When the Spirits Dance Mambo

When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio by Marta Moreno Vega is the May pick from the Barrio Book Club:

Location:
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Ave, at 104th Street
El Taller, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10029
La Casa Azul Bookstore
RSVP: lacasaazulbookstore@gmail.com

I love this title and although it was published in 2004, it sounds right up my alley:

From Publishers Weekly:
In this vivid work, which shares its title with a 2002 documentary Vega produced, two tales flawlessly merge: one recalls an Afro–Puerto Rican girl’s upbringing in 1950s Spanish Harlem; the other explains the background for the author’s eventual status as a priestess of the Santeria/Lucumi religion.

What could have been a familiar coming-of-age story is made fresh with Vega’s painterly detail and use of background music (Celia Cruz, Machito and Tito Puente’s sounds are present throughout). The sorrows of early school (“the classroom was a joyless cell”) give way to double-dutch jumping, puberty, Vega’s first crush and her emerging interest in preserving her family’s traditions. “Music,” her grandmother Abuela, an espiritista (a sort of spiritual psychic), tells her, “is the food of the soul, and the right music calls the spirits.”

At Abuela’s apartment, Vega learns of the orishas (gods and goddesses) and observes Abuela’s bóveda (altar); together, they visit the botánica for healing oils. Lovelorn at 14, Vega confides in Abuela, who summons a spirit named Juango to command her body. “Trying to understand Juango was difficult enough, but talking about sex with a spirit possessing my grandmother’s body was startling.” And thus the author’s future path begins.

The spiritual and musical journey Vega takes readers on is informative and inspiring, even for the uninitiated.

www.martamorenovega.com

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