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Fronteras: ‘Borderlands Curanderos’ — Faith healers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were also revolutionaries

Curanderismo is a system of grassroots faith healing that’s been practiced in many forms in Latin America for centuries.

Two curanderos of the 19th and early 20th centuries not just provided healing to their border communities, but they filled a necessary service that was being denied to Mexicans and Mexican Americans by racist institutions on both sides of the border.

Historian Jennifer Koshatka Seman, lecturer at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, has written the book “Borderlands Curanderos: The Worlds of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo.”

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She said these two figures weren’t just healers. They were voices of resistance in their own ways.

“Here you have Teresa Urrea, this 18-, 19-year-old curandera, and she's healing people,” said Seman. “But she's also saying, ‘You don't have to listen to these authorities. You can disrupt these power structures.’”

Seman said Pedrito Jaramillo was not as outspoken, but his healing was a political act in a time when Mexican Americans were being lynched. “He's sitting right in the middle of this real powder keg of white supremacist uprisings and violence. But what he does is he heals,” she said. “Healing and caring for people, feeding them, healing their bodies, being a place where they can come safely is, I think, a political act in a different kind of way.”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1