Share Your Story – “Testimonials for the Ancestors” Oral History Project

Share Your Story in the Raíces Roots Online Archive

Share Your Story: Testimonial for the Ancestors. Two past participants.Raíces Cultural Center invites you to share your story in our “Testimonials for the Ancestors” oral history project. For many cultures, death has always been felt with such finality. There are those, however, that have maintained a reverence and veneration for those that came before them. Raíces is seeking video testimonials from individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds to speak about the traditions celebrating the ancestors in their culture. These videos will serve the purpose of documenting and preserving a history of cultural traditions devoted to the veneration and celebration of the ancestors and will be shared with the public on the Raíces Roots Online Archive.


We want to hear from you, in your own words:

…how your cultural traditions celebrate and honor the ancestors

…why you believe it is important to practice traditions dedicated to the ancestors and how you participate in these traditions

…how these traditions have evolved and why you feel it is important for you to carry them on


If you are interested in sharing your stories and histories with us, please contact us (contact info below).  If you are not local to one of our interview sites (NJ, NYC), you can submit your own audio or video recording, please contact us for details on submissions.

Testimonials will be catalogued as part of the Testimonials for the Ancestors project in the Raíces Roots Online Archive. If chosen to be featured in the archive, these videos will be available for viewing by the general public. Selected testimonials will be edited and may screened in public screenings. All participants will be asked to sign a release form prior to filming or submitting a testimonial. Participants will be notified if their video will be made public in the archive.

To participate in this project, please call Nicole or Francisco at Raíces Cultural Center 732-236-7618 or 908-227-5671 or e-mail

Living in the Garden State – Raíces Eco-Culture Garden Fall Update

It’s the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox.  For most gardeners, this is the time to wind things down, to pick the last harvest, turn the soil and prepare the earth for spring.

Fall Harvest - Black beans, red beans, purira hot peppers, wildflowers.  September 2012.

At the Raíces Eco-Culture plots, we too are harvesting the last of our summer crops.

 But “the last of our summer crops” are plentiful.

La Cosecha - Fall Harvest September 2012 And like other gardeners, we are turning over the soil.

Fuyo prepping soil, September 2012, East Brunswick

But we didn’t turn it to prepare for spring.  We were getting ready to plant our fall gardens.

Lettuce, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Now our seedlings are being transplanted.

Fall Seedlings, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

And new growth is popping up.

Broccoli, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

 It’s a great time of year for plants that love the cool night air and the shorter daylight hours.Snow Peas, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Since we live in the Garden State we believe we have the ability to garden year round.  Our first seedlings are planted by February and cold loving plants like kale, onions, garlic and some of the root veggies last in the ground through the winter. Beets sprouting, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Today’s trip to the garden surprised us the new life of our fall and winter crops replacing the fading summer heat-loving plants.

Kohlrabi between bean plants, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Peas, lettuce, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, broccoli, beets, onions and greens are all popping up out of the soil.

Radishes, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

In just a few weeks we will be eating fresh homegrown salads, peas right out of the pods, stir-fries and winter soups.  Even as we are planning and prepping for next year’s spring planting, we will still be harvesting, eating and sharing homegrown, clean produce from our micro-farm plots, enjoying a rainbow of good food.

For more information about how to becoming a member of the Raíces Community Supported Gardens or to volunteer with us in the garden plots, please email


Fall Gardening Links and Resources

Planting a Fall Garden

High Mowing Seeds-Spinach for Winter Production

Grow Your Best Fall Garden

Urban Fall Gardens (NYC)


North African Plants – Treasures From The Desert

by Carolina Gonzalez

Living in the Canary Islands, on the Northwest coast of Africa, makes gardening a challenging task. A six month summer, with desert temperatures and dry, burning African winds allows only the stronger, more water-saving herbs to survive in our weather. In this post, we’ll go through the most powerfully medicinal, magical, and tasty plants from our islands.

