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Border Medicine

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Brett Hendrickson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Border Medicine
    Book Description:

    Mexican American folk and religious healing, often referred to ascuranderismo, has been a vital part of life in the Mexico-U.S. border region for centuries. A hybrid tradition made up primarily of indigenous and Iberian Catholic pharmacopeias, rituals, and notions of the self,curanderismotreats the sick person with a variety of healing modalities including herbal remedies, intercessory prayer, body massage, and energy manipulation.Curanderos, "healers," embrace a holistic understanding of the patient, including body, soul, and community.

    Border Medicineexamines the ongoing evolution of Mexican American religious healing from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Illuminating the ways in whichcuranderismohas had an impact not only on the health and culture of the borderlands but also far beyond, the book tracks its expansion from Mexican American communities to Anglo and multiethnic contexts. While many healers treat Mexican and Mexican American clientele, a significant number ofcuranderoshave worked with patients from other ethnic groups as well, especially those involved in North American metaphysical religions like spiritualism, mesmerism, New Thought, New Age, and energy-based alternative medicines. Hendrickson explores this point of contact as an experience of transcultural exchange.

    Drawing on historical archives, colonial-era medical texts and accounts, early ethnographies of the region, newspaper articles, memoirs, and contemporary healing guidebooks as well as interviews with contemporary healers,Border Medicinedemonstrates the notable and ongoing influence of Mexican Americans on cultural and religious practices in the United States, especially in the American West.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4301-5
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In a second-floor shop above the famous plaza in the center of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there is a splendid bookstore called Allá that specializes in books from and about Latin America. During a research trip in the summer of 2012, I visited the store and entered into a conversation with the proprietors about my longtime research interest: Mexican and Mexican American religious healing, often referred to ascuranderismo.¹ After showing me their considerable collection of books that touch on the many facets of this topic, one of the owners, Jim Dunlap, delightedly grabbed theLarousse Spanish-English Dictionaryoff the...


    • 1 Hybrid Healing in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region
      (pp. 19-36)

      In the far northern reaches of the Spanish empire in the Americas, Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries labored to spread the authority of the Catholic Church and to harness the productive potential of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. As part of their mission, the Catholic religious committed themselves to caring for the sick, administering medicines and other kinds of treatments, and explaining the very nature of health and illness. In an early history of his order’s work, the Jesuit Ignaz Pfefferkorn wrote in 1795, “The vigilant care of the sick was one of the most important concerns of the missionary…....

    • 2 American Metaphysical Religion and the West
      (pp. 37-58)

      A mysterious figure named Francis Schlatter convulsed late nineteenth-century Colorado and New Mexico territory with his inexplicable healing powers. An Alsatian immigrant and shoemaker, Schlatter first appeared in Denver in 1892 to ply his trade. Not long after, he received a personal revelation from God, a revelation that caused him to embark on a long and torturous walking trek from Colorado to Hot Springs, Arkansas. From there he returned to the West, swinging through west Texas and southern New Mexico. All along the trip, when he was not in jail for vagrancy, he received additional revelations and performed healings. His...


    • 3 Curanderismo in the United States
      (pp. 61-85)

      At the turn of the last century, a Mexican American healer in south Texas named Don Pedrito Jaramillo achieved incredible popularity due to his miraculous powers. Joe Myrinson colorfully reported about Jaramillo in 1903:

      It wasn’t only the Mexicans who believed in Don Pedrito, I’ll tell you that. ’Course it was mostly the Mexicans, but there were some others too, like old Horatio Foster. He was a friend of mine, a very serious man who didn’t like to joke around at all. Well, old Horatio got himself a case of that there eczema on his feet. Used to wear them...

    • 4 Channels of Healing
      (pp. 86-110)

      Perhaps the most powerful and influential of all Mexican and Mexican American folk saints is Niño Fidencio. The abovecorrido, a genre of Mexican folk ballads common in the border region, is one of many that the thousands of followers of Niño Fidencio intone in his honor. Due to massive northern migration,fidencistadevotion has become common in those parts of the United States that boast large numbers of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Like Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito, Fidencio healed throngs of people during his lifetime. What makes him especially influential when compared to these other folk saints is...


    • 5 Mexican American Healing and the American Spiritual Marketplace
      (pp. 113-139)

      Sedona, Arizona, is known as the “New Age capital” of the United States. Since the late 1950s, this small town has attracted people who find “energy” in the stunning geological formations—the Red Rocks—that characterize this unique place.¹ Shops sell crystals, candles, CDs of Native American flute music, and other spiritual paraphernalia. Both locals and visitors can take advantage of hundreds of workshops and other gatherings to deepen their understanding on diverse New Age topics including Eastern religions, Native American spirituality, and a multitude of alternative healing therapies. In her 1997 history of the New Age movement in Sedona,...

    • 6 Reclaiming the Past and Redefining the Present
      (pp. 140-171)

      Before a packed lecture hall at the University of New Mexico in the summer of 2012, maestro Héctor, acuranderofrom the Mexican state of Morelos, performs alimpia, all the while explaining to the gathered students what he is doing as he sweeps owl and eagle feathers over his patient. In addition to the common explanation of alimpia—that it cleanses away negative energy and invites the person’s wandering soul to reinhabit his or her body—Héctor paints a picture of the body in relation to an energetic cosmos. The holistic human body, he claims, has “four essences:...

    • 7 Curanderismo as Transcultural Religious Healing Tradition: Problems and Possibilities
      (pp. 172-194)

      More than 150 years after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the carving of the U.S. Southwest out of northern Mexico, religious and other types of cultural contact continue to take place in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. During this lengthening period, complex group and ethnic identities like “Mexican,” “Chicano,” “American,” and “Anglo” have evolved in a setting of ongoing exchange, conflict, and hybridization. Without a doubt, metaphysical notions of wellness, sickness, and healing have clustered at these points of contact in multilayered and often productive arrangements. By no means is it impossible to imagine a nineteenth-century white settler from the East...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-198)

    It is an ever-present temptation and danger when considering transcultural exchanges—be they welcome or violent—to imagine that two fully formed and discrete worlds are colliding. This is the simplest—and least illuminating—understanding of hybridization: primary colors on an artist’s palette combining in predictable ways. In the reality of experience, of course, the hybrid processes of transcultural exchange are far more multivalent, slippery, and resistant to facile interpretations. In the present case of transcultural expressions of Mexican American folk healing with Anglo American people, we must begin with the acknowledgment thatcuranderismoitself is the result of an...

    (pp. 199-202)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 203-216)
    (pp. 217-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-232)
    (pp. 233-233)