Borderlands Curanderos tackles the cross-border lives and legacies of Santa Teresa Urrea and Don Pedrito Jaramillo. Urrea and Jaramillo shared their “gift of healing” with a diverse set of actors into the early twentieth century, Urrea in Northwest Mexico and across the U.S. West and Jaramillo in Tamaulipas and Texas. Jennifer Koshatka Seman lets the details of their curanderismo practice—recetas (prescriptions) calling for water, dirt, and flora as well as rituals that privilege the power of sustained touch—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.

One could ask why Urrea and Jaramillo, and not another contemporary, El Niño Fidencio, for example, feature as the protagonists of this examination of borderlands curanderismo. A sustained analysis of how gender roles and gender expectations figured into their healing rituals and, more tellingly, informed perceptions and assessments of their gifts of grace, makes the author’s choice a fruitful one. Using gender as a lens also complements one of Seman’s running claims about curanderismo and pilgrimage. She productively broadens default understandings of pilgrimage as ritualized action in which devotees travel to an institutionally sanctified shrine. The book positions embodiment and mobility as central to pilgrimage acts. It also explores different types of religious materialities, including a healer's awareness of and confidence in “economies of reciprocity” (p. 119).

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. Even then, some of the writing is uneven and sometimes episodic. There is also the sense, especially in the early chapters, that the author is struggling to capture Santa Teresa’s voice—to make her rightly agential in her own story. This, of course, was never going to be an easy task, especially when one considers the cacophony of voices that followed, and often questioned, Santa Teresa as she healed, co-edited a newspaper, bought property, uplifted indigenous movements, and supported activist causes. We learn that, however bold, Santa Teresa’s story is perhaps destined to remain in the hands of others.

Elaine A. Peña
George Washington University