Ernesto Pichardo: Spirit Guide

Oba Ernesto Pichardo strolls around his spacious, well-groomed back yard, past the shelves where plants he potted thrive. In a lot next to his house, the high priest — which his title of "oba" designates — has plans for a more ambitious garden, where members of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye can use a sustainable, organic plot for the herbs and trees needed for their religious practices. Many people still don't realize that at its heart, his faith — better known as Santería — is about worshipping nature. "That's what we're about," he says of his garden project. "That's where our values are."

Lukumi is traditionally a secretive, localized religion that fuses beliefs and practices from the Yoruba, Catholics, and Spiritists. After decades of being maligned by cops who didn't understand their rituals and neighbors who thought they were devil worshipers, Pichardo has done more than anyone in Miami to fight for santeros' rights.

"We don't have the resources that the mainstream does," he laments. Pichardo speaks for the Lukumi voiceless. He jokes that his voice is "one of the loud ones."

Ernesto Pichardo
Michael McElroy
Ernesto Pichardo

The Supreme Court heard those cries in 1993 when it decided a landmark case in favor of Pichardo and religious freedom. In Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, the high court found that the city couldn't arrest church members for performing animal sacrifices that are legit religious ceremonies.

In the face of prejudice, ignorance, and even violence — including Bibles thrown through his church's windows — Pichardo takes the route of education and direct confrontation. "I pioneered law enforcement sensitivity classes here," he notes. Pichardo has a particularly keen understanding of his rights. "I'm not a lawyer, but I can certainly argue a lot of the law with lawyers."

Born in Havana, Pichardo grew up in the Westland side of Hialeah. Though he spent his childhood as a Catholic altar boy, the holy man entered the Lukumi priesthood at age 16, eventually reaching the highest level of initiation."I've always been very open-minded, very broad," he notes, adding that he studied cultural anthropology and marketing in school.

Of Lukumi, he says, "We believe that no one has an absolute truth. No one has the absolute monopoly over God." In that vein, he hosted a Spanish cable program on Telemiami, interviewing a diverse group of religious leaders.

Always busy, his latest venture is an online Lukumi version of Food Network, which shows the world how to make sacred foods in a ritual context.

Whether in conversation, compost, or dinner, Pichardo isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.

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Jesus Suarez
Jesus Suarez

Well it's About time that Miami New Times Embraced one of Miami's own.....Nice article { It could have been better] Short, but leaving behind many important, local community altering points which deserve to be recognised about Ernesto Pichardo.

I have had the Honor and Privilege of knowing him for well over 20 years and I have witnessed his struggles and success against local political corruption, abuse and economical disenfranchisement of the sick and elderly when no one would so much as give a damn to protect them; because of his leadership he has changed the way the world views the Right to Freedom of expression and belief being the spearhead Leader to become the first and only case to test the validity of the First Amendment of the constitution of the United States of America, which with his success has altered the World opinion about such Matters as the Freedom of Religion and Conscience including and especially here in the U.S A and in his birthplace, Cuba. How AMAZING is THAT for a Member of a Minority Group...

I realise that New Times is just a Local paper populated by a few good reporters and a slew of mediocre ones and with Editors who apparently barely have a grasp of the city that they make their living in. It took all these YEARS for Miami New Times to recognise that they have a WORLD CLASS POLITICAL ACTIVIST in their midst and finally this is the little that they have to say about him.

Well at the very least it's something....but it's not even the tip of the Iceberg. I wonder how much Racial and Cultural Intolerance has to do with it...??...I figure; probably everything.

Still, again FINALLY this paper has written something..... that hasn't been purposefully insulting, vague, misleading and outright disrespectful of him and his enormous struggles to protect EVERYBODY'S freedoms...including that of the press. {Remember it was the First Amendment that his case put to the test the case and if you did so properly you would realise that if his Case went down so would have the Freedom of the Press and many other First Amendment Rights. Look it up for yourselves.}

So good for you New Times....Perhaps you will continue taking further steps in this Wise Direction..... I hope so anyway.Recognising one of OUR [Miami's] very own is an Honorable thing to do for our Local press....Now if the Miami Herald would do the same.....


Great articles, and the adimus we have so far are wonderful.

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