¡Eso es brujería! If you grew up evangelical and Hispanic, you know this phrase well.
“That’s witchcraft!” church ladies and Sunday school teachers would exclaim of traditions and observances that were outside of the canon of western Christian worship and culture.
Anything from a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe to evil eye bracelets were tools of Satan to distract Christians.
“Why worship an idol of the nurse when you have access to the great physician?” they would say. “Skulls are a sign of devil worship!” one Girls in Action teacher would exclaim on a Wednesday night before Halloween.
As a child of the Hispanic Baptist Churches of Texas, I learned how to love God in the language of my parents and grandparents. However, while I had the privilege of being surrounded by people who looked like me and spoke like me, it seemed there was a cover up afoot, keeping us from the practices and traditions of our ancestors.
Brujeria, it seems, was actually a tool to instill the underlying white supremacy on our Hispanic faith. In essence, attempting to erase any inkling of the culture of our bisabuelos (great-grandfathers).
In recent years, I have slowly begun the work of decolonizing my identity as a Latina and as a person of Christian faith. Unlearning a colonized faith has not been an easy journey, and just when I feel like I have landed in a place that feels right, I am pushed to unpack even further.
Maybe it’s a holy spirit nudge, or maybe an ancestor beckoning me closer to a connection long lost in the muck of western Christian ecclesiology. “Go further, mija” I imagine either saying.
Part of this journey has been introducing and honoring practices of the culture, such as honoring the dead and their lives.
Earlier this week, Nick and I set out pictures of grandparents, uncles and a pup in preparation for Dia de los Muertos — a holy season in Mexico that dates back to the pre-Hispanic Indigenous groups.
When the Christian colonizers came and introduced Christian traditions, those who survived colonization found a way to maintain their observance in All Saints remembrance; a true testament to the resilience of mi gente.
For our shared altar, I picked my favorite picture of Bowie exploring a West Virginia creek and a picture of my Grandma Elvia wearing an impossibly wide-brimmed beach hat in her younger years.
Also, since local mercados were out of pan de muerto, I made buttermilk biscuits for them since Bowie loved the crispy pieces and I think Grandma Elvia would be proud that I finally learned how to make good biscuits.
New to my altar were Nick’s grandparents and uncles — family who did not get the opportunity to meet us on this side, but for these two nights, our loved ones had the opportunity to introduce themselves as “Nick’s Papou” or Alyssa’s “Grandma Elvia” in our home.
I delight in the idea that, for these two nights, while the world slept, our grandparents were making introductions.
Maybe Nick’s Uncle Al spoke to my grandma in Spanish and Bowie nibbled more than his share of biscuits. Perhaps Gingin told Grandma Elvia what Nick was like as a child — grandmothers exchanging stories of their grandbabies whom they adored. Maybe they did a toast with the tequila and gin left out for them while marveling at what their descendants have become.
And while the grief of losing a loved one ebbs and flows, for those holy nights, my grief turned to delight in their spirits among us.
Anyone who has lost someone knows the grief I’m talking about. Like scar tissue, it seems to hurt more when the seasons change. Colder days create a sore spot, reminding you of your loss.
Major holidays and birthdays have the smallest sense of bitterness with their absence, and their favorite foods and drinks have a hint of sour in the aftertaste.
I miss my grandma. I miss her laugh and the way she called each of us “baby” in her accented English. “Hey bay-beh!” she’d say when I answered the phone.
While the grief of losing my grandmother during the pandemic has become easier to hold, knowing that I had this ancient way of honoring her and welcoming her spirit was a balm to my heart that misses her daily.
Where the somber tolls of church bells don’t suffice as a proper memoriam for Grandma Elvia, two nights with lit candles, twinkly orange lights, tequila and biscuits remind me of her love and our ancestral resilience, and it keeps me pushing further.