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Phd Candidate in Latin American Literature @ Pennsylvania State University


Gustavo Herrera Díaz is PhD Candidate in Latin American Literature at The Pennsylvania State University. He holds a BA in Spanish and Classics from Universidad de La Habana and a MA in Spanish Literature from The Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include Classical reception in Latin American Literature, Latin American Theatre, Media and Performance Studies, and African traditions in Brazil and the Caribbean. His scholarly articles have appeared in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Revista Universidad de La Habana, Aletria: Revista de Estudos de Literatura, among other publications. His most recent research focuses on the intersection of Classical Greek and African cultural systems as they appear in Latin American theatre, mainly in the Caribbean and Brazil.

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Questions of Gaze and Representation


Demonic Possession and the Representation of Blackness in a Cuban Catholic Exorcism

My paper examines one of the first documented demonic exorcisms of an Afro-Cuban woman in Cuba and its posterior critical reception by the Cuban intellectual community. At the end of the eighteenth century, Pedro Agustin Morell de Santa Cruz commented and copied a notarised document from 1682 that narrates how legions of demons attacked the small Cuban village of San Juan de Los Remedios, tormenting and possessing its inhabitants. Among the victims of the evil spirits, the document only mentions the name of Leonarda, a Black creole woman that ended having a Catholic ritual of exorcism. Based on this strange event, in 1959, Fernando Ortiz published his last work, Historia de una pelea cubana contra los demonios. Each of these three sources (the document from1682, Morell de Santa Cruz’s comments, and Ortiz’s book) offers a different narrative of the alleged event of possession, where the role of the Black woman slave is either omitted or manipulated. By analysing and comparing these different accounts, my paper will explore how the representation of Blackness and its correlation with demonic possession was constructed in colonial and late Republican Cuba. I am particularly interested in addressing spirit possession as a site of ideological conflict (Catholicism vs. African beliefs, Whiteness vs. Blackness, etc.) but also as a space of historical negotiation, empowerment, and resistance for Black subjects.

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