For centuries, Canarian peasants have developed many unique ways to cultivate that defy the harsh nature of our land. The volcanic landscape, while blessed with an extremely fertile soil, is often too steep and unable to be sown with the help of animals, so the work of farmers is never easy. Terracing and saving water through tanks built right beside the crops, that are filled with rain water and/or underground water, have been the strongest allies of the Canarian farmer.

Despite what it may seem according to these conditions, we have a wide variety of healing herbs and a powerful tradition of herbalism that refuses to sink under the pressure of urban landscapes and modern, synthetic medicine. Herbs are still used daily for common illnesses, physical vigour, and beauty, and are easily available in farmers’ markets and grown on balconies and roofs everywhere.

Flowering Rue
Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Ruta Graveolens

Medicinal Properties: This is a very bitter plant so its tea is not very pleasant. Pregnant women should avoid it as it is a powerful abortifacient. It is helpful to treat irregular menstruation and it is also antispasmodic, but I wouldn’t advise its use unless you are quite familiar with herbal remedies, because it is easy to overdose. In the Canary Islands, there is a traditional remedy using rue for indigestion: fry a fresh branch of rue in two teaspoons of olive oil, set aside until the oil is warm and then dab your fingers on it and use it as a massage oil for the stomach area. I have used it myself and it works much better and more safely than tea. This oil can also be used for arthritic pains, but again only on non-pregnant women. If you want your farm animals to breed, cut off all rue from their grazing zones.

Spiritual Properties: it is placed at the door of the house/business/temple to repel negativity, as this plant is a powerful warrior against conjure and evil spirits. It is a major element in protection amulet bags (dried leaves) and on hex-breaking floor washes (tea).

CAUTION!!! The combination of rue and solar exposure is very dangerous, especially during the plant’s blooming. It may cause severe burns and blisters if picked during daytime, so harvest before or after sunrise and wash your hands well after picking. Not everyone is allergic to it, as it happens with other allergy-inducing plants, so don’t take risks or you can end up in the hospital.

Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Chenopodium Ambrosioides

Medicinal Properties : Epazote is used mainly in digestive issues. It is a wonderful herb for indigestion, or after big meals to help the digestive system work properly. In my personal experience, Epazote makes an awesome tincture for all digestive matters, and it is also steeped in liquors as part of the “Parra”, a traditional digestive herbal drink that is used to finish huge meals.

It has been used for many generations, along with Wormwood (Artemisa Absynthia), to treat intestinal parasites of all kinds. Though the risk of having internal parasites in children is nowadays very low, pets with internal or external parasites will also benefit from this plant – you can powder it and sprinkle your pet’s bed, or give your pet a bath and after it atomize the infusion over the pet’s body, always avoiding the head.

Spiritual Properties: used in protection and hex-breaking  – as always, the magickal properties are analogous to the medicinal ones. Epazote helps us digest the obstacles in life and removes spiritual parasites. It makes a wonderful smudge/spray for getting rid of residual negativity from our houses: smudge/spray the house with it after situations that are highly stressful for the whole family, like after a family member’s death, after a divorce, etc. A bundle of dry Epazote is a wonderful protection to keep nightmares caused by spirits away, and to protect children from spiritual attacks.

Passion Flower

Passion Flower
Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Passion Flower
Latin Name: Passiflora Caerulea/Edulis.

Medicinal Properties: The Passiflora plant is the mother of the Maracujá or Passion Fruit. There are about 500 subspecies, but the most comon are the Passiflora Cerulea, which produces the yellow passion fruit, and the Passiflora Edulis, which produces the purple passion fruit. The fruit is one of the subtropical fruits with a higher amount of C and A vitamins. The juice is incredibly tasty and aromatic, as it is used mainly to enhance the taste of orange and papaya juices. A juice made of papaya and passion fruit is a powerful detox brew for diets, and does wonders for people with gastric problems.

Teas and tinctures of this plant’s leaves and root are known to be used to treat anxiety and depression. This plant is usually combined with Valerian Root, Lemon Balm, Orange flowers, Violets and other calming herbs and flowers. The leaves can also be smoked, dried and powdered, and mixed with other smokeable herbs, as the sedative alkaloid it contains has the same effects.

