Nascimento. The film portrayed various Yoruba traditions without exposing too much about the process of initiation into Yoruba-based religions. It was absolutely beautiful and made me think of Cuba, especially considering that Nascimento was Brazilian born but initiated in Cuba. I had the chance to speak to Nascimento during Trade/Itions. Nascimento expressed that “syncretism was actually a form of survival for our ancestors”, where people “hid their orishas inside of Catholic statues”.