Borderlands and Crossroads:
Transnational Connections in the Performance of Afrolantina/o Spiritualities

by Solimar Otero

in National Conference

Post image for Borderlands and Crossroads:<br />Transnational Connections in the Performance of Afrolantina/o Spiritualities

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

Espiritistas are important mediators of the dead for practitioners of Palo and Ocha/Santo. [. . .]  Importantly, during their masses, espiritistas help the living engage these dead through a complex theater of possession, often involving the experience of Kongo dead, usually runaway slaves.
–Todd Ramón Ochoa, Society of the Dead, (2010), 49 – 50, (emphasis mine).

It is my contention that the doing that matters most and the performance that seems most crucial are nothing short of the actual making of worlds.
– José Estaban Muñoz, Disidentifications, (1999), 200, (emphasis in original).

Afrolatina/o spiritual networks and performances operate in global circuits that are mediated through a range of genres of expression (Beliso-De Jesús 2013; Palmié 2013; Otero 2013).  This short essay complicates some of the unidirectional ways that race, place, and history have been conceived of in thinking about the geographical flows of Afrolatinidad through a detailed reading of spiritual performances in Cuba (López 2012:133).  In this regard, I challenge the idea that North American locations of Afrolatinidad are somehow the defining destinations in creating both the crossroads of African diasporic identities and the borderlands of Latina/o communities.  I urge us to look at the multi-directional ways that Afrolatinidad is being created through ritual performances that reframe communities in a cosmopolitanism that has multiple centers of generation.

Espiritismo is found in many Latin American contexts as a folk religious practice that incorporates elements of the local Amerindian shamanistic traditions, vernacular Catholicism, African beliefs, European folk religion, Asian spiritual knowledge, and Kardecist Spiritism (Pérez 2011; Romberg 2003, 2005; Román 2007; Hess 1987; López 2013).  In Cuba, most of these cultural elements are represented and performed in Espiritismo rituals, especially in the misa espiritual.[i]  Misas are gatherings where spirit mediums communicate with the dead and with family ancestors through visions, possession, and intuition (Pérez 2011).

The misa is a complex and prolonged ritual.  I have witnessed and participated in misas during my fifteen years of fieldwork in Cuba, my mother’s homeland.  My observation is that misas most consistently demonstrate a theater, to use Ochoa’s word from the above epigraph, for the admixture of varying cultural influences.  What stands out about the performance of the ritual is the transculturation of the many ethnicities of the spirit guides, as well as the blending of the different religious traditions that Espiritismo draws from.  Here I am using Cuban folklorist Fernando Ortiz’s concept of transculturación (transculturation) to relate the idea that cultures in contact influence each other to create something unique that is not homogenized, and that this unique cultural form of expression contains the elements of social tensions, inequality, and difference that cultural borrowing entails.  The process of transculturación is deeply embedded in other Cuban ritual and cultural practices (Ortiz 2002 [1940]; Benítez Rojo 1992 [1989]; Arrizón 2006; Palmié 2013:78-79).

Ochoa’s comments on the important work that espiritistas do in the ethno-historical theater of possession, especially in terms of representation of the legacy of slavery and race in Cuba, puts these ritual performances in temporally heightened and politicized moments of becoming.  The performance of gender, race, and sexuality in misas reveal a co-exploration of embodiment by spirits and their mediums that profoundly mark the construction of the self.  In this regard, Afro-Cuban religions are intersectional as multi-layered beings are produced in rituals that also are embedded in varying social registers and hierarchies of power.  This intersectionality also implicates the self in a range of spiritual realms and relationships that span across different religious traditions (Cabrera 1980; Pérez 2011; Ochoa 2010; Brown 2003; Romberg 2003; Quiroga 2000:79).  In the misa, spiritual engagements and conflicts reveal themselves in how spirit possession traditions in Santería, Palo, and Espiritismo compete with and refer to each other (Romberg, 2007:75 – 106; Viarnés 2007: 130-32, 143-45; Verger 2010 [1977]: 50 – 66).  Thus, the attitudes towards what constitutes the self as being and becoming are in constant ontological negotiation because of the range of performative selves that practitioners invoke in the cultural, social, and spiritual worlds they inhabit.

