Borderlands Curanderos: The Worlds of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo (Paperback)
2021 Americo Paredes Award, Center for Mexican American Studies at South Texas College
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.
[Don Pedrito Jaramillo and Santa Teresa Urrea's] lives and deeds must survive the plague of forgetfulness and amnesia, the tendency in North American culture to bury the past and look to the future. We should be grateful, in this regard, for scholars, such as Jennifer Koshatka Seman, who resurrect their memories and preserve their legends.
— Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Seman provides a refreshing new perspective on North American borderlands history in [Borderlands Curanderos]... Seman’s in-depth monograph paints a compelling picture of the lives of the two curanderos Urrea and Jaramillo as they served the needs of the diverse and marginalized populations in and around the border...Borderlands Curanderos reframes borderlands history by focusing not only on faith healers, but squarely on the populations that they served. In doing so, Seman’s book invites larger discussions about the importance of the history of curanderismo on the border.
— Western Historical Quarterly
Seman will convince readers that a century ago, and perhaps still, curanderos erased social boundaries and supported the downtrodden regardless of background…Recommended.
"Seman lets the details of [Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo's] curanderismo practice...shine through. Rarely have these histories of healing been examined with purpose or even side by side. Seman also keeps our attention on the ways that these borderland histories dovetailed with globally inflected conversations around Spiritism and Spiritualism, challenged the efficaciousness of modern medicine, and even upended state authority in poignant ways on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border....It is clear that Seman spent significant amounts of time with borderlanders who care deeply about curanderismo and searched far and wide to claim archival evidence. That investment adds to important conversations about the scope and content of borderlands religious histories."
— Pacific Historical Review
By bringing forth Santa Teresa and Don Pedrito to the center of an academic historical monograph, Dr. Seman brings them from the footnotes of folklore and into their rightful place as vital historical and political actors. Borderlands Curanderos is important reading for anyone interested in borderlands history, Texas history, Mexican history, and the history of medicine.
— New Books in Latino Studies
Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo have been subjected to extensive historical scrutiny, so it is refreshing that Jennifer Seman brings novel interpretations to their lives and memories, stressing the liminality of border regions divided by geopolitical boundaries but unified by deep ethnic beliefs, ways of living, and hostility...Seman fleshes out the healers’ lives within an excellent contextualization of the region....Seman’s book adds substantively to the historiography of Mexican curanderas/os. It is well researched and well written. Graced by images and maps that greatly assist the reader, it could easily be assigned in an undergraduate course.
— Hispanic American Historical Review
Among [books about curanderos], Seman’s contribution stands out, particularly for the ways in which she moves the discussion away from the bizarre or patronizing to fully contextualizing each of these healers within the much larger currents in which they lived. In so doing, she normalizes what might otherwise read as weird medicine or quackery into a coherently logical system of remedies....a valuable and highly readable study, especially at a time when we remain so preoccupied by matters pertaining to identity, healing, and illness.
— Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Through Seman's microhistory, we can begin to appreciate the social and healing entanglements involving individuals seeking health on both sides of the border...Unlike earlier medical anthropologists, Seman does not focus on herbal cures, candles, and prayers. Through her study of curanderos, we see how Mexican and Anglo-American societies remained entangled fifty years after the Mexican War.
— Journal of American History