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The KUT Longhorn Radio Network Presents: Mexican American Experience Collection

Audio recordings including interviews, music, and informational programs related to the Mexican American community and their concerns in the series "The Mexican American Experience" and "A esta hora conversamos" from the Longhorn Radio Network, 1976-1982.

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Program #
Culture, Identity, Society

Folklore, Health
Armando Gutiérrez
Juan Chavira
Apr 25, 1979


Dr. Juan Chavira discusses the practice, belief and theory of curanderismo. He first explains Curanderismo as a body of knowledge, that connects to health and the maintenance of health. He claims that curanderos emerged during the last century when Mexican Americans were excluded from access to modern health care through isolation and outright discrimination. Curanderismo is intimately tied to the culture and history of Mexican Americans and is part of the current cultural revolution. Like modern medicine, Chavira explains that curanderos, or healers, also have specialties within which they work, such as the use of herbs, or working with marital problems. He highlights the difficulty in licensing people who take up an un-official popular medical tradition.

While Mexican-Americans have been exposed to folk medicine from an earlier age, Chavira believes it is hard to say just how pervasive curanderismo is because it is so hard to define, and the variety of people who use curanderos. Curanderos strive to treat the entire person and their relationship with the environment. To do this, Curanderos perform several procedures including barridas, in which they sweep an egg or herb over a body and chant a prayer to reshuffle a person’s energy field. Chavira also explains the theory behind curanderismo and as an example describes how people transmit mal de ojo and how to cure it.

Chavira explains that many scholars misunderstand curanderismo because they focus too much on the ritual and ignore the way in which its practice helps people cope with both their physical and psychological environment. Scholars have let their biases affect the ways they study curanderismo and its holistic approach to health. He explains that curanderismo is a blend of various cultural practices from Europe, Africa and the Americas. Curanderos handle a variety of illnesses and seek to achieve balance between a person and their environment. Chavira explains that a wide variety of people visit Curanderos. Men or women with a gift for healing become curanderos after a period of apprenticeship and they are usually paid at the discretion of the patient. Chavira also discusses some of the ways unscrupulous people use faith in curanderos to defraud people.

Chavira has found numerous Curanderos and other folk healers in the Rio Grande Valley. He also explains that Curanderos have a vast knowledge of herbs that can be used as sedatives, stimulants and for other medicinal purposes. He believes that a significant part of curanderismo is the attention paid to the patient and its ability to communicate care and sympathy. He concludes that curanderismo is a critical aspect of Chicano culture that is here to stay.


Center for Mexican American Studies | Department of History | The Benson Latin American Collection

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