A historical exploration of the worlds and healing practices of two curanderos (faith healers) who attracted thousands, rallied their communities, and challenged institutional powers.
Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo were curanderos—faith healers—who, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, worked outside the realm of "professional medicine," seemingly beyond the reach of the church, state, or certified health practitioners whose profession was still in its infancy. Urrea healed Mexicans, Indigenous people, and Anglos in northwestern Mexico and cities throughout the US Southwest, while Jaramillo conducted his healing practice in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley, healing Tejanos, Mexicans, and Indigenous people there. Jennifer Koshatka Seman takes us inside the intimate worlds of both "living saints," demonstrating how their effective healing—curanderismo—made them part of the larger turn-of-the century worlds they lived in as they attracted thousands of followers, validated folk practices, and contributed to a modernizing world along the US-Mexico border.
While she healed, Urrea spoke of a Mexico in which one did not have to obey unjust laws or confess one's sins to Catholic priests. Jaramillo restored and fed drought-stricken Tejanos when the state and modern medicine could not meet their needs. Then, in 1890, Urrea was expelled from Mexico. Within a decade, Jaramillo was investigated as a fraud by the American Medical Association and the US Post Office. Borderlands Curanderos argues that it is not only state and professional institutions that build and maintain communities, nations, and national identities but also those less obviously powerful.
“This illuminating book is a welcome addition to the literature. Admirably reported, it will please readers and scholars alike.”
Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
“In prose vivid and sensitive, Jennifer Koshata Seman offers stories in the microhistorical vein that immerse us in the lives of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo, while illuminating historical transformations in the US-Mexico borderlands. We see how benevolent healers could prove fierce critics of national governments, challenge scientific rationalism in medicine and politics, inspire rebellion, and rise in peoples’ hearts to the status of saints. Each possessed the “don,” or spiritual gift of healing, yet saw their patients’ ailments as being lodged as much in racism and inequality as in the world of spirits. Borderlands Curanderos is as compact and elegant as the saints’ medallions their adherents carry to this day.”
James F. Brooks, Gable Chair in Early American History, University of Georgia, author of Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre
“In this beautifully textured book, curanderos Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo emerge as central figures in the history of the US-Mexico borderlands. Jennifer Koshatka Seman shows how, in turning to these curanderos, ethnic Mexican and Indigenous people were also shaping new transnational communities and so remade their own worlds.”
Tisa Wenger, Yale University, author of Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal