In Mexican American communities, healthcare reaches beyond curing an illness and treating a patient. Mexican folk medicine dates back to the ancient Aztecs and is rooted within the Mexican culture as treatment practices are passed down through generations. Whereas Western medicine is primarily scientifically based and focuses on directly pinpointing a disease then treating it, Mexican folk medicine practices attempt to return the mind, body and spirit to balance when an illness arises.
Mexican folk medicine accepts that a person is in good health when they have an equal balance of hot and cold within their body. According to Dr. Nancy Neff, M.D., assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, an individual suffers from hot medical issues when they have vasodilation (when blood vessels widen and blood pressure reduces) and high metabolism, whereas cold illnesses occur when they have vasoconstriction (when blood vessels narrow and blood pressure rises) and low metabolism. To treat a hot or cold ailment, the patient takes an antidote of the opposite temperature.
Curanderismo is a primary healing method of Mexican folk medicine. The practice uses various methods, including prayer, massage, breathing techniques, herbal remedies and pláticas (personal conversations between the healer and patient) to eliminate diseases and restore harmony within the body.
Curanderos, a male folk healer, or curanderas, a female folk healer, perform the healing treatments, but the American Cancer Society states that family and community members are also often involved in the process. Curanderos and curanderas are respected in the Hispanic community, and according to the American Cancer Society, “classify [a patient’s] physical activities, food intake, drug consumption and illnesses as hot or cold” to treat a medical issue.
Besides physical diseases, curanderos also tend to supernatural ones like susto (fright), mal de ojo (a belief also known as “evil eye” which occurs when a person of greater power looks upon a weaker individual with envy or praise, resulting in bad luck or sickness for the weaker person), bilis (restrained anger) and brujería (witchcraft).