Of all the places to collapse I choose a gas station in Albuquerque, NM. My head falls into my pareja’s lap as we sit in my car. Earlier in the day I took a vow of silence as a hope of getting to know my paternal ancestors and now I break it to say, “I feel like there’s a huge part of myself that I will never know.” I am referring to my father’s absence in my life, the person I’ve never met. Here in the parking lot of 7-11 all my feelings of being incomplete come to me in a strong wave.
I know his full name, birthdate and that he is Cuban.
I feel robbed with only these scarce details.
Will I always wonder about this half of myself?
What forces did he believe in?
What were my paternal grandmother’s rituals?
Who did they pray to?
How does that make me who I am?
Can I really feel full with how little he has given me?
My throat hurts from all the questions I carry there.
My partner listens to me and then tells me that what I want to know is not far away from me. She tells me that the body never forgets and that I can and will re-connect with my paternal roots. “We can talk to our ancestors”, Susana says. I am comforted, even as I don’t know how I will begin to converse with my Cuban roots. Will they hear me and will I be able to listen to them? Still, I set out an intention to listen to my intuition to bring my desire to know my paternal roots into fruition.
A year later, a close friend, Beto, introduces me to Nick Jones, Oba-Oriate, and Arek McLaughlin, Babalorisha, practitioners of the Lukumí religion. Nick Jones explains that Lukumí refers to the Yoruba religion in Cuba (commonly referred to as Santería or La Regla de Osha) and is also an Afro-Cuban ethnic group. He further states that “Lukumí is also the Hispanicized version of the liturgical language of these people.” The tradition was also influenced by Catholicism, as a result of Spanish colonizers forcing their religion onto the African population of Cuba. As a means of survival, Africans modified their spiritual rituals to pass as Catholic practices.
As I reflect on the blended spiritualities that reflect in the Lukumí tradition, I go back to a very important person in my life who has heavily impacted my religious practices…
It’s 4AM and I hear my grandma praying in a voice I can’t comprehend. She reads an offering for the new day from her pocket prayer book. The tumultuous power in her voice cradles me, a reflection of the strength in my own voice. I wonder what she prays about. This is what I awoke to.
Where did she learn this ritual?
How many deep holes has her faith helped her escape from?
How many lives has she saved?
My grandma always proclaims her Catholicism proudly with loud certainty. I grew up in the church, even completed my baptism, communion, and confirmation, but these steps felt like rituals without purpose, like checking off duties from a checklist. I knew it made my family proud and I didn’t question the rituals. In these actions that felt almost monotonous, my child self was not able to see my family’s religion as acts of survival and resilience.
Although my grandmother identifies as a Catholic, I know her spirituality has roots in indigenous practices. My mother speaks of memories she has from her childhood of my grandmother performing limpias for their house. She describes her mother splashing the walls with holy water while praying to rid their home of negative energies. Another story I’ve heard in my family is one where my grandmother cured her grandbaby of an illness by cleansing her off with an egg, a ritual that originates from Curanderismo.
I am fortunate to have my mother’s side of the family in my life (my grandmother, mom, tias, and primas) to share their undocumented stories of activism and feminism. My activism was born here, following us from México. My mother’s family has lived here for five generations and our struggles are written in the land. I am rooted in Tejas. My heart is settled in my grandma’s house on Arteago Street, other pieces of me float about endlessly not knowing where to land. I have found a home in my spiritual and cultural identity. I am Tejana-MexiCubi– a term that comes from a necessity to embrace the land that I was raised in, Tejas, and the two homes that my ancestors have traveled from, Mexico and Cuba.
The universe has given this Tejana-MexiCubi the gift of storytelling. I write to make my life full, as part of my spiritual practice. I make blessings out of scraps only to realize that voids can be transformed into abundance through poems and untold stories.
Where the dance finds home
I charanga like a sunny mango fire
My throat humming prayers of salud, struggle, and daily versos of “si dios quiere”.
Hopeful was born in salsa, boleros, and tejano music.
Sal con limon sits on my tongue
Peaches born from red, orange, and pink live in my taste.
My time slows down Saturdays
To give time to capture all the shades of my selves
From the prayers to la Virgen de Guadalupe,
to the rope of dangling ajo we hang by our door
Back to the severe, subtropical, sugarcane sweat my people wiped from their brows.
Music is my blanket of laughter, my raincoat.
Because, daddy has always been gone
And his purple briefcase is the rain dripping down my windows.
As I sway on the timeless tire swing at Kennedy Park,
Oyá caresses me with her lovely lavender scent
Her eggplant fingerprints leaving powerful prayers written in my skin.
You will feel her shadow in the drops of agua florida I cleanse you with
My abuelita’s te de canela bringing you home, as it does for me.
Elizabeth Rodríguez is a queer brown woman who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She has a Master of Arts in Woman’s Studies from Texas Woman’s University. Elizabeth is a writer of poems and short stories that are born from many personal experiences of generational trauma, women of color feminisms, undocumented activism(s), resiliency, and love.