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Borderlands Curanderos

Borderlands Curanderos
The Worlds of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo

A historical exploration of the worlds and healing practices of two curanderos (faith healers) who attracted thousands, rallied their communities, and challenged institutional powers.

January 2021
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232 pages | 6 x 9 |

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.

  • Introduction. Borderlands Curanderos: The Worlds of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo
  • Part I. Santa Teresa Urrea
    • Chapter 1. The Mexican Joan of Arc: Healing and Resistance in the US-Mexico Borderlands
    • Chapter 2. Laying on of Hands: Espiritismo and Modernity in the Urban Borderlands of San Francisco and Los Angeles
  • Part II. Don Pedrito Jaramillo
    • Chapter 3. All Roads Lead to Don Pedrito Jaramillo: Healing the Individual and the Social Body in the South Texas Río Grande Valley
    • Chapter 4. In the Clutches Of Black Magic: Curanderismo and the Construction of a Mexican American Identity in the US-Mexico Borderlands
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Don Pedrito Jaramillo Cure Sample
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Jennifer Koshatka Seman is a lecturer in history at Metropolitan State University in Denver. Her work has appeared in Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses and the Journal of the West.


Borderlands Curanderos is a highly engaging read for anyone interested in the medical and health humanities, history of medicine, and US-Mexico borderlands history. Jennifer Koshatka Seman’s analysis is complex and multilayered, which leaves much for the reader to contemplate, especially if it were to be used for undergraduate and graduate courses. This book reminds readers of the power of folk medicine and the uses that communities make of it.”

“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


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca