Accepted Paper:

Elena Avila, curanderismo at the frontera  

Author:

Robert Logan Sparks (University of New Mexico)

Paper short abstract:

The notion of a form or lineage of traditional healing has very little meaning outside of the personal context through which such highly personalized practices are transmitted. Elena Avila, one of the first Chicana traditional curanderas is a productive case study.

Paper long abstract:

The life of Elena Avila, a postmodern Chicana curandera from El Paso via Albuquerque, is examined through the angles of ethnographic fieldwork, discourse analysis and interview material to highlight her biography as a productive narrative, but one as of yet largely unnoticed in chicano studies and beyond. The intention is n part self-consciously descriptive in addition to analytical, critical and autoethnographic. Avila was pivotal in a revival of interest in traditional Mesoamerican medicine in the United States. As a mental health nurse and specialist in supporting victims of sexual abuse in mainstream healthcare, her transition into a traditional healer is noteworthy for what it can tell us about the ways in which the Mexican-American immigrant experience reinterprets traditional medical knowledge in relationship to mainstream biomedicine and Anglo, dominant cultural views of wellness. In the process, issues of hybridity, authenticity and the lived experiences of Avila's relatives and students add signficant texture and motivation to further a number of related discussions yet to be had on the intersection of what is termed "tradition" in pyscho-medical practice, and the inevitable sieve of personal experience and the discursive synthesis practiced in liminal cultural environments.

Panel Medi04
Techniques of transformation, healing movements, and medicine worlds