Category Archives: Mexican Cultural Stories

Natural Healing — Cempasúchil

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The Aztec marigold (Tagetes erecta)  is known as cempasúchil in Mexico. The name comes from the Nahuatl cempohualxochitl which translates as “20 flowers”, possibly referring to the fact that each blossom has the potential to create 20 or more flowers, although some sources reference the ritualistic significance of the number 20, so there maybe be other reasons for this name.

This aromatic flower is native to Mexico and has a long history of medicinal and ritualistic use. Even today, this flower dominates the festival Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It is believed that the strong scent will call to the spirits that are roaming free and guide them home to visit loved ones. This use has given the cempasúchil another name, Flor de Muertos (Flower of the Dead).

The Mayan had similar beliefs. The priests would wash their hands and face with an infusion of leaves and flowers before calling the spirits.

There is a legend that describes the love of Xóchitl and Huitzilin. Their feelings were so strong that when Huitzlin died in battle, the sun god Tonatiuh heard the pleas of Xóchitl to reunite them. He transformed Xóchitl into the cempohualxochitl flower. Huitzlin, who had been reincarnated in the form of the hummingbird, forever after found nourishment among her “20 flowers.”

Francisco Hernández described the common use of the cempasúchil in the Historia Natural de la Nueva España like this:

“Tienen todas hojas como de tanaceto, flores amarillas, o amarillas con algo de bermejo, de temperamento caliente y seco en tercer grado, sabor acre, partes sutiles y olor un tanto fuerte. Tiene virtud resolutiva y aperitiva; el jugo de las hojas tomado o las mismas hojas machacadas y tomadas con agua o con vino atemperan el estómago frío, provocan las reglas, la orina y el sudor, alejan los fríos de las intermitentes untadas un poco antes del acceso, quitan la flatulencia, excitan el apetito venéreo, curan la debilidad que proviene de destemplaza fría del hígado, abren las vías obstruidas, aflojan los miembros contraídos, alivian la hidropesía, provocan vómito tomadas con agua tibia, y curan los fríos de las fiebres y aun las fiebres mismas evacuando la causa por la orina y el sudor.”

Historia Natural de la Nueva España, Volume II. Book IV, CLXXIX

Loosely translated, it reads:

“They all have leaves like tansy, yellow flowers, or yellow with some red, hot-tempered and dry in the third degree, pungent taste, subtle parts, and somewhat strong smell. It has a decisive and aperitive virtue; the juice of the leaves drunk or the same leaves crