Latinx, Brujx, Commodification and Community
Multimedia content creator and writer Johanna Ferreira writes in Hiplatina, about the fact that young Latin people (herself included), are increasingly distancing themselves from organized religion and instead turning to spirituality. Most Latin American households have some sort of Catholic or Jesus-centered religion as life-organizing foundation, a remnant of Spain’s colonization enterprise through the America’s. Many Latinx, me included grew up with regular Sunday church trips and memorizing catholic prayers before bed. It is not till after moving to Europe that I realize that our Catholicism is somewhat transformed by other forms of spiritual content, indigenous practices and African spiritual influences.
Latinx millennials are seeking to leave the confines of a religion inflicted by colonization that does not reinforce their sense of culture or heritage nor reflects their political beliefs (The catholic church’s long-standing condemnation of LGBTQ identified individuals, pro-choice or women having any basic say about their bodies). It is not strange that with the advent of social media and the internet’s practical availability of ready knowledge, young latinx started looking for forms of spiritual practice that suited their beliefs, and met their needs better.
One such great social network site for the acquiring of this knowledge is Instagram. Latinx, (often queer), self-identified brujx accounts. Instagram is a social networking site that allows “individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd and Ellison 211). Through these connections knowledge is produced, reproduced and disseminated, by different Latinx individuals who compile, criticize, produce and reproduce knowledge gathered from and by each other.
These accounts are managed usually by femme Latinx often times, activists, entrepreneurs and content creators, whom are responsible for turning the mundane into sacred by bringing spiritual practices to a platform intended for the easy sharing of visual media (photographs). These accounts serve also as their online stores and marketing tool, as they tend to advertise themselves and their products through this medium, be it tarot readings, prayer candles, and other merchandise. Some of these accounts cater more to content creating and the sharing of knowledge, like podcasts, zines or blogs on astrology. Most of these accounts also reinforce the betterment of the self by offering emotional encouragement by sharing motivational words, poems and images that cater to the specific intersections of marginalization and the heart of queer latinx identities in the margins of society.
These moments provide psychological and emotional comfort from daily struggles with discrimination, marginalization and violence, this is referred as healing. This healing is provided through posts that reinforce the intrinsic value of life. These instagrammers offer a service in the form of emotional and spiritual ‘healing’ to individuals in marginalized identities, often in the intersection (Cho and Crenshaw) of woman of color, immigrant, queer identified, working class, and sometimes living in the diaspora. These marginalized identities find comfort in a spiritual practice that not only mirrors and honors their history but also is entrenched within recognizable and modern modes of communication. “It gives for instance, Afro-Latinas or Latinas of indigenous descent, an opportunity to honor their brown ancestry that has been hidden and erased by so much of our Eurocentric influence. It’s a way to decolonize and find healing.” (hiplatina feminist bruja) To many, a network or visibility of a Latinx spiritual identity is a reaffirmation of their own identity as something more than just a colonized subject
Commodifying spiritual experience
Beginning September Sephora, a major multinational chain of personal care and beauty stores, announced that it would be selling ‘Witch starter kits’, a box that would retail for $42 which included fragrances, as well as standard witch paraphernalia, tarot cards, sage and rose quartz crystals. A standard internet uproar ensued, led by latinx, indigenous and other spiritual practitioners, mainly people of color, denouncing the blatant disregard for sacred practices and plants. There has already been a lot of discussion online about the overharvesting of wild sage, which is suffering the consequences of the popularity of recent new-age spirituality consumption. Sephora quickly replied by apologizing and canceling the launching of this new product. A good move on their part as most of their advertisement happens through social media by influencers in different social platforms. Such bad press would have not been a good move on their part.
While these Latinx instagrammers and influencers provide needed services that are imperative for the well-being of individuals in marginalized identities, the commodification of that which is sacred is the ever-looming price we have to pay in order to live in today’s neoliberal society. In ‘New Age commodification and appropriation of spirituality’, Michael York speaks of one the most controversial aspect of New Age, its “commodification of religion and the freedom to appropriate spiritual ideas and practices from other traditions.” (367) In so doing one of the dangers of readily available sacred knowledge on social networking sites is it’s easily commodification. In today’s neoliberal world, everything seems to be up for grabs following the cultural logic “of late capitalism’ that asserts the right to free and unrestricted global trade.” (367).
Despite the attempt at commodifying Latinx and Indigenous sacred practices, these instagram accounts go further than mere social media entertainment and visual media sharing. They create something akin to Benedict Anderson’s imagined community, most members of the groups will never meet or know each other in person yet they share an invisible bond to one another (6), they comprise the following upon which these instagram accounts thrive. Reading the comments made on posts in these instagram accounts it is palpable the sense of “deep horizontal comradeship” (7) present in emotional support shared between followers and between influencers. Marginalized in specific intersections, young latinx seek refuge in this imagined community.
Andersen, Benedict. “Imagined communities.” Reflections on the origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso (1991).
Boyd, Danah M., and Nicole B. Ellison. “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of computer‐mediated Communication 13.1 (2007): 210-230. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x
Cho, Sumi, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Leslie McCall. “Toward a field of intersectionality studies: Theory, applications, and praxis.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 38.4 (2013): 785-810.
Scharrón-del Río, María R., and Alan A. Aja. “The case for ‘Latinx’: Why intersectionality is not a choice.” Latino Rebels 5 (2015).
York, Michael. “New Age commodification and appropriation of spirituality.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 16.3 (2001): 361-372.
This Is Why Latinas Are Becoming Less Religious But More Spiritual Culture. By Johanna Ferreira. Posted: July 20, 2018 https://hiplatina.com/latinas-less-religious-more-spiritual/