WWU's Hugo García to present ‘Santería Decoded: An Approach to Understanding the Formation of an Afro Cuban Religion' Jan. 31 at City Hall

Hugo García, Associate Professor of Modern and Classical Languages at Western Washington University, will give a talk titled “Santería Decoded: An Approach to Understanding the Formation of an Afro Cuban Religion” from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31 in the Bellingham City Council Chambers, 210 Lottie St.

The free, public talk is an installment of the WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham.

The Regla de Ocha-Ifá, better known as Santería, is a religious system that emerged in Cuba as a result of the survival of the religions and cultures brought with the African Yoruba groups as they intertwined with Spanish Catholicism. It is common nowadays to find the word ‘syncretism’ used to refer to the hybrid collection of this religious system. But how does one achieve a syncretic religion? How can religious beliefs of two dissimilar worlds be combined and merged? These are the questions García will try to answer.

In the 18th century Cuba became an important producer and exporter of cane sugar. The large number of sugar cane plantations and mills that supported this new role for the small colonial island was an agro-industrial reality that demanded a great deal of slave labor. The slave trade that sugar generated brought to Cuba hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans who, against the odds, managed to negotiate the survival of their cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The contribution of these slaves to the Cuban culture is essential and impossible to understate even today. Professor García will propose a methodology to decode and understand the different ways in which religious elements of African origin, especially Yoruba, merge with the Catholic religion and the symbolic colonial world.

Hugo García was born in Havana, Cuba. He studied Art History at the University of Havana. After graduating he worked in the restoration of heritage architecture in the historic center of Havana. He arrived in the United States in 1999 and that same year he began studying for a Master’s Degree in Spanish Language and Literature. In 2006, he obtained his PhD in Latin American colonial literatures and cultures at The Ohio State University.

Since that same year (2006), he has worked at Western Washington University where he teaches Latin American Literatures and Cultures, Latin American Film, and Spanish language. His research interests include the literary investigation of Latin American colonial satire, resulting in the publication of a critical edition of Lima por dentro y fuera (Lima Inside and Out), by Esteban Terralla y Landa (Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2011). This book, originally published in 1797, is considered the latest collection of satirical poetry produced in colonial Latin America.

García is currently investigating the cultural contacts between African and Spanish cultures in the Caribbean. His current research deals in particular with the process of formation of syncretic religions and popular beliefs in the Cuban colonial context.

Audience questions for the January 31st talk will be welcomed. The lecture will be recorded and shown on Bellingham TV Channel 10.

For more information on this lecture and for disability accommodations, please contact Kirsten Anderson, WWU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, (360) 650-3763, or Kirsten.Anderson@wwu.edu.

The College of Humanities and Social Services (CHSS), the university’s largest college, includes the 13 departments of: Anthropology, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Communication Studies, English, Health and Human Development, History, Journalism, Liberal Studies, Modern and Classical Languages, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology, as well as four interdisciplinary programs: East Asian Studies, Linguistics, Multidisciplinary Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.