Clements Center Monthly Talks

Faith Healing in the U.S.-Borderlands at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Jennifer K. Seman, PhD. Candidate in SMU's Clements Department of History

Wednesday, March 25, 2015  |  Simmons Hall, 3101 University Boulevard   |  12:30 to 1:30 pm

The Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine in Falfurrias, Texas is located ninety miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. On a summer day in 2012, it is quiet and still but for a breeze gently disturbing the flames that glisten in the rows of candles set atop a modest altar. All the candles bear the same black and white image of Don Pedrito Jaramillo, the famous curandero from South Texas known alternately as “The Saint of Falfurrias,” “El Curandero,” or the title inscribed on his tombstone at the shrine, “The Benefactor of Humanity.” The shimmering votives cast shadows on shrine walls covered with pictures and notes addressed to Jaramillo, asking him to relieve sickness, restore employment, reunite families and take evil away. Some of the notes tacked on the wall are in Spanish, some are in English; some are written on ripped off pieces of paper bags, some on lined paper, and some on notepads bearing drug company logos. But what all of these petitions have in common is the desire for healing and happiness, and the faith that Don Pedrito Jaramillo, although deceased since 1907, will hear their prayers.     

Seven hundred miles west of the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine, on the opposite end of the Texas-Mexico border, residents of El Paso’s Segundo Barrio celebrate the curandera Teresa Urrea. On one hot summer night in 2011 nearly five-hundred people pass through El Museo Urbano, a local museum and community center that in 1896 was the residence of Teresa Urrea, the famous Mexican curandera also know as “La Santa de Cabora,” “Teresita,” and “Juana de Arco Mexicana” (Mexican Joan of Arc). The sounds of Tejano and techno music fill the air as young and old pass in and out of Museo Urbano, stopping to take in the murals painted on the sides of the building featuring Teresa Urrea, Pancho Villa, and the Mexican anarchist brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores-Magón. Inside, visitors are greeted with walls painted vibrant orange and yellow, adorned with pictures of Teresa Urrea and figures representing El Paso’s revolutionary and multi-cultural history. Teresa Urrea lived in El Paso for only a year, yet she made a deep impression. This sentiment painted on the wall of El Museo Urbano expresses the feeling in Segundo Barrio on this night: “Her medicine is still strong.”

Borderlands curanderos Santa Teresa Urrea (1873-1906) and Don Pedrito Jaramillo (1829-1907) healed thousands of people from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border at the turn of the twentieth century. They practiced curanderismo, a Mexican faith healing practice that utilizes earth, water, herbs, prayer, and laying on hands. This talk will explore how Santa Teresa and Don Pedrito not only healed bodies, but also connected their communities with social resources and political information. Today there is a movement in the U.S. Southwest and parts of Mexico to use curanderismo as a way to build bridges between the U.S. and Mexico as well as between traditional and allopathic medicine, an extension of the project began by Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito at the turn of the twentieth century.