Study Guide

Dreaming in Cuban The Supernatural

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The Supernatural

"Her husband emerges from the light and comes toward her, taller than the palms, walking on water in his white summer suit and Panama hat." ("Ocean Blue," 5)

Jorge visits Celia in Cuba immediately after his death in New York. The mundane expression of this supernatural appearance would make it seem that such occurrences happen daily—or at least are expected.

"'The nuns told her it was like a Holy Ascension except Papi was dressed to go dancing. Then he shows up at my mother's house and nearly scares her half to death. I think she dove in the ocean after him.'" ("Ocean Blue," 12)

Note the sacred and otherworldly juxtaposed with earthly frivolity. Jorge experiences a miraculous spiritual transformation but his clothes still reflect his personality. Felicia misinterprets Celia's response as she recounts the story to Herminia.

"'Listen, girl, there's always new hope for the dead. You must cleanse your soul of this or it will trail you all your days. It may even harm your children. Just a small offering to Santa Bárbara...'" ("Ocean Blue," 12)

Herminia convinces Felicia that she has to take action to appease the negative energy she's generated from not making peace with her father before he died. Since Herminia is a santera she believes that such negativity will bring ill luck to Felicia if it lingers. Felicia is not thrilled about the idea of blood sacrifice, but Herminia brings her round.

"Against the back wall, an ebony statue of Santa Bárbara, the Black Queen, presides. Apples and bananas sit in offering at her feet. Fragrant oblations crowd the shrines of the other saints and gods: toasted corn, pennies, and an aromatic cigar for Saint Lazarus, protector of paralytics; coconut and bitter kola for Obatalá, King of the White Cloth; roasted yams, palm wine, and a small sack of salt for Oggún, patron of metals." ("Ocean Blue," 14)

Felicia is cornered into making a sacrifice of a goat to the gods in order to restore the balance in her life after Jorge's death. Here, she enters La Madrina's house and surveys the shrines of the Catholic saints-turned-gods.

"'When I went in, he was fully dressed, standing there erect and healthy, except that his head and hands glowed as if lit from within. It was a nimbus of holiness, I am certain." ("Going South," 19)

It seems that everyone encounters the supernatural in this book, yet the interpretations of such events are quite varied. In this case, Sister Federica—who has taken care of Jorge during his last illness—finds sanctity in the weird ghostly appearance of Jorge after death.

"Abuela Celia and I write to each other sometimes, but mostly I hear her speaking to me at night just before I fall asleep. She tells me stories about her life and what the sea was like that day. She seems to know everything that's happened to me and tells me not to mind my mother too much." ("Going South," 28-29)

Earlier in this chapter, Celia explains to us that she has been talking to Pilar in the night, their telepathic conversations overcoming the miles between Cuba and Brooklyn. It might have been easy to dismiss this as the claims of an eccentric and lonely person—until Pilar confirms the conversations. Eventually, the communications break off, but for Pilar, they are one of the strongest motivators to make the trip to Cuba.

"Fruit and coins are strewn by [the ceiba tree's] trunk and the ground around the tree bulges with offerings. Celia knows that good charms and bad are hidden in the stirred earth near its sacred roots. Tía Alicia told her once that the ceiba is a saint, female and maternal. She asks the tree permission before crossing its shadow, then circles it three times and makes a wish for Felicia." ("Palmas Street," 43)

So Celia doesn't believe in religious mumbo jumbo...but she does like to hedge her bets. In this case, her interaction with the supernatural is a spontaneous response, learned in her childhood from an unconventional aunt.

"Her body starts to sway, and her clasped hands rock beneath her chin until it seems she is all loose, swinging angles. And then, as Celia watches, the little santera's moist eyes roll back in her dwarfish head until the whites gleam from two pinpricks, and she trembles once, twice, and slides against Celia in a heap on the sidewalk, smoking like a wet fire, sweet and musky, until nothing is left of her but her fringed cotton shawl." ("Baskets," 160)

Yes, that's right. She spontaneously combusted. Again, the big surprise isn't that the santera evaporates; it's that Celia merely bends over and picks up her shawl. It's as though this kind of thing happened every day. (We're not even sure that next of kin were notified.)

"'Lourdes, I'm back,' Jorge de Pino greets his daughter forty days after she buried him with his Panama hat, his cigars, and a bouquet of violets in a cemetery on the border of Brooklyn and Queens." ("Grove," 64)

Far from being dismayed by her father's posthumous return, Lourdes takes great comfort in her father's company. Since he is the only person she feels sympathy with, it's really her only chance for real companionship and possible emotional healing.

"The santeras had made eight cuts on her tongue with a razor blade so that the god could speak, but Felicia could not divulge his words. When Obatalá finally left her body, she opened her eyes and emerged from the void." ("God's Will," 187)

Felicia's initiation ceremony into santería is as extreme and stomach turning as most of the experiences she's had up to this point in her life. Her complete compliance during these little trials shows her determination to find peace in her life, which turns out to be a misplaced hope.

"I light my candle. The bath turns a clear green from the herbs. It has the sharp scent of an open field in spring. When I pour it on my hair, I feel a sticky cold like dry ice, then a soporific heat. I'm walking naked as a beam of light along brick paths and squares of grass, phosphorescent and clean." ("Changó," 203)

Pilar literally wanders into a mundane practice of santería when she chances on a botánica in Brooklyn. She is searching desperately for an identity that blends the Cuban and American aspects of her life and for clarity where her motherland is concerned.

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