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Since he was a boy growing up on the border of Texas and Mexico, Eliseo Torres, known to everyone as ‘Cheo,’ has been fascinated by the folk traditions and ways of Mexico and of his Mexican-American roots.
Both of his parents were versed in aspects of herbal lore and healing, and as he matured he learned from them a love and respect for the history and folk knowledge of the ancient art of curanderismo, or Mexican folk healing.
Now vice president of student affairs at The University of New Mexico and a member of the faculty of the College of Education, Torres regularly lectures and gives presentations on the history and lore of curanderismo to audiences ranging from scholars and students of Latin American culture to people hoping to become knowledgeable about alternative and traditional medicine.
He will share his information about curanderismo with Los Alamos during the upcoming Mesa Public Library’s Author Speaks series, which will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the library’s rotunda.
Torres is also instrumental in organizing the annual “Feria de Salud” at UNM in Albuquerque and other venues in New Mexico. The health fair, now in its 10th year, is part of a two-week course Torres teaches. “This is traditional medicine or integrated medicine,” Torres said. “We seem to be returning back to this medicine because it’s not costly or out of reach.” Approximately 20 cuanderos from Mexico are invited for the second week of the course during which students can ask them questions, listen to their experiences and observe their techniques at work.
“What better instructor than somebody who is actually doing this?” Torres said. Photographs taken by Greg Johnston during the 2005 curanderismo course sessions are on display in the Mesa Public Library art gallery through Aug. 9. The display is complementary to the traveling exhibition from the National Libraries of Medicine, “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine.” Lending a regional and contemporary aspect to the larger exhibition, the photographs of apprentice students and curanderos teaching them relate to the tradition of hands-on learning in Harry Potter and in medical education today.
Torres has spent a lot of time in Mexico as an apprentice to curandero Cresencio Alvarado. He is the author of the books, “The Folk Healer: The Mexican-American Tradition of Curanderismo” and “Green Medicine: Traditional Mexican-American Herbal Remedies,” as well as many articles. His book, “Healing with Herbs and Rituals” is an herbal remedy-based understanding of curanderismo and the practice of yerberas, or herbalists, as found in the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
Dedicated, in part, to curanderos throughout Mexico and the American Southwest, “Healing with Herbs and Rituals” shows that these practitioners are humble, sincere people who have given themselves to improving lives for many decades. Today’s holistic health movement has rediscovered the timeless merits of the curanderos’ uses of medicinal plants, rituals and practical advice.