Spiritual Properties:The flowers are used mainly for love and passion amulets – a bundle of leaves, left to dry over the bed, will assure the couple lovely and passionate nights; but since it is also related to the Passion of Christ, this plant is also used in ceremonial/blessing incenses and oils, as it is believed to keep away negative entities.

Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Thymus Vulgaris

Medicinal Properties: though used mainly as a spice for soups, stews and sauces (try it with grilled chicken or vegetables), thyme has many powerful medicinal properties. It eases fever, phlegm and cough; relieves muscle pain and headaches caused by menstruation and sunstroke; helps digestion, lowers fever,  and it is also a powerful antiseptic and antibiotic. Along with rosemary and sage, there is little thyme can’t heal.

Spiritual Properties: in magic, thyme equals courage and luck. A powerful amulet against negativity, evil eye and persistent ghost activity, it is also used for money and prosperity spells. It is just as powerful as a medicine than as a magical herb: there is hardly a spell/amulet that doesn’t improve with the use of thyme! It is also a very fragrant herb, so it can be burnt as incense to repel negative energies, specially on businesses.


Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Foeniculum Vulgare

Medicinal Properties: this humble plant, often overseen as a weed due to its prolific nature, is full of healing properties. It eases digestion, relieves nausea and vertigo, works instantly on heartburn and bloating, and it is a mild sedative, becoming an excellent after-dinner tea. It is also a wonderful eye wash, especially for dry and sore eyes that are exposed to dry climates, and used along with antibiotic herbs, a powerfully healing wound/sunburnt wash.

In the islands, it is customary to give fennel tea to babies with colic. Although nowadays herbal healers are extremely cautious when giving herbal teas to babies younger than a year, many generations of Canarians have used this remedy for their sick babies.

Spiritual Properties: fennel is highly related to children’s protection and thus, to angelic magic. Tied in a bundle over the main door of the house, it is a sign of angelic protection, keeping negative spirits away. It is also a very well known herb for lucky gambling – keep a small red fabric bag filled with fennel near your lottery tickets for an extra dose of good luck.

– – – – – – –

About the author:
Carolina Gonzalez has been a professional Tarot Reader and Spiritual Worker for over 15 years, as well as a creator and provider of Spiritual Art and Supplies through her online business, House Of Eleggua, which caters an exquisite worldwide clientèle with the best quality items for the practise of African and Latin American – origin religions. Her blog, as of September 2012, has reached 335,000 visits and her artwork is proudly displayed on altars, temples and sacred spaces all around the world.

Carolina and her husband Fernando Abisaab are also the founders of the House Of Eleggua Temple, which is involved in several charity and environmental projects, and  focused on educating their supporters on the beauty and power of African and Latin American – origin religions.

You can visit her website at:

All text and images property of Carolina Gonzalez. Do not reproduce this article, or the images included, without written permission from the author.

A Good Food Rainbow

Check our new photo album, featuring just a little slice of the rainbow of good food we have harvested so far this summer as part of our Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm project.  It is all grown organically from organic seed. We are updating the album throughout the season, so check back for more photos!

We eat, the community members who help and support our programs eat, and we share with other organizations in our community, like Elijah’s Promise and A Better World Café.  We hope to acquire more land to cultivate, where we can build structures that will help us grow, care for and harvest food year-round and host cultural and educational programs and events for our community.

Home » A Good Food Rainbow » La Cosecha 2012 » La Cosecha 2012
Raíces Good Food in the Community
Green Beans
Green Beans
Another Colorful Harvest
Red Beans
Balkan Bomba Group Pic.jpeg
Raíces Peas
Black Beans
Golden Potatoes
Weighing In
Cherry Tomatoes
La cosecha
Hot and Spicy
Raíces Good Food in the Community
Green Beans
Green Beans
Another Colorful Harvest
Red Beans
Balkan Bomba Group Pic.jpeg
Raíces Peas
Black Beans
Golden Potatoes

Of Gurus and Harvests

It took only two short years to make a Pachamama believer out of me. Not being one to seek out sages, gurus or other learned individuals who seem to be in abundance today, a very young person who sought learning from me, turned out to educate me instead. Having known my dear friend for a brief eight years, I soon came to understand how much knowledge, love and skill she has for making things transform from a few rows of dirt, into a healthy organic mosaic of herbs and veggies.

