Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Synopsis

Mexican American folk and religious healing, often referred to as curanderismo, 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, curanderismo treats the sick person witha 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 Medicine examines the ongoing evolution of Mexican American religious healing from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Illuminating the ways in which curanderismo has 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 of curanderos have 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 Medicine demonstrates the notable and ongoing influence of Mexican Americans on cultural and religious practices in the United States, especially in the American West.

Excerpt

“How did you get into that?” is a question I often hear when I tell people that I study Mexican American religious healing. It is a reasonable question for any scholar, and perhaps especially in this case since, at least at first glance, it seems I share so little with the subjects of my research. I am a white man, a professor at an East Coast liberal arts college, and a member of the Protestant clergy (Presbyterian). My personal experiences with religion are numerous, but they have rarely intersected with the type of religious healing treated in this book. To be more specific, I am not Catholic, Latino, or even particularly given to experimentation in alternative, religious, or metaphysical medicine. So how did I get into this? Or, more pointedly, since I am not a member of the religious community I study, what role do I play as an academic researcher and writer?

While I am not party to Mexican American folk, religious, and traditional healing, it is also true that I do have points of access to my subject area related to some of my personal experiences. First, in my late teens and early twenties, I lived in Argentina, and as a result of those years, I speak Spanish fluently. and although Argentina is hardly identical to the U.S.-Mexico border region, the economic disparities, the colonial history, and the ubiquity of popular forms of Catholicism are characteristics that are shared across Latin America. I have also had the opportunity to live in three border states: Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. My years in Arizona were perhaps most important in terms of this book, since that is where I carried out my graduate education and where I served as pastor of Guadalupe Presbyterian Church, a small Spanish-speaking congregation of Yaqui Indians and recent Mexican immigrants. For three years, I listened to the stories of my congregants, stories that included plenty about sickness, healing, the power of God . . .

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