Santa Barbara bendita

Today, December fourth, es le día de la Santa Barbara. And if there ever was a saint that held a Cuban passport, it would be her (after la Caridad del Cobre, of course).

The legend of Santa Barbara is also quintessentially Cuban. Her super-strict, wealthy dad locked her up in a tower and the few times she was let out, she went straight to where she wasn’t supposed to go – to hanguiar with those baja clase Catholics and practice that weird fringe religion. She even tries to run away and some h.p. chivaton tells her dad where she was hiding. Naturally, her dad solves the problem by literally chopping off her head with his sword. Apparently, chancletas were not readily available at the time. Don’t despair, though. Her dad was struck by lightning right after he killed her, so even-Steven.

This is why every time – and I mean every, single time – there is a flash of lightning, my mom says, “Ay, Santa Barbara bendita.” She became the patron of gunners, miners, people who work with explosives, and naturally a family whose last name is de Armas.

Santa Barbara de Cuba
When African slaves arrived in Cuba, they also found a friend in Santa Barbara. She was the perfect cover for their most revered and powerful deity, Chango. The god of thunder and dance and war and, well, all things that relate to testosterone. How did this ultra-macho guy end up being associated with a woman? Among the many stories of the life of Chango is a curios tale of cross-dressing, when he had to dress like a woman to escape a mob that was trying to kill him. My simple mind imagines a clueless (and ruthless) Spanish priest lecturing a group of men from Yoruba (behind a pointed gun) about the martyrdom of Santa Barbara and while thinking he has performed the miracle of conversion, the guys had found Chango in drag.

chango drag

Santa Barbara de California
Meanwhile, on the Pacific side, another Spaniard Juan Cabrillo landed on a particularly lovely place on the California coast on December 4. He named the city, the island and the channel Santa Barbara, finally giving a place for people like Oprah, Ellen, Tom, Whoopie, and Spielberg to live.

Just because your name is not embossed on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Santa Barbara and all its beauty. From Los Angeles head north and in less than two hours you’ll be in heaven.

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The beach is a must, the Botanic Garden is incredible and the Old Mission is serene. But, if you really want to be Cuban-meta in this beautiful city, climb up the tower of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and whisper, que viva Chango.

Santa Barbara de Armas
Twenty-five years ago, at the passing of my grandmother, I inherited her statue of Santa Barbara. It was her most prized possession – just one of many contradictions in our family of atheists. And as is the unspoken rule, every December 3rd at midnight, a candle is lit, a prayer is said, the Celina y Reutilio record is played, and my grandmother’s tradition lives on.

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