I remember the first time I passed by her house in New Brunswick, N.J., I was amazed at how many beautiful plants she had growing in her backyard garden. At that very time I began to think if I could copy what she was doing. Little did I know, but would soon find out, that only I could make the magic required in my own little piece of Pachamama. The mysteries were hidden within me; I learned this the hard way by believing that all it required was some good dirt, seeds and water. I attempted to be simple about the way I would plant, and my first year’s harvest was sad in deed.

It turns out that my friend also had a plot out at the community gardens at Cook Campus, Rutgers University. She invited me out one day two years ago and since then I now have a plot right next to hers. That’s not difficult to understand, what was instrumental for me, at that time, and since, is the fact that I would go out to Cook and hide behind the bushes to watch and listen to her create her own magic. One would think that she was talking to garden gnomes and singing along with flower fairies. My friend didn’t have a very good voice back then; however, her invisible garden keepers didn’t seem to mind at all. If you saw her garden up close, you would know why.

The second year of my Pachamama education was rather fruitful, given that I began to unravel my own magic, and it seemed to work, doing what I love and do best, music. I imagine that my neighbors have thought rather strangely of me in the last few years, singing, drumming and dancing around my garden, but I know they understand when I offer them a great big red organic tomato or a shiny eggplant. They say “you grew that?” I say “ no, I had help from my friend and Pachamama.”

I believe the greatest lesson I have learned from my very young friend is that we can create a sustainable world through the most basic of all necessities, food. That if we all work together we learn and teach many things together, regardless of gender, color, national origin, religious preference, sexual preference and most of all the age divide.

Besides my backyard garden, my friend and I now combine our respective magic at three other community gardens in Central Jersey and grow our own produce, started a pilot C.S.A, donate food to Elijah’s Promise and A Better World Cafe.

The few true gurus I’ve met in my long life, never looked or acted like gurus. My dear friend is in deed a Pachamama guru, she helped me rediscover the Gaia magic within me without even intending to. She simply shared her knowledge and love of nature, and I was able to harvest the fruits of her magic! That’s my Guru friend Nicole Wines…

Culture: A hard sell in the 21st Century

by Francisco G. Gómez

Fifty two years is a long time by any measure. I still remember when my grandfather would demand that I sit down and listen to what he had to say before playing a song on his tres. The tres is a guitar like instrument from the island of Cuba. Initially, I found it rather tedious and boring at the very young age of five. It was weeks before he would even let me touch the instrument. I have to say that it was my grandfather’s demanding and hard nosed demeanor that instilled in me a love of the tres, but more so, a passion for cuban music and caribbean culture.

I’ve been co-teaching Afro Cuban and Afro Puerto Rican folkloric dance and drumming for the last eleven months at a city facility in New Brunswick, N.J.; in that time I’ve seen many children and adults come through the dance studio. What my partner and I do has a niche appeal to a select few individuals interested in the culture of the Caribbean. To learn Orisha (forces of nature) dances, rumba, bomba, plena or any of these other art forms from the Caribbean requires study, dedication, perseverance and tenacity! Qualities that have been lost due to a lack of traditional maintenance and the modern get everything quick, then seal it with a diploma that says you are now certified to some level of proficiency.

A few months ago our folkloric ensemble did a workshop up in North Jersey at a yoga studio. There were about six or seven participants who took part in the workshop, including a Zumba instructor. After we taught the intro steps and structures of a dance system I devised, called Orishaerobics, the studio was pumped and the dancing was so intense and heated that students periodically had to go off to the side of the dance floor for a breather. The drums, chanting, peripheral instruments and African based dances are what call out to students; it presents a challenge physically, emotionally and spiritually,  so unlike the canned and piped in music followed by steps and motions devised for cardio well being, a good thing in and of itself, but devoid of the essences of nature.

