Identifying as Afro-Latina is a driving force to my craft as a Bruja. So much so that Brujas of Brooklyn is rooted in las 21 Divisiones. This is a syncretic faith, from the Dominican Republic, that is heavily framed around West African Vodun. Yet the beauty in this faith is often lost to those viewing it with the lenses of anti-Black racism. A lens that’s a vicious heirloom Dominicans inherit. A synergy of factors has shattered this hate and allowed me to be present to the beauty in all things. The more I’ve embraced my Black identity, the clearer my spiritual path has become. A clear path allows me to walk with confidence as a Black Latina Bruja.
I grew up in a working class Dominican household in NYC during the 90s’—BedStuy Brooklyn to be exact. Ours was typical to the era: plastic covered everything! (sofas, dinner tables, washing machines!). Ma was adamant about making her sweatshop wages stretch. Single parenting, while on welfare, and providing for a huge family in DR meant my mother was always working and rarely resting. By 9 years old, my twin sister Migue and I stayed home alone; we were latchkey kids. A food stamp for the two of us, 50 cents each, was our daily allowance.
Fridays meant “casa limpia”. At 10, my sis and I were cleaning a home like grown women. Our Godmother, Madrina, was our neighbor. She helped my mother keep a watchful eye on us. She’s also a major influence in my life as a Bruja. Madrina lit the velones, smudged the apartment with frankincense on New Years Eve, and took my mother to see “mujeres”/ladies that would provide spiritual consultation. She continues to be a spiritual anchor in my life.
The socio-political climate of the era (Regan’s war on drugs, the crack epidemic, Clinton’s welfare reform) meant crack and gun violence consumed our neighborhoods. But my mother worked hard to create a sanctuary in our humble homes. Her faith in God made that possible.
Catholicism was a constant backdrop in our upbringing. Sundays, my mother fought to wake us up to attend mass. Ma had us baptized at 3 years old; by 10 we completed our second holy sacrament: communion. Looking back at the pictures of the extravagant, handmade dresses we wore, I sense that ma worked hard to show that the sacrifices of being far away from her family in DR were paying off.
I recall another side to my mother’s faith. Altars to Santa Marta La Dominadora in our bathroom, and glasses of water under our bed were common occurrences. A vivid memory I have is being 3 years old, holding my twin’s hand while we stood in front of a huge, two-tiered altar in DR. Another memory was when we were around 9 years old, in a fiesta de San Miguel in Brooklyn. There was a huge altar on the floor. People danced and sung as someone was mounted by a misterio who brought messages to those present. Surely, mother searching for a message about my father’s fleeting love. These were the earlier seeds of faith that were planted in my psyche. Then something changed.
My Godmother moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn and my mother relied on her church community for spiritual support. She became part of a sect in church called “Carismaticos.” The vibe shifted. Rather than catching spirits, these folks were trying to exorcise spirits from people. This is where the Catholic guilt, which I am still healing from, was drilled into my psyche. “Sex before marriage is sin, disobeying parents is a sin, not attending weekly mass is sin”. To be under this kind of pressure scarred my spirit at 13 years old. But the more they pushed, the easier it was for me to mentally pull away from Catholicism. At 14 we followed my Madrina and moved away from the Bible-thumping madness. My mother connected with a new Catholic group. As long as we maintained good grades and worked, my mother didn’t pressure us into church.
I became intentional about my practice as a Bruja in my 20s. Moving to Syracuse, NY for graduate school pushed me to go deeper into my faith. I was living by myself for the first time in my life. My family was hundreds of miles away. The transition was trying but I remained opened to where God led me.
The major shift started with a trip to Jamaica as a senior in college. A cab driver was raving about a book he was reading on Reiki. That sparked an interest in alternative medicine, which led me from book to book. The Internet wasn’t as efficient so I borrowed books like Fast Food Nation and The Jungle from the school’s library. Divine timing would lead me to Queen Afua’s Heal Thyself book at a new age bookstore in Syracuse.
The summer before grad school I spent 3 weeks studying abroad in Senegal, West Africa. During the trip, I learned about African cosmologies on life, the earth, and humanity; I also recognized that, as a Dominican, I was Black. A month after returning from Senegal, I visited the DR and got to witness the African presence on that land mass. Once I returned to start my graduate program, I researched the African presence in Latin America. Eventually, I wrote a dissertation on Dominican Blackness.
Heartbreak, homesickness, and the pressures of being an Afro-Latina in a white school pushed me to seek guidance from a higher power. I didn’t’ have my mother’s voice, nor my twin’s influence to determine what this would look like. I went with instinct and at 24 years old, with the help of an elder Priestess or Reveladora de Misterios, I built my first altar.
My family seems more hung up on the fact that I call myself a Bruja than on what I do (yoga, birth support, womb healing). Our family knows exactly where we stand with regards to our spirituality after we created the Brujas’ instagram account in 2016. Most of them are supportive; some have attended our workshops. Our mother doesn’t like us calling ourselves Brujas. Perhaps, a part of her wants us to practice in secret, as she did for many years in DR. My mother did so because the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-61) outlawed these practices for “blackening” the Dominican nation. But we refuse to be silenced! Brujas have been persecuted for centuries. Most of the women burned at stakes for being witches were extremely powerful; most wouldn’t bend to the oppressor’s will. We won’t be silenced anymore.
The major milestones in my recent journey as a Bruja include my doula training with Ancient Song Doula Services in 2012. That same year I designed and implemented a class within the City College of New York: “Trans National Feminisms.” The class makes connections between the great witch-hunt’s in Western European Inquisitions and current racial disparities in US maternal care. I’m also a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor. In 2014 I gave birth to our sun, Talib, at home. And in 2016 my twin sister and I launched our platform: Brujas of Brooklyn. Each and every one of these milestones reveals deeper aspects of my path as a Bruja.
Today, being a bruja helps me tap into a magic that enhances my life. The power that becomes available to me when I sit proudly in my Bruja throne is unmatched. It calms anxiety, sharpens vision, and opens hearts. I am proud to be a Bruja.