When Esther, a spirited young girl from a small Jewish neighborhood, gets labeled a witch in taunts from her Catholic school classmates, she embraces being one. Despite the further scrutiny it brings to her guarded traditional community, Esther enjoys the mystery and power that comes with being a witch. She also likes that it’ll help ward off potential suitors that her mother is so keen on her winning over. Besides folk tales, Esther knows little about witches, but understands that they are women with a special connection to the natural world that are feared, yet in control of their own destiny. Esther resists following the women before her and, in trying to carve her own path, she loses sight of ties that are important to her.
Bruja, a gouache painted illustrated book, examines themes of tradition and identity through the lens of a girl, and daughter of immigrants, growing up in 1960s Costa Rica. It highlights the idea that tradition and ritual don’t have to be an anchor that holds one back, but rather can be grounding and add meaning within different modes of living. By the same token, following blindly, without question, will not lead to real progress of self or society. Though a work of fiction, Bruja is based in the real setting of downtown San Jose, inspired by myths about the surrounding landscape, and grounded in personal family history.