For many Latinos/as, curanderismo is part of a healing regimen that we identify with older women in our lives taking care of us. At least that is how I learned about curanderismo, and that my great-grandma Maria rolled her own cigarettes and drank a shot of tequila every day for her health--what a great-grandma she was! Today's interview with Brett Hendrickson discusses his fantastic new book Border Medicine. For my colleagues looking for material to teach Latino/a religion, borderlands religion--and to turn the tide away from looking South and East for sources of American Religion--I highly recommend Brett's book.
Brett is an assistant professor of religious studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he studies and teaches on religion in the Americas, Mexican American religion, metaphysical religion, and cross-cultural religious change. He is especially interested in curanderismo, Latino popular religious devotions, and religion and healing.
He has lived in a variety of places including Arkansas (where he grew up), New York City, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Kentucky, Illinois, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In some of these places, he served congregations in his other role as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Brett and his wife, the Rev. Alex Hendrickson have three lovely children and live in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Five Questions for Brett Hendrickson
1) Your book makes a case, if I can simplify that curanderismo is not just for Mexicanos? Tell me about that idea
Yeah, one of the arguments of the book is that curanderismo, to greater and lesser extents, has been an important folk and religious healing tradition in the United States for Anglos as well as for Mexican Americans. The subtitle is "A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo," and by this, I really want to emphasize that, although this healing tradition developed in a very unique set of cultural and ethnic circumstances, the realities of colonialism and U.S. expansion have meant that contact and exchange has taken place for a long time between whites and Mexican Americans. The various chapters document this historically from the turn of the last century up through today. I talk about white ranching families that went to the local curandero for healing in the early part of the twentieth century, and I also talk about white New Agers who are looking for new "spiritual" healing experiences with curanderas in Albuquerque. Of course, the book also covers how Mexican and Mexican American healers have reformulated curanderismo over time to respond to these incursions as well as to other changing realities in the U.S. - Mexico border region and beyond.
With that said, the book is definitely not prescriptive. I have no interest in promoting these kinds of cultural exchanges. However, it is important to understand the power dynamics, exploitations, problems, and occasional redemption stories that occur in instances of colonialism.