Of Horses and Mules: Timescapes, Sacrotraffic, and Veiled Transnational Ecologies of Afro-Cuban Religions – An Autoethnography
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Global and Sociocultural Studies
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Second Advisor's Name
Ana Maria Bidegain
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Autoethnography, Afro-Cuban Religions, Santeria, Transnationalism, Cuba, Palo Monte, Espiritismo, Sacrotraffic, Veiling, Afro-Atlantic Religions, Oral History
Date of Defense
The range and reach of Afro-Cuban religions in the United States have been undertheorized just as their economic and intellectual contributions have been invisibilized in sociocultural production.This dissertation reexamines the key moments in the making of a sacred Cuba-U.S. history, in particular, the formative years of Espiritismo, Palo Monte, and Lukumí, with their foundations in New York and New Jersey from the Pre-Cuban Revolution period to the present. I ethnographically map these religions with particular attention paid to the Mariel Exodus and the Special Period, pivotal moments in the circulation of materials, money, ideas, and people between Cuba and the U.S., and among their intersectional spiritual communities. This work combines autoethnography, extensive qualitative fieldwork, and historiography to investigate the veiled movements [sacrotraffic] of people, money, goods, and knowledge across the distinctive timescapes of Afro-Cuban religious traditions in Cuba and the diaspora of New York and New Jersey.
In this study, the concept of veiling is introduced as a model to imagine that which separates spiritual and material worlds. Veils both conceal and reveal at the same time, allowing for the relational nature of two or more dimensions to be considered, enabling spiritual connectedness within and across localized communities and their environments. Ancestor worship, initiation, possession, and divination are articulated here in what I term a “new religious ecology,” in an effort to apply even coverage to multicultural spiritual economies and routinely politicized translocal spaces, and to better situate the role of Cuban religions across time and spaceas a way to understand and interpret the complexity and relational nature of Afro-Cuban religiosity.In this manner, I present the cultural and sacred experiences of Afro-Cuban religious practitioners to reflect how their creative and entrepreneurial energies and memories impacted their experiences during extreme and precarious sociopolitical conditions and migrations. The elaboration of veiling and adherents whose voices and data are made present through autoethnography help reconcile and navigate liminal intersections that shape the course of life for many practitioners in both Cuba and the U.S. and continues to fashion its current trajectory in multiple and dynamic ways.
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Fernandez, Alexander, "Of Horses and Mules: Timescapes, Sacrotraffic, and Veiled Transnational Ecologies of Afro-Cuban Religions – An Autoethnography" (2019). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4213.
Available for download on Friday, July 04, 2025
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