Healing, Latino culture, Loss, Mexican traditions, Writing

Do You Know How to Use a Curandera?

Mexican Seri Woman Crossing the Desert
Mexican Seri Woman Crossing the Desert photo by Gabriela Iturbides

Do you know how to naturally heal fright or trauma? No? More about susto later.

During the last two years, I’ve worked on a story about an ambitious twenty-one-year-old with a ten-year plan to become a State Senator who drops out of college because of a broken engagement. She meets a grandmother and granddaughter who are curanderas. Although she doesn’t believe in this Mexican tradition of healers she takes matters into her own hands and makes a love potion. When the wrong people, her mother, ex-fiancé and others, drink the potion and fall in love she has to discover an antidote. Her search takes her to Oaxaca, Mexico to meet a curandera who may be able to help her heal her susto and give her the correct potion to make things right.

city of Puebla, Mexico
Puebla, Oaxaca, Mexico photo by Russ Bowling, unsplash.com

When I was a kid, every mother knew of a local curandera. Using their services was normal. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures may call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches. 

Curanderismo is a healing art and a curandera/o is a healer who uses herbs, ointments, massage, and cleansings to cure an illness and do spiritual and psychic healings. They and the community believe the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal. They are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S, and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involved a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. Here’s a link to a doctor who discusses traditional remedies.  

But back to healing fright or susto. It seems there are degrees of susto. A person can be suffering a shock, an emotional trauma, or be in such a state of anxiety that they can’t function; which is the case with my main character in my novel in progress. When this happens, they are said to be suffering from susto.

A spiritual cleansing, limpia,  is often used by taking a bunch of selected herbs made into a small hand broom which is whacked across the entire body. This removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects. Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb engergies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens.

Curanderismo is not only a Mexican tradition but one that is found in most of Latin America and the Carribean. The subject is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel (work-in-progress) featuring curanderas. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel. You may come across some interesting information.

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

Latina, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo Music, Strong Women, Writing

Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys for 30 Days of #NaNoWriMo

I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.
I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.

 

Like thousands of other writers across the globe, I did a BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keys) for 30 days.

Instead of being a complete pantser (writing by the seat of my pantalones), as I have in the past, I did a half and half of pantser and plotter. Like having one leg into my jeans.

The plotter part consisted of character exploration by journaling, creation of a Pinterest storyboard, and created a logline and premise for the story.

After 30 days, I have a story in a first draft mess which finishes around the 3/4 point. Which means I’ll need 15,000-20,000 more words to complete this New Adult story. 

What helped me to write faster was what I learned in a free online workshop from the University of Iowa’s How Writer’s Write Fiction Course. This is a combination of video, reading, and quizzes, which you can take for credit or no credit.

If you take the course for credit there are writing assignments and peer reviews. A certificate of completion is available for $50 if you meet all the requirements. The course is well worth your time.

An exercise I found helpful to start my NaNo writing was to ask my characters questions and write the answers out in longhand in my journal:

1-Who am I?

2- Who do I love? Who or what do I hate?

3-What do I want the most?

4-Who or what do I fear?

My story has three generations of Mexican American women so I needed to explore all of them through these questions.

There are hundreds of character sketch templates available, but I found that these questions opened my mind up to think about emotional issues, not just physical characteristics.

I used most of the answers in the character exploration to type onto my first pages. (Yes, I counted the words for NaNo). This was helpful so I could re-read what I wrote and stay in character.

The other motivator I used, for the first time, was music. Since the main character has just gone through a broken engagement at 22 years old (many moons past for me) I listened to music from Lana Del Rey and Adele.

One of the locations in the novel is Oaxaca, Mexico where the main character visits a curandera (traditional Mexican healer). I selected some indigenous music to help me when I wrote scenes about walking the pyramids of Monte Albán and listened to music by Lila Downs for cafe scenes.

Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico
Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico

I wish I had printed out my Pinterest storyboard since I found myself going back to the photos every time I sat down to write (distracting and time-consuming). The colors, people, foods, and objects helped to center me as I wrote.

For NaNoWriMo 2015, as for any of my next novels, preparation is the key: premise, concept, logline for the story. Explore the characters through journaling. Listen to music for help to create the setting. Create a storyboard of interesting colorful photos to stimulate the eye. And find a consistent time to BICHOK.

Share your writing tips. So how did you NaNo this year?

 

 

Mexican traditions, Mother's Day, Mothers

11 Things My Mom Taught Me Without Knowing

 

Lincoln quote on mothers

The other day I saw a contest, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. For a chance to win a free pass, one could enter a 500-word essay on the topic, “What my mother taught me.” The deadline was within a couple of days, so I passed on the opportunity, but the topic stirred my thoughts.

I began to think about my first generation mother an orphan of Mexican parents who came to the U.S during the Mexican Revolution. She taught me a lifetime of lessons, many which she probably isn’t aware of.

So, in tribute to Mother’s Day and my mom, I have a few items to mention. Some of which you might find unusual, but in many Mexican households, not so uncommon.

My mom taught me to:

  1. Appreciate Mariachi music, the old classics, where buried pain could be unleashed in the drama of the song. She also taught me how to give a ‘grito,‘ a shout to punctuate the parts of the song that called for emphasis or which resonated with the listener.
  2. Value hard work. As young teens, all of us picked walnuts, tomatoes, or strawberries on weekends to earn money to survive. We heard many a story about her picking cotton until her arms and fingers bled, the scorching vineyards and lettuce fields. The moral of the story: You do what you got to do. She survived and we would too.
  3. Value education unless you want to live your life in the fields. This is almost a direct quote we heard many times. Mom was in her 40’s, a single parent of four kids, who worked full time and went to college at night during the late 60’s. By the early 70’s she earned two Bachelor’s degrees.
  4. Cook basic Mexican food and be creative with the welfare commodities. We learned how to make a guisado, beans de olla, tortillas (even though mine looked like the map of Texas), and nopales. We also made Spam and powdered eggs with chile, Mac and cheese, and grits.
  5. Use nature’s and grocery store remedies. For a cold, use Vapor Rub and put your socks on. For a tummy ache, use the Yerba Buena that grew under our front yard faucet. For nausea, drink 7Up. For a flu, use all three and bury yourself under the blankets.
  6. Duck, dive, and discipline. Mom had a baseball arm and threw her chancla (house slipper) when she’d had it with us. I swear that thing seemed like a magic boomerang. She didn’t spank us, at least not me and my sisters, but that threat of a nalgada kept us in line. Sometimes. All she had to do was flip her chancla off and we’d start running. Same thing as hearing her say, “Where’s my belt?” although she didn’t have one.
  7. Exercise starts at home. Mom won dance contests as a young woman. Trophies, cash money, and during WW II, she won a pig. Chicharrones for days! She still dances between her TV shows for exercise and cares for 30+ rose trees, fruit trees, and numerous potted plants.
  8. Self-defense. Mom was her older brothers sparring partner as a kid. I’ve seen her fight, many years ago and in self-defense, and she’s good. She often shadow boxed with us as kids. I do it with my own. It’s play boxing, never to draw blood, except this one time when my sisters jumped me for a jelly donut (true story).
  9. The value of family. As children, we regularly visited extended family, spending holidays and Sundays together. Now all my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side have passed on. Only she remains. My cousins and their children are still in her life.
  10. The enjoyment of books. I often remember her stories of reading up in her Elm tree in front of her house. After she was orphaned she’d spend hours away from her aunt and uncle, sitting on a tree branch reading a library book. Books filled our home early in our life. My first introduction to feminism, politics, Mexican and Chicano History came from her college texts.
  11. Faith. Growing up, I regularly saw my mom pray. We had a small altar under our staircase in our home. Glowing votives, saints, the works. She believed things would turn out, even when everything around us didn’t seem to be working out.

Happy Mother’s Day! Now, what did your mother teach you?

 

Loss, Love, Mexican traditions, poetry

My Native One/Mi Indigena – Poem

by Daniel Esparza-lowriderarte.com

As evening falls I close my eyes in slumber

Allowing myself to swim this ocean of memories

Chapters of love etched deep upon my being

All bitter sweet or sweet gone bitter

Fleeting passion, friendship adorned in tedium

Tepid nights of sighs quelling loneliness

Reticent reminiscences, specters in empty rooms

A requiem of illusive love defying end

The haunting image of my nameless muse

Spirit veneration of my palindrome poems

A song of truer times breaks the melancholy

Honeyed voice lifts the weight of silence

Solitude blessed by a sweet familiar whisper

    “Cradle your head on the heart of hope;

     sleep and dream my loving touch;

     embrace the promise we exist to keep;

     one day soon we will be forever…”

Poem by Frank de Jesus Acosta*

This poem makes me think of a loss and a future hope.

I imagine a 1940’s sultry blues melody accompanying these lyrics. Which makes the woman appropriate to the poem.

Poetry can metamorphize memories, “All bitter sweet or sweet gone bitter,” into a perspective where we pay homage to the feelings. Somewhat like the Alfred Lord Tennyson phrase:

“Tis better to have loved and lost. Than never to have loved at all.”

For me, the pairing of this art piece and poem illustrates the Mexican concept of death.

In Aztec culture, they believed life on earth to be something of an illusion – death was a positive step forward into a higher level of conscience. Skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.

Skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.

And it is in the rebirth, that one has hope.

*reprinted with permission by Frank Acosta.