Anthropology, Cuba, Beads, & Books
I am the Cuban Heritage Collection Librarian and Curator of Latin American Collections at the University of Miami Libraries. The Cuban Heritage Collection is the largest collection of books, periodicals, and archives on Cuba and its people located outside of the island.
My doctoral research explores Afro-Asian religious formation and material culture in Cuba. More recently, I have worked on issues and responses to healthcare needs among Afro-Cuban religious practitioners.
I hold a secondary teaching appointment of Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami and teach classes on religion; Latin America & the Caribbean; and anthropology. I am an Andrew W. Mellon Society Fellow in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School and am interested in print cultures and the history of the book in the circum-Atlantic (see my research interests, below). In addition to being a Fellow, I am proud to be an advisory board member of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Heritage. The Fellowship is a six-year program that will fund forty-five fellows who identify with diverse racial or ethnic communities and/or who work with multicultural collections through innovative and inclusive curatorial practice and leadership.
I started my career as a librarian and curator through the incredible post-doctoral position provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that helps place and support PhDs from all disciplines in libraries, cultural institutions, and higher learning communities. CLIR Fellows help develop strategies to improve research, teaching, and learning environments. I was a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Area Studies at the University of Miami between 2015-2017 and was responsible for History; Latin American Studies; Modern Languages & Literatures, Religious Studies including Judaic and Islamic Studies, and this experience paved the way for when I applied for the position of Librarian of the Cuban Heritage Collection.
Since completing the postdoc, I have continued to work with CLIR in a number of ways. I have been invited to participate in the orientation experiences of subsequent cohorts and I have presented on my experiences of being a CLIR fellow at the University of Miami and some of the projects like the Conversation Project that I have led. I am a member of the review panel for the CLIR Digitizing Hidden Collections Program, a grant competition that awards approximately $4 million annually. The grants support the digitization of collections of materials in libraries, museums, community archives, and other memory institutions that are difficult to access and helps make these materials become accessible online and without charge.
To date, my research consists of three broad yet connected areas:
1) The Chinese in Cuba, specifically the lasting legacies of Afro-Chinese religiosity that grew out of shared living and working spaces from enslaved Africans and indentured Chinese laborers in the sugar plantations and how these connections are visible in material religion and construct ritual practice in religions that are more well known for having African and European/Catholic “syncretisms”. I have presented and taught extensively on Afro-Cuban religions, I have consulted for stage performances and script edited for movies that feature Afro-Atlantic religions such as “Santería” (Lucumí), Candomble, and Haitian Vodou.
2) The history of writing and sharing of textual materials in Afro-Cuban religions. Lucumí religion in particular, including Ifá, have rich trajectories of writing conventions that are crucial to initiation and divination processes and represent a sort of religious publication style that is ongoing, negating the idea that such religions are without some form of written record or are solely based on oral narratives. I write about the content and form of “libretas” or notebooks that constitute a key piece of understanding African-descended religiosity in Cuba and its diaspora.
3) As a beadworker, I have researched the history, use, and making of beadwork in orisha practices in Cuba, Brazil, and Nigeria. This has informed my practice as well as better understand the place and role of beads in the larger contexts of movement, activism/identity-making, and aesthetics or symbolic meaning. Beads are highly mobile and in Afro-Cuban religious practices, they signify and convey a wealth of information. In addition to the practice of making, I have also exhibited beadwork, published about it, and continue to teach and present on these themes. I like to be reflexive and discuss my own experiences and connections in these projects.
Additionally, I have been fortunate to work in the applied medical anthropology field, including the issues of HIV, tourism, and drug use in the Dominican Republic on a $2.2m NEH funded Syndemics Project led by Dr. Mark Padilla. Out of this work, I was able to help create a PhotoVoice project in the Dominican Republic called Proyecto Lentes (Project Lens), that trained and equipped a volunteer group of persons recovering from opioid addiction to document their reality. The resulting images, captions, voices, and exhibitions by and for the assembled participants were powerfully used to champion change in medical interventions for treating addictions. From these valuable research experiences, I have started to explore issues of healthcare needs of Afro-Cuban religious practitioners and their ritual and social responses to HIV in orisha communities. The University of Miami’s Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas provided seed funding for this Cuban research and through the Institute, I was able to contribute to The Lancet Commission on Palliative Care and Pain Relief led by Dr. Felicia Knaul.
Writing is a passion of mine and I enjoy making inter-disciplinary connections in my publications as well as writing for diverse audiences.