Even I am guilty of wanting to spruce up with a new name, Orishaerobics, a timeless practice based in nature and belonging to anyone who would have it. Yes, we attracted more students with the suffix; however, it didn’t last for long when these individuals realized, like most other people do, that there simply was more to this unknown thing called Orisha cultural tradition. As student attrition once again occurred, we decided on another wordy catch phrase, “cultural fusion dance”. It attracted more students, and I might add, some that have actually stayed and are regulars in our classes.

My partner and I sat back, took a long deep breath, and began to question the possible reasons for such disinterest in our art and craft on a long term basis . We began to ponder on the realization that taboos and a bad rap follows Ochá, Santería in Cuba and the diaspora. These thoughts became more concrete as some would be students inquired about the dance classes, and as soon as we mentioned the Orishas, the barriers were raised and we never saw them again. Ignorance is bliss when it’s attached to misunderstood concepts, but more so to religious bias based on supposed evil and the devil.

Getting back to the certification thing, we reflected on all the comments made about method and conferring a credential on people to make them bona fide. Little do most people know what is required by the United States Patent office in order to make an invention yours, much less a system of dance based in nature.

We finally came to the conclusion that most people aren’t artistically endowed with the gift of dance. By and large, the common individual must work through and practice in order to achieve an acceptable level of proficiency in Orisha artistic performance. More importantly is the sense of well being derived after a dance session and increased understanding of movement created by Ashé (the power to make things happen.)  Ashé doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen with a few dance classes; it takes time and development! It’s tapping into that inner sacred place we all possess and harnessing the power that awaits.

My grandfather always said that it wasn’t difficult to play the tres, but he did say it was difficult to play it well if you didn’t understand the essence of the history and culture of the instrument. What he was really saying was, teaching that truth to me was a way of maintaining and perpetuating it. Fifty two years is a long time, but I’ve known for many years now, exactly what he was trying to say.

Herbal Healing Seminar: Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico

Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico

On August 29, 2010, Angela Lugo , a native of Puerto Rico and an herbal healing practitioner presented the first in a series of workshops on Herbal Healing.  Participants learned about the history of herbal healing practices in Puerto Rico and about specific plants commonly used by herbal healing practitioners on and off the island of Puerto Rico.

Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico: Presentation and Discussion led by Angela Lugo

Lugo comes from a line of herbal healers and spoke of her own family background to illustrate a variety of healing traditions and the relationship of herbal healing and spirituality.  The practice of herbal healing was placed in historical context where many healers were afraid to admit that they were practitioners and many who descended from herbal healing practitioners veered away from the knowledge carried by their predecessors.  With a growth and acceptance of New Age practices, herbal healing has become more widely accepted, practiced and sought out.

Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico: Presenter Angela Lugo answering questions from attendees.

Herbal knowledge comes from wisdom and intuition and is closely related to energy.  Herbal healers believe that each plant has it’s own type of energy.  Different plants affect each individual differently, as the energies of the plants, healers and the person seeking herbal healing interact.

Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico: Herbal Remedies and Healing Foods

Lugo discussed a list of plants and their uses that are commonly utilized in Puerto Rican healing practices, but can also be grown or easily obtained off the island and away from the Caribbean.  Participants got to taste the juices of several tropical fruits while learning about the healing properties of these juices.  They also had the opportunity to touch and examine leaf and full plant samples of many of the herbs discussed in the workshop.

Hands on, touching and tasting, at the Herbal Healing from the Island of Puerto Rico workshop.

If you want to be notified about future Herbal Healing and other Natural Arts events, sign up for our mailing list on the sidebar of our website.


