Botanica Jesus de Nasareno

This profile was last updated in 2005

History

Jesus de Nasareno botanica was opened in 1996 by Ricardo and Cristina. The botanica is named after Cristina’s guardian saint, Jesus de Nasareno (her ita, which she received the day of her initiation in Cuba, suggested that she would open a botanica with this name). Ricardo and Cristina are both immigrants from Cuba: Ricardo escaped to the United States on a raft in 1994 and Cristina arrived in 1980. The two met and married in the United States, and subsequently opened this Union City botanica.

Activities and Schedule

Cristina offers consultations using Spanish Cards (cartas espirituales), charging $21 for the divination. Ricardo is a trained babalawo (high priest of Santeria) and can provide spiritual consultations using the opele oracle.

Physical Description of the Center

The Jesus de Nasareno botanica is a single room that connects to a larger apartment in which the owners reside. The storefront is on busy Bergenline Street in the heart of Union City. Union City has a large Cuban population and the Jesus de Nasareno botanica caters heavily to Afro-Cuban religious needs.

At the store’s entrance stands a life-like male manikin, dressed entirely in white (practitioners dress completely in white at Santeria and Ifa religious ceremonies). Shelves of candles, cauldrons and other religious materials line the right side of the store. To the left of the entrance, a glass showcase sales counter divides the botanica nearly in half. Beads, statues of saints, herbs and African talismans are available upon request from behind the counter. The glass showcase contains charms, crystal balls, divinatory cards and a wide variety of additional religious trinkets.
Personal religious consultations are performed in a small room that is located in the back of the botanica (between the storefront and the apartment proper). Larger religious ceremonies are performed in the apartment, where there is a room set aside for rituals and a permanent altar which contains the saints/orishas of Cristina and Ricardo.

Demographics

Patrons are primarily Cuban or other Hispanic; also African-American, white, Asian, etc. The owners speak only Spanish.

Botanicas as Religious Centers

Botanicas are stores that stock herbs, roots, beads, oils, scents, sprays, powders, potions, etc., used in Santería and other ritual practices such as Espiritismo. In communities with sizable Hispanic populations, such as Harlem and Washington Heights, NY, and Union City, NJ, botanicas can be found wedged between the busy grocery stores, barber shops and news stands. Botanicas vary widely in size; most are small storefronts, but some are multi-level emporiums. As Mary Ann Borello and Elizabeth Mathias (1977: 69) write, the botanica “functions as a folk pharmacy” which offers the consumer a myriad of choices. Some customers even come with “prescriptions” for plants and other ritual items written down for them by their spiritual leaders, and have them filled at the store counter.

Commonly, interior space in a botanica is separated into what we might call “front” and “back” regions. The former “sales” area contains display shelves and glass cases filled with colored beads, cauldrons, tureens, perfumes, oils, candles, herbs and other ritual materials for sale. The “back” region is used for private religious consultations (using one of many divinatory techniques, including cowry shells, tarot cards, Spanish cards, and more, depending on the specific faith of the diviner). The consultations performed in botanicas allow customers to participate in the religion without initiation or allegiance to a particular community of worshippers. Those botanicas that do not offer in-store consultations usually supply a list of (and often business cards for) “neighborhood” spiritual leaders.
Because botanicas sell the materials needed to carry out ritual endeavors and often provide space to perform religious consultations, they are the most visible “centers of religion” for the oft-private Afro-Caribbean religions (e.g. Santería, Espiritismo, Palo Mayombe). Most employees at botanicas are involved to some degree in an Afro-Caribbean religious community and have ties that extend beyond the capacity of the botanica.