Origins: Imperialism and Interpretation

Research paper on Curanderismo

This undergraduate paper details commonly used plants with curanderas and their uses for common ailments. Some of these remedies are expansive — found in communities throughout the country and continent.

Research paper on Curanderismo

Knowledge about folk remedies isn’t passed through written records, but passed through tradition and verbally in users’ families. Knowledge outside of these communities come from interviews and oral histories.

A curandero is a traditional Hispanic folk healer — a term that varies in meaning and methods throughout Latin America. In Bobette Perronne’s book titled Medicine Women, Curanderas, and Women Doctors she and her co-authors describe the techniques used by those “in northern New Mexico are not necessarily the same as those… in the neighboring state of Texas or in the canyons of New York’s Spanish Harlem.” In Florida, curanderas use methods that are common “in Cuba but [that] would be foreign to curanderas practicing in East Los Angeles” (85).

Despite this, these healers are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants to the United States from Spain or its former colonies. Curanderismo came to the American southwest with the Spanish and Mexicans. During the journey, Catholic priests and friars were the medics, but when they could not heal someone, they would turn to the curanderas. These women's folk-healing knowledge was enhanced by the new herbs in North America, and they learned their properties from the local indigenous tribes.

The old Spanish curanderas were devout Catholics, and as they learned indigenous healing practices, they still believed they were on Earth to heal for God. Part of what made an effective curandera was her faith in God and a “firm conviction that God put the remedios on earth” (89). Latin American curanderismo developed as a mixture of Spanish Catholicism and indigenous medicine.

Traditionally, a Latinx family will have a designated member who has “rudimentary medical knowledge” for an ill relative. If that fails, the family seeks the help of a curandera, who they hope “will bring equilibrium back into their life through God’s will.” The patient only seeks the care of a scientific doctor “after all avenues of cultural, familial, and religious healing methods have failed” (87). Since the late 20th century, however, curanderismo has been on the decline in the American Hispanic community. Healers are less numerous than when Latinx immigrants first came to the United States. Contemporary Hispanics “seek the anonymity, acceptance, and achievements of the American melting pot,” so traditional practices fade away. In shirking those folk traditions, the Hispanic community surrenders parts of their culture and religion to assimilate into their new home.

Though there are fewer than before, younger healers still learn the traditions of curanderismo. These women can use their strength and practices “to break out of traditional cultural roles reserved for women in Hispanic society” (96). From its beginnings in Spain, to its modern development in Latin America, curanderismo has shifted again in the United States — in accordance and in resistance to its new home’s dominant culture.