Border Medicine

A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

256 pages

6 halftones

December, 2014

ISBN: 9781479846320



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Brett Hendrickson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and author of Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo (NYU Press 2014). 

All books by Brett Hendrickson

Mexican American folk and religious healing, often referred to as curanderismo, has been a vital part of life in the Mexico-U.S. border region for centuries. A hybrid tradition made up primarily of indigenous and Iberian Catholic pharmacopeias, rituals, and notions of the self, curanderismo treats the sick person with a variety of healing modalities including herbal remedies, intercessory prayer, body massage, and energy manipulation. Curanderos, “healers,” embrace a holistic understanding of the patient, including body, soul, and community.
Border Medicine examines the ongoing evolution of Mexican American religious healing from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Illuminating the ways in which curanderismo has had an impact not only on the health and culture of the borderlands but also far beyond, the book tracks its expansion from Mexican American communities to Anglo and multiethnic contexts. While many healers treat Mexican and Mexican American clientele, a significant number of curanderos have worked with patients from other ethnic groups as well, especially those involved in North American metaphysical religions like spiritualism, mesmerism, New Thought, New Age, and energy-based alternative medicines. Hendrickson explores this point of contact as an experience of transcultural exchange.
Drawing on historical archives, colonial-era medical texts and accounts, early ethnographies of the region, newspaper articles, memoirs, and contemporary healing guidebooks as well as interviews with contemporary healers, Border Medicine demonstrates the notable and ongoing influence of Mexican Americans on cultural and religious practices in the United States, especially in the American West.


  • “The book…presents substantial historiographical analysis and epistemic reasoning on Mexican American curanderismo (traditional healing) and is particularly attractive for readers since the key arguments draw heavily from the author’s first-hand knowledge.” 

    Social Anthropology

  • “Overall, Hendrickson offers a good general introduction geared to readers completely unfamiliar with this topic.”

    Oral History Review

  • "A powerful and beautifully written ethno-historical study of curanderismo in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Brett Hendrickson deftly refuses to romanticize curanderos, their healing practices, or the men and women who go to them for help and guidance. He situates the complex religious and cultural realities of the historic and contemporary American Southwest, and shows how Mexican American lived borderlands religion fits within American religious history. Hendrickson’s portrayal of the rich and complex hybrid practice of Mexican American religious healing sets the new standard for how we will view healing, religious exchange, and hybridization among the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and beyond."

    —Kristy Nabhan-Warren, author of The Virgin of El Barrio: Marian Apparitions, Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican America

  • "Provides an important approach to the study of religions and healing, offering a history of Mexican American healing in conversation with some Anglo `new age’ religious healing. Difficult, yes, but splendidly handled by this author. Hendrickson advances discussions of religions, medicines, and healing, looking at these topics with new eyes; the book itself a conversation starter that I highly recommend."

    —Stephanie Mitchem, University of South Carolina