Why Young Culture Makers Are Proudly Reclaiming Bruja Feminism

For many, the concept of the bruja still calls to mind the evil crones or seductresses many of us grew up seeing depicted in childhood folk tales. In these renderings, brujas are malevolent murderesses; women who bring affliction and misfortune. But many feminist scholars have long argued that brujería only developed this negative connotation because Catholic colonizers demonized Afro and Indigenous religious practices, which often centered around female healers. In other words, brujas were so-called because they resisted at a time when colonizers wanted to wipe away their way of life, sexuality, spirituality, and leadership.

Bruja feminism is an act of resistance to today’s political context.

Recently, these feminist readings of brujería have found their way from academia into underground culture. In music, nightlife, visual arts and more, we’ve seen a rise in self-identified brujas; young Latinxs seeking to reclaim a cultural taboo and flip it into a means of empowerment, to proudly represent the parts of their heritage that have been cut out of patriarchal or Eurocentric narratives.

Thanks to space-making platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, these self-identifying brujas are connecting online to decolonize and find healing through intersectional feminism. At a time when women’s bodies are still regulated and shamed, when the U.S. president won on a platform that positioned masses against and away from ideas of Latinidad, and when indigenous peoples are met with little to no consideration, it makes sense to see a resurgence of bruja feminism.

Brujas today are working to recreate the world they want to live in: through music, media, and community. Here are some who have been making culture for a new generation.

Princess Nokia

In her EP 1992, Afro-Puerto Rican rapper Princess Nokia (a.k.a. Destiny Frasqueri) celebrates the New York she grew up in and aims to reclaim it from gentrifiers, yuppies, and displacement. 1992 is an ode to Frasqueri’s upbringing, friends, and her presence as a life-force, and in it she also repeatedly asserts her connection to Afro-Latina spirituality. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Brujas”, a track on which she raps:

I’m the Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my people come from Africa diaspora, Cuba
And you mix that Arawak, that original people
I’m that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil
I’m the Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my ancestors Nigerian, my grandmas was brujas

The song, with its stunning video to boot, is an anthemic dedication to her ancestry. Princess Nokia is just as powerful a force beyond this body of work. In a recent interview with Snobette, the rapper talks about how possessing full body acceptance and taking charge of her career undermine the patriarchal and manipulative nature of the music industry.

B-Side Brujas

Oakland-based female vinyl club B-Side Brujas originated during a time of similar gentrification in the Bay Area. The name was chosen by the group – made up of Moe Alvarez, Dharma Mooney-Haynes, April Garcia, and Zakiya Mowat – as a nod to the healing the women wanted to give back to their communities. The group spins soul, oldies, cumbias, funk, and more, and has been known to give blessings before some of their sets.

The B-Side Brujas (L–R): Moe Alvarez, Dharma Mooney-Haynes, April Garcia, and Zakiya Mowat. (Photo by Deb Leal)
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B-Side Brujas is focused heavily on community building. In an interview with KQED Arts in July, founder Mowat acknowledged that while anger is the natural response to experiencing the effects of gentrification, B-Side Brujas believes in re-connection as a necessary part of the healing process.

‘Brujos,’ a Web Series

Brujos, a web series from writer and director Ricardo Gamboa, follows four Chicago grad school friends slash witches at war with witch hunters. The show is set in contrast to what Gamboa sees as “a world codified and conditioned by Western primacy of reason, capitalist logics of risk and profit, and hetero-patriarchal white supremacy.” Gamboa created the show through a series of informal interviews with queer Latinx, healers, and psychics.

Brujos not only is about the ins and outs of being a brujo in the 21st century, it puts LGBTQ of color front and center instead of using them to support dominant culture and common narratives.

Brujas Hex Trump

In September 2015, Brooklyn writer and activist Yeni Sleidi made a video showing herself and her fellow brujas performing curses on Donald Trump. Sleidi, a Cuban immigrant, was fueled by Trump’s attacks on Mexican immigrants. The group performed many different spells, including a hex to silence him, one to protect people of color from him, and one hair-loss curse.

Suzy X, a singer from the band that supplied music featured in the video, said in an interview with Jezebel that the essence of the bruja has always been born of resistance to harmful politics and patriarchy. Even though not all of the participants of the video consider themselves brujas, they were happy to unite against GOP policies and show their support for Mexicans targeted by Trump.

Bruja Skate Crew

Brujas – the New York-based skate crew gaining widespread recognition for their radical organizing of female-empowered, gender-inclusive community events for the youth of New York – perhaps best embody the true spirit of la bruja.

The Brujas skate crew streetwear line, 1971.
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The Brujas challenge norms just by being present, and not just in the typically White male dominated skating world. They’ve thrown parties to celebrate anti-slut shaming, facilitated a gender-inclusive all-ages prom, started their own streetwear line, 1971, to benefit people targeted by the prison system, and hosted conversations and DIY workshops. Their political ideologies – as outlined in their recently released “State of the Union Salute” – are rooted in the spiritual: this world belongs to those who are so often excluded from it.

Perhaps the scariest thing about a bruja is the danger she poses to a male-dominated society. In a world of anti-Latinx, anti-queer, anti-woman, choosing to believe in the power that lives inside of these bodies is an act of resistance. To say one is a bruja is to believe in the agency taught through ancestry and know that among marginalized groups, there has always been magic, and it calls us to remember its beauty.

This is only the dawn of la bruja. Witches are, after all, healers for the hurt. This world could use more of it.