Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo by Brett Hendrickson (review)
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Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo. By Brett Hendrickson. New York: New York University Press, 2014. 256 pages. Softbound, $24.00

In his book, Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo, religious studies scholar and author Brett Hendrickson seeks to offer a more "transcultural and multiethnic history" of Mexican American [End Page 448] religious healing practices (x). A self-professed outsider to this topic—not being Latino, Catholic, or a practitioner of alternative medicine—Hendrickson grounds his interests in his lived experiences in Argentina, where he developed Spanishlanguage fluency, as well as time in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. In Arizona, he served as pastor for a Spanish-speaking Protestant congregation, which further piqued his curiosity. Hendrickson begins by defining the term curanderismo as a "wide range of services offered by the healing specialists known as curanderos" and includes a "metaphysical understanding of the body and soul within and in relation to the divinely created order" (3). He argues that rather than being peripheral to religious experiences in the United States, Mexican American curanderismo should be considered a critical component because of its huge influence in the lives of non-Mexicans as well. Thus, the bulk of the book's content is replete with examples of this evolving transcultural contact and exchange in historical and contemporary contexts.

Hendrickson demonstrates his point by focusing on several main figures in the older world of curanderismo, including Pedrito Jaramillo, Teresa Urrea, and Nin˜o Fidencio, as well as other more recent curandero practitioners. One humorous story that Hendrickson highlights took place in 1903, when a "reluctant Anglo rancher" in South Texas consulted with Pedrito Jaramillo for a cure for his eczema (62). Jaramillo instructed the rancher to pour two quart-size cans of tomatoes into his boots and then wear them for a period of twelve hours, after which he was cured. "This specific story," according to Hendrickson, "illustrates the odd exchanges that sometimes occurred when Mexican American curanderos had the opportunity to treat and heal Anglo American patients" (62). Likewise, Teresa Urrea had extensive interactions with non-Mexicans seeking treatment, particularly when she lived in the United States from 1892 until her untimely death in 1906. Both Jaramillo and Urrea thrust curanderismo into regional and national discussions in the United States, from Hendrickson's perspective, partly because of "their success with healing non-Mexican Americans" (75).

In Border Medicine, Hendrickson also discusses the religious figure José Fidencio Constantino Síntora and the corollary formation of Nin˜o Fidencio as a religious movement that extended from northern Mexico, in the community of Espinazo, Nuevo León, to the US-Mexico border region. (Some of the more popular religious centers devoted to Nin˜o Fidencio, the author notes, are located in the United States, such as in San Antonio, Texas.) The successful spread of this religious movement is due, in part, to its emphasis on "possession trance," which enables the spirit of Nin˜o Fidencio to be channeled through specific individuals, known as materias or cajitas. "In fidencismo," according to Hendrickson, "the spirit of the Nin˜o ostensibly takes over the consciousness of the medium such that utterances and actions made during possession are considered to belong to Fidencio" (97). [End Page 449]

The book concludes with an examination of the contemporary reach of curanderismo beyond Mexican American ethnic communities and as part of a global network of healers and metaphysical religions. Toward this effort, Hendrickson profiles several self-promoting curanderos who engage in direct outreach with multiethnic clientele, both in traditional person-to-person and digital formats. Included in this final section is also a necessary discussion on potential challenges in religious transcultural exchange, such as issues of (mis)-appropriation. "If some Anglos have turned to curanderos for healing, and even for training," the author notes, "they have also participated in some of the same problematic dynamics that have marked transcultural and religious exchanges throughout the western colonial enterprise" (184).

Overall, Hendrickson offers a good general introduction geared to readers completely unfamiliar with this topic. His strongest section is the final one, which includes insightful ethnographic accounts, such as the author's participation...


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