This book – dedicated to Letty M. Russell and David C. White, with a preface by Mary E. Hunt – is a “Cubacatesen” of 19 marinated essays that Ofelia Miriam Ortega Suárez distilled between 1979 and 2021. The main objective of ‘Ortega is simple: to fill a gap in the theological world’s perception of Cuba by articulating an “inclusive, communal and participatory” theology, a theology attentive to the development of women that is “contextual, ecumenical and focused on liberation “. Ada María Isasi-Díaz was not the only Cuban woman to engage in feminist theology, as evidenced by the string of other names that Ortega raises: Beatriz Ferreiro García, Blanca Rosa Ojeda, Dora Valentín, Clara Rodés, Nerva Cot, Raquel Suárez, Izett Samá, Daylíns Rufín, Gisela Pérez, Rhode González, Kirenia Criado, Dora Arce and Clara Luz Ajo.
Cuban feminist theology is an affirmation that this theology exists as much as the flesh and bones of Ortega exist. Moreover, the author demonstrates that his theology is neither an end in itself nor a means of impressing the academy. She does theology in the interests of women’s empowerment, as seen in the book’s subtitle, “Visions and Praxis.”
This book reveals an unmistakable Caribbean accent that kisses, hugs, kisses, dances, cries and bursts out laughing – something masters have forbidden for centuries, especially in the mouths of women – with all the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Ortega overcomes Cartesian binaries, such as the dichotomy between mind and body, which she calls “beauty and the beast.” It’s no wonder we see her preaching from the pulpit one day and creating laws in the Cuban parliament the next.
This liberation theologian’s argumentative style resembles the Cuban archipelago (or a tutti-frutti rum) in the way it embraces multiple performances and epistemologies. Like a fish in the Caribbean, Ortega surfs through realms, moving from rigid and icy academic essay to homily, to poem, to song, to story, to dream, to testimony, to anecdote. and the legend.
Ortega’s theology is well rooted in his own experience but is not limited to it. It is no coincidence that “there is a different flavor to the soup depending on the water, there is also a different flavor (sword) to theology depending on where one is,” Hunt writes in the foreword, playing on the Spanish words for flavor and awareness (saber).
The Caribbean was the port of entry for colonization in 1492, and Cuba was the first place declared by Christopher Columbus to be part of Asia on June 14, 1494. It is surrounded by maritime borders with the United States, the Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Like Ortega’s theology, it is an island but never an insular one. Named in the Taíno language Cubanacan (“where fertile land is abundant”), renamed Isla Juana by Christopher Columbus and reconquered as Colba, Cuba is a land of resistance.
Ortega does theology from his home town of Matanzas (whose name means “butcher’s shop”), where the Seminario Evangelico de Teología is rooted. Matanzas Bay was named for the massacre of Columbus’ soldiers in 1510, which Bartolomé de las Casas describes as an act of self-defense. This book releases the scent of the Cuban and American military victory over Spain in 1898, a victory sealed by the marriage of Bacardi rum and Coca-Cola to make a brand new cocktail, the Cuba Libre. They dance to the rhythms of the rumba, yambu, Colombiaand the mambo of Dámaso Pérez Prado, all born in the province of Matanzas.
Ortega’s political activism generates his theology, and vice versa. Like Frida Kahlo, she sees horizons where others see walls. The first woman to be ordained in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cuba and former regional president of the World Council of Churches, Ortega earned her doctorate a few years ago when she was in her early 80s. She traveled through the world by teaching and receiving various honorary degrees, but she always returns to Cuba, despite the US embargo that has lasted for six decades. Matanzas declared her Illustrious Daughter of the City in 2021.
This book is divided into five thematic sections, with the essays (most of which were published in Spanish) linked by new introductions and other friendly transitions. Ortega articulates a rainbow of topics in a feminist key to the Global South: mutuality in mission, sumak kausay (Quechua for “living well”) soteriology, heteropatriarchal Christianity, the church as a sacrament of the reign of God, the transformation of the enemy (host) invite (hospices), the relationship of the Eucharist to broken bodies, grace as dignity, eco-benevolence, the feminization of poverty, a theology of relationships, gender equity, epistemology and justice, and a reflection on two types of biblical creditors: the compassionate (malveh) and the unscrupulous (nosheh).
More than half of the authors of the book’s cross-cultural bibliography are women. Ortega practices intersectionality, not in a narcissistic way that emphasizes small differences, but in solidarity with all just causes. Its sources reflect the diversity of gender, race, class, geopolitics, culture, macro-ecumenism and a range of literary genres. Although she privileges feminist voices from the Global South, she is generous in including other interlocutors.
Although Ortega’s port of departure is Cuban Protestantism, his port of arrival is the transreligious, transcultural and transdimensional planet. When it comes to discerning God’s presence in daily life, Ortega shares his plight with those who practice what Christian imperialists consider the sin of syncretism – Abaku, Yoruba, Regla Conga, Regla Ocha, Regla Arará, Yebbe and Cruzao.
His vision of the cosmos is one of hope – mentioned 109 times in the book – for those who continue the struggle. Working against media portrayals of Cuba, Ortega praises some distinctive achievements. As of this writing, life expectancy for Cuban women is 80.45 years. Women made up 49% of members of parliament and 48% of scientific researchers. Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Ortega stays away from the cryptic, abstract and metaphysical language of the academy. Instead, his style is sharp and concrete in naming things for what they are. Cuban feminist theology tackles relevant themes with the Caribbean wind of his critical apparatus but also with the fresh breeze of his lively text. Unquestionably, Jesus is fishing with Ortega in Cuban waters.