The Spirit of the Drum has travelled from Africa to the Caribbean to the US and is now alive in Middlesex County.  Raíces Cultural Center, A NJ Nonprofit Corporation has received a MINI grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission to produce the series “The Spirit of the Hispano-Afro-Caribbean Dance, Song and Drum.” The production will trace the history of Hispano-Afro-Caribbean music from Africa to the Caribbean to the modern day New York metropolitan area through a fusion of traditional folkloric Caribbean dance, song, drum and music with the contemporary genres of salsa, spoken word poetry and hip-hop.
Raíces Cultural Center is a New Brunswick based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving cultural roots through music, dance, song, visual arts and history. The 2010 MINI grant will provide the members of the Raíces Cultural Center Ensemble with performance opportunities and the local community with an educational, culturally and artistically enriching experience.

In the face of possible funding freezes which would have directly affected this production, Raíces is thankful to the state for recognizing the importance of providing support for its artistic, historical and cultural organizations, allowing them a means to deliver educational and culturally enriching programs, events and experiences to their communities.

Raíces Cultural Center EnsembleIn addition, MCCHC has teamed up with the Crossroads Theater in downtown New Brunswick to provide a professional theater venue for performance based grantees, where the Raíces Cultural Center Performance Ensemble will present “The Spirit of the Hispano-Afro-Caribbean Dance, Song and Drum” on October 30, 2010 at 7 PM.  Additional performances will take place November 13, 2010, 7 PM at IM Studios in Highland Park, NJ and December 18, 2010 at the YMCA Theater in Perth Amboy, NJ.

This program has been made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission/Board of Chosen Freeholders.

A Call to Art

by Nicole Wines

Bomba DrumArt is not just something to hang on a wall or sit down to passively watch. Art is not perfection. Art is a natural creative process that was and is an integral aspect of daily life, throughout human history. Art is alive, it moves and flows. Music, dance, drawing and singing all evolved as means of communication and expression, not solely as forms to perfect or observe in awe while thinking “I wish I could do that”.

A masterpiece painting can stir up emotions in a viewer. The grace of a ballerina can move an audience to tears. Plays, concerts and films entertain and inspire. But art has a history that goes beyond the classics and deeper than the mastery of a skill, technique or genre. The use of the creative force goes back farther than recorded history, back to a time when a distinction between performers and audience did not yet exist. Art, in all its forms, was a natural part of the heartbeat of every day life.

Do not be afraid to embrace your natural past, your cultural history. Music, dance, song and visual arts are a part of everyone’s heritage no matter who they are, what part of the world they come from, or what they believe. Art is for everyone, it is participatory and it is community. It runs through our veins to the pulse of our own drums-our hearts-the organ that keeps the beat of our lives steady and strong. It tells the stories of our past and carries our own stories into the future.

Raíces means “roots”. We encourage you to tap into the primal creative roots of humanity. Singing, dancing, drawing in the sand, recording your thoughts with colors and lines, placing your hand on the skin of a drum-these are all natural activities, innate to all of humanity. These have been a large part of the means by which people have passed on cultures, stories, histories and insight into the human experience, long before any written history.

Viewing an exhibit or watching a well planned production can be exhilarating. But there is more to art than being an audience member or a performer. We urge anyone who has thought “I wish I could do that” to stop wishing and start doing it. Participate in the creative process. Move your body to the sound of the music, belt out your favorite song, draw and color and paint, even if it’s by number. Use your senses to feel the movement, colors and flow. Once you stop thinking and start feeling, you will be surprised at your natural capacity for art in all its forms. Art is for everyone. It is a natural expression. A distinctly human form of communication. Tap into your natural roots of creativity and live the art you feel.

Raíces Means Roots!

Raíces Cultural Center, a N.J. Nonprofit is interested in the preservation of cultural roots and history through the arts. We believe that the arts are for everyone. Our art is participatory and it is community. It comes from a time when there was no distinction between audience and artist. All who participate in and support Raíces Cultural Center programming are directly preserving art forms, histories and heritages in Central NJ which would otherwise be lost.