Figure 1 Spengler with Boveda

(Figure 1: Spengler with bóveda )

In May of 2013, I visited Havana to work with spirit mediums Tomasa Spengler, Mercedes Zamora Albuquerque, José Días Casada, Soñia Bustamonte, and Maximina Bustamonte for an ethnographic project on interorality and ritual.  We performed misas at the Spengler residence in the neighborhood of Mantilla.[ii]  A bóveda (spirit’s table) was set up with colorful flowers, glasses of fresh water for the spirits, rosaries, candles, tobacco, perfume and prayer books for the ancestors and spirit guides who were coming to visit (see figure 1).  A bowl full of water with flower petals was placed at the foot of the table for cleansing before the start of the ceremony.  The masses were said in honor of the dead of the family of some of the participants, as well as the latter misa to coronar (crown) a medium.  Those who had immediate ties to the dead were given a clear glass of water to place under their chairs.  The figure of an Indian spirit head held two rosaries at the head of the bóveda, a symbol that reflects how Amerindian spirits are represented in Afro-Atlantic spiritual work from New Orleans, to Brazil, and in Cuba (Wehmeyer 2007).

Figure 2 Spengler and Albuquerque

(Figure 2: Spengler and Albuquerque)

After sets of prayers and songs were performed, spirit guides began arriving (see figure 2).  The spirits who came to give counsel included a range of beings: a departed grandmother, Afro-Cuban palera/os, a Spanish gitana (gypsy), a monja (nun), a Native American, a spirit guide associated with the oricha Elegua, and a spirit guide associated with both the Catholic saint San Lazaro and the Lucumí oricha Babalu Aiye.  The mediums engaged in code-switching, amalgamation, and cross-referencing between different religious traditions, nationalities, and ethnicities in co-constructing the life histories of the spirit guides they saw at the misa  (see Romberg 2007, 2003; Viarnés 2007:140-41; Perez Mena 1998; Pérez 2011).  Some of the spirits themselves were described as having multiple valences in terms of sources of spiritual power, as in having both Yoruba and Congo ritual implements in the spirit world to work with, primarily to help the living.[iii]  The divergent, conflated, and conflicted discourses of the many voices expressed at the misa illustrate how the performative expression of the idea of transculturation creates an opportunity for the study of the performance of spiritual creolization –in its most “messy,” conflicted, and interesting sense (Román 2009:111; Díaz-Quiñones 1999).

As an example, I would like to highlight a moment of performative becoming for a gitana spirit that visited one of the misas I participated in.  Soñia Bustamonte and José Días Casada co-created the following representation of a spirit whose amalgamation of Afrolatina/o characteristics spanned races, continents, religions, and ethnicities:

Soñia Bustamonte:  Ahorra yo veo, desde el momento que cantamos “Los Clavelitos” una tendencia de gitana. Gitana, con una saya rosada llena de óvalos. De muchos colores. Con unas argollas grandes. Ella no toca castañuelas, ella no tiene castañuelas. Pero la veo rodando te. Con esa saya de dos vuelos y óvalos. [ . . .] Esa gitana tiene tendencia de Oya, de Centella.

Now I see, after we just sang “Los Clavelitos”,[iv] a gypsy tendency [a spirit with a Spanish gypsy countenance].  A gypsy, with a pink polka-dotted skirt.  Of many colors.  With large hoop earrings.  She does not play the castanets, she does not have castanets.  But, I see her circling you [a medium / participant]. With that full, ruffled polka-dotted skirt. That gypsy has her own tendency [to work spiritually] with Oya, with Centella. [v]

José Días Casada then interrupted, adding:

Y donde ese espíritu que lo ves tan alegre, yo lo veo, a su vez, como si tenía un desdoble. Como un espíritu de una monja . . . Esa espíritu la gitana como hace un redoble con un espíritu que es una monja.  Una monja que yo la recibo vestida de carmelita, con la capa blanca. Como si hubiera sido una monja misionera.  Una de Las Hermanitas de la Caridad – dedicada a ayudar enfermos, hacer obras.

And whereby that spirit, that you see as joyous, I see, as well, as if she had a double.  Like a nun’s spirit. . . .That gypsy spirit has a spirit double that is a nun.  A nun that I am receiving as wearing brown, with a white hood.  As if she was a missionary nun.  One of the Sisters of Charity – dedicated to helping the sick, doing good works. [vi]

The gitana spirit guide is described in both the past and present tenses – uniting the narrative memory of her living days with the phenomenological moment of the misa.  Elizabeth Pérez sees participants in a misa as “living bóvedas” (spirit tables) reflecting the idea that the self is a “dividual” rather than “unitary” being for participants (2011:355-56).  I would move these suggestions further based on the above “reading” of the spirit and say that the self in Espiritismo is conceived as always becoming in multiple ways and attached to diverse dimensions of seen and unseen worlds in moments that challenge the present in layered associations.  The difficulties, tensions, and unresolved representations of race, ethnicity, religious difference, sexuality, and gender in the misa direct us towards contemporary issues in Cuban society that also require special attention.  Like Rivera-Servera’s analysis of moments of queer Latina/o “utopian performatives,” the misa’s moments of spiritual unity are fraught with racial, ethnic, sexual, and class-based tensions that underlie the idea of cubanidad (Rivera-Servera 2012:193-203; Aparicio and Chávez-Silverman 1997: 5 -7, 11-14).  These tensions can be extended to reflect performances where Afrolatinidad emerges from fissures created by cultural convergence.  Thus, the liminal space of the misa, and its potentiality for transformation, reveals some of the social and cultural sites whereby larger Latin American and African diasporas meet and negotiate community at crossroads and borderlands.

A brief exploration of the gitana’s accompanying spiritual associations is helpful to consider here.  First, I would like us to consider how the Spanish gitana, the Yoruba deity Oya, the Congo spirit Centella, and the Catholic monja as a received amalgam at the  misa reflect a complex inter-layering of different geographical and religious valences that perform spiritual  trabajo (work) from multi-sited locations.  Their separate and mutual becoming at the misa illustrate a moment of Afrolatina/o transculturation that specifically comments on the tense borrowings between these distinct religious and cultural traditions that are based on Cuba’s colonial past.  The flow of associations and doublings also create a kind of spiritual palimpsest that also reflects cultural and political attitudes towards the past particular to Cuban contexts (Otero 2012; Quiroga 2005).

The Spanish gitana rather than “whitening” the performance of Afrolatina/o spirituality actually represents a different manifestation of Afrolatinidad whose site is rooted in the Black Atlantic in several ways (Gilroy 1993:25-32; Linebaugh and Rediker 2001).  Gitanos, as a Mediterranean offshoot of the Rom, are a nomadic and persecuted group in Europe that are racially coded and culturally tropicalized in specific ways that suggest their alterity (Aparicio and Chávez-Silverman 1997).  Indeed, as R.L. Román uncovers in looking at Espiritistas in Cuba’s Republican era (1901) that, “Not only do African orishas masquerade as Catholic saints, . . . but seemingly European spirits also ‘camouflage’ their hybridity in a variety of guises” (2007:235).[vii]  I would argue that the gitana’s position in Espiritismo’s spiritual universe represents this kind of slippage in terms of being a racial and cultural hybrid figure in the misa.

The addition of the Yoruba deity Oya and the Congo entity Centella represents an intra-ethnic and cross-referenced Africanization of the gitana spirit guide.  Both Oya and  Centella are already linked to each other in various forms of combined ritual practices in Palo and Santería (cruzados / crossed) that illustrate a deep history of mixing in Cuban vernacular religious performance.  These Black crossings and additions to the gitana’s spiritual universe represent a kind of Afrolatinidad that carries with it a density of potential spiritual work that can be done with the gitana through these associations.  In other words, references to future performances of misas and rituals based on these amalgams are embedded in the descriptions of the figures, especially in the emphasis of their spiritual poderes (powers).[viii]

Lastly, the addition of the monja represents another spiritual valence that marks the emergence of the gitana in the performance of her visit to the misa in specific ways.  The monja represents a figure of empathy and of healing that also is associated with a specific religious order, the Sisters of Charity. Her appearance creates a doble (double), as José Casada puts it, to the gitana in terms of signalling another kind of nomadism associated with Catholic sanctity and sacrifice.  I also see the monja as a celibate subject that counteracts sexual, sultry depictions of the gitana.

The transcultural merging and tensions represented by this constellation of spirits connects the present to the past in a co-construction of spiritual life histories for the living and dead.  In voices that are doubled and quoted, the participants in the misa show us that the dead are watching, listening, and asking us to engage with the past in visceral and real ways (Ochoa 2010:13, 2010a:390).  The revelatory narrative process of the misa reaffirms the relationships, conflicts, warnings, powers, and work yet to be done with spirit guides and the (colonial / past) worlds they represent.  Here, the ontology of co-existence pushes past the boundaries of the binaries of self and other, of body and spirit, and into dense compilations of associations that emphasize spiritual movement, negotiation, and creativity.

In this regard, Ramón Rivera-Servera’s work on Latina/o communities of affect is particularly useful in thinking about the productive frictions that emerge in the performance of the misa’s Afrolatina/o spirituality.  In particular, Rivera-Servera’s view that Latina/o performatives express “moments where the aesthetic event becomes, temporarily, a felt materiality that instantiates the imaginable into the possible” correlates to what is happening on many levels in José Casada and Soñia Bustamonte’s performance of the gitana at the misa (2012:35).  At the heart of this spiritual work is the challenge to see the potential for consensus building in fleeting moments that are accompanied by social and cultural difference, contestations, and pitfalls.  Espiritismo seeks to heal communities of affect through performances of misas and other rituals in ways that do not homogenize, but rather, embraces conflictive pairings.

Similarly, Raquel Romberg has referred to the creative work that Espiritismo does as a kind of “ritual piracy” that reflects a “creolization with an attitude” based on the very conflicts found in the religious colonial history of the Caribbean itself (Romberg 2005: 199-201).[ix]  I would add that this “piracy” actively co-creates phenomenological openings where religious admixtures are happening as performances that include “piracy” by the spirit guides as well.  As we see above between José Casada and Soñia Bustamonte, there is a layered discussion, a co-penetrated conversation that occurs in the moment of the mutual passing of spirit guides (Pérez 2011:331, 355).  These discursive registers of the misa also situate how ethno-historical transculturation transforms the spirit plane – and how this transformation is a continual process of re-assessing ethnic, racial, gendered, sexual, and religious difference and tension.  Espiritismo, as its own set of religious practices, creates a site whereby religious and socio-cultural boundaries are pushed to their limits, and in doing so, are reconstructed through metaphors of reincorporation. In a sense, Espiritismo disrupts the supposed authority found in the symbolic and material economies of Santería and Palo because it so boldly disrupts claims of ethnic, racial, and religious authenticity through its narrative boundary play (Wirtz 2007:266; Palmié 2013:4-5, 46, 115-116; Romberg 2007).

The misa’s spirit guides that briefly appear may contain the same kind of repertoires of ephemerally coded performances that can and cannot be read from the official archives of history (Taylor 2003:19-20, 33, 173; Palmié 2013:17, 107-08).  The tensions inherent in binding the folk Catholic, Palo, Santería, and Espiritista traditions together in the image of creolized passing spirits signal to gendered, raced, sexed, and ethnic hauntings that the memory of colonialization, transnational immigration, and transculturation in contemporary Cuba engenders (Flores-Peña 2004:97 – 98; Taylor 2003:142-44; Derrida 1994: 59 – 6).  As the with the voices in Taylor’s archive — some missing, some whispering, some resounding — the voices that come together in the misa give us a guide as to how to read what is left of a partial story based on a phenomenological continuum of experiences (see Taylor 2003:46 – 50, 127 – 29).

The performance of Afrolatinidad in the misa is embodied through trans-locating ethnicity, race, place, and religious registers.  Both the mediums and the spirit guides at the misa disidentify their racial and religious positions by performing a kind of transculturation that purposely crosses multiple boundaries (Muñoz 1999:8 -11, 21 – 23; Arrizón 2006:88 –91, 95 – 99, 177 – 78).  The performance of a misa pays a unique kind of attention to difference in a heightened ritual context that becomes a microcosm of the routes and sites where Afroltaina/o crossroads and borderlands meet.  As José Estaban Muñoz states in the epitaph to this piece, the doing that matters can actually make worlds. Here, the misa’s mediums and spirits do make worlds that have a profound effect in multiple temporal and spatial realms.

In terms of thinking about the locations of Afrolatinidad, ritual performances in the misa allow for broader, transnational considerations of the routes of cultural, racial, and ethnic flows.  The mediums’ performed images of the gitana and her entourage illustrate religious and racial movement through a complicated and cosmopolitan Atlantic terrain.  Perhaps hemispheric renderings of enacted history through performance can be paired with Afrolatina/o performances like the misa in order to better attenuate the variance in the direction of cultural flows.  Afrolatinidad in this sense acts as a set of world-making performances that also encourage new ways of becoming.

Endnotes


[i] I will refer to the misa espiritual in its abbreviated form, the misa, for most of the remainder of the essay.

[ii] These misas were performed on May 16 and 22, 2013. All of the specific ritual details of the misas are too lengthy to describe in this piece.  However, a meticulous analysis of the role of the misa and its significance to gendered religious cultures in Cuba is forthcoming in a larger volume.

[iii] There is a desire to represent what is understood as the “seven nations” –  or (sometimes stereotypical) chacterizations of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religious roots present in Latina/o and Caribbean societies at a misa (see Román 2009:123). Seven is a significant ritual number in Palo, Santería, and Espiritismo and has magical properties associated with specific spiritual beings and the work they do. For Palo see Routon 2008:642 – 43; for Santería see Cabrera 1980: 276, 302, 316; for  Espiritismo examples including the Siete Potencias Africanas (Seven African Powers) see Romberg 2003:134; 245, 267.

[iv] The songs and prayers that accompany a misa provide a unique perspective – they are sung in the voices of the spirit guides (see Pérez 2011:342). Songs invoke the names of spirits common to Cuban espiritismo, i.e. “Francisca,” as well as the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin Mary. The song, “Los Clavelitos” (The Little Carnations), prompted the spirit guide of the gitana (gypsy) to appear in a crucial moment at the misa de coronación (coronation).  The voices, perspectives, and spiritual work that the songs do require more analysis than can be provided here in this essay.

[v] The oricha Oya, known for her association with the river Niger, hurricanes, and the rainbow is associated with the Palo entity Centella, who has her own fierce and protective characteristics in Cuban vernacular religious crossings (see Ochoa 2010: 88, 140, 145, 220-21).

[vi] Soñia Bustamonte and José Días Casada, Coronación ritual, May 22, 2013, Havana, Cuba.

[vii] R.L. Román explores the depiction in periodicals and legal documents of two espiritistas – Hilario Mustelier, who was Afro-Cuban, and Juan Manso Estevéz, who was Spanish.

[viii] Both Oya and  Centella are associated with the cemetery and the dead in specific ways that render them especially potent spiritual beings.

[ix] Romberg takes her lead from Roger Abrahams view of creolization whereby the conflicts that arise from the perceived “contagion” of cultural mixing and miscegenation recast Caribbean history and folklore against other perceived authenticties, purities of culture (see Abrahams 2003).

References Cited:

Abrahams, Roger D. 2003. “Questions of criolian contagion.” Journal of American  Folklore 116(59): 73-87.

Aparicio, Frances R. and Susana Chávez-Silverman, eds. 1997. Tropicalization. Hanover: Dartmouth College.

Arrizón, Alicia. 2006. Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation and Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Beliso De-Jesús, Aisha. 2013. “Religious cosmopolitanisms: Media, transnational

Santería, and travel between the United States and Cuba.”  American Ethnologist 40 (4): 704 – 20.

Benítez Rojo, Antonio. 1992 [1989]. La Isla Que Se  Repite. Hanover: Ediciones del Norte.

Brown, David Hilary. 2003. Santería Enthroned. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cabrera, Lydia. 1980. Yemayá y Ochún.Miami: Ediciones Universal.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994.  Spectres of Marx. New York and London: Routledge.

Díaz-Quiñones, Arcadio. 1999. “Fernando Ortiz y Allan Kardec: Espiritismo y transculturación.”  Catauro: revista cubana de antropología 1(0): 14-31.

Flores-Peña, Ysamur. 2004. “ ‘Candles, Flowers and Perfume’: Puerto Rican Spiritism on the Move.” In, Botánica Los Angeles, ed. Patrick Arthur Polk, pp. 88 -97.

Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum

Gilroy, Paul. 1993.  The Black Atlantic.  New York: Verso Books.

Hess, David. 1987. “The Many Rooms of Spiritism in Brazil.” Luso-Brazilian Review 24(2):15 – 34.

Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rideker. 2001. The Many-Headed Hydra. Boston: Beacon Press.

López, Antonio. 2012. Unbecoming Blackness.  New York: New York University Press.

López, Kathleen. 2013. Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Muñoz, Jose Estaban. 1999. Disidentifications. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ochoa, Todd Ramón. 2010.  Society of the Dead.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

—. 2010a. “Prendas-Ngangas-Enquisos: Turbulance and the Influence of the Dead in

Cuban-Kongo Material Culture.”  Cultural Anthropology 25 (3): 387 – 420.

Ortiz, Fernando. 2002 [1940].  Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y azúcar.  Madrid: Cátedra.

Otero, Solimar. 2012. “The Ruins of Havana: Representations of Memory, Religion, and Gender.” Atlantic Studies 9(2): 143 – 63.

—. 2013. “Yemayá y Ochún: Queering the Vernacular Logics of the Waters.”

In Yemoja, ed. Solimar Otero and Toyin Falola, pp.85 – 112. Albany:State University of New York Press.

Palmié, Stephen.  2013.  The Cooking of History.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Pérez, Elizabeth. 2011. “Spiritist Mediumship as Historical Mediation: African-American Pasts, Black Ancestral Presence, and Afro-Cuban Religions.” Journal of Religion in Africa 41: 330-365.

Perez Mena, Andres I. “Cuban Santeria, Haitian Vodun, Puerto Rican Spiritualism:

A Multiculturalist Inquiry into Syncretism.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, no. 1 (1998): 15-28.

Quiroga, José. 2000. Tropics of Desire. New York: New York University Press.

—. 2005.  Cuban Palimpsests. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Rivera-Servera, Ramón H. 2012. Performing Queer Latinidad. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Román, Reinaldo M. 2007. “Governing Man-Gods: Spiritism and the Struggle  for Progress in Republican Cuba.” Journal of Religion in Africa 37(2): 212-241.

—. 2009.  Governing Spirits: Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898-1956.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Romberg, Raquel. 2003. Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico. Austin: University of Texas Press.

—. 2005. “Ritual Piracy or Creolization with an Attitude.” New West Indian Guide 79(3 / 4):175-218.

—. 2007. “‘Today, Changó Is Changó’: How Africanness becomes a Ritual Commodity in Puerto Rico.” Western Folklore 66(1/2): 75-106.

Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Verger, Pierre Fatumbi. 2010 (1977). “Trance and Convention in Nago-Yoruba Spirit Mediumship.” In Spirit Mediumship and Society in Africa, ed. John Beattie and John Middleton, pp.50-66. New York: Africana Publishing Corporation.

Viarnés, Carrie. 2007. “Cultural Memory in Afro-Cuban Possession: Problematizing Spiritual Categories, Resurfacing ‘Other’ Histories.” Western Folklore 66(1/2): 127-60.

Wehmeyer, Stephen C. 2007. “‘Indians At The Door:’ Power and Placement on

New Orleans Spiritual Church Altars.” Western Folklore 66(1/2):15-44.

Wirtz, Kristina. 2007. “Divining the Past: Linguistic Reconstruction of ‘African Roots’ in Diasporic Ritual Registers and Songs.”  Journal of Religion in Africa 37(2):242- 274.


Otero, Solimar b&wSolimar Otero is Associate Professor of English and a Folklorist at Louisiana State University. Her research centers on gender, sexuality, Afro-Caribbean spirituality, and Yoruba traditional religion in folklore, literature, and ethnography.  She is the author of Afro-Cuban Diasporas in the Atlantic World, (University of Rochester Press, 2013, 2010).  She is also the co-editor of Yemoja: Gender, Sexuality, and Creativity in Latina/o and Afro-Atlantic Diasporas (SUNY Press 2013), which was selected as a finalist for the 2014 Albert J. Raboteau book prize.  Dr. Otero is the recipient of a Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund grant (2013); a fellowship at the Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program, (2009 to 2010); and a Fulbright award (2001). She is currently working on a book, Afrolatino Religious Performance: Affect and Ritual in Cuba.  This project investigates how vernacular performances and narratives in Afro-Cuban religions create a layered Cuban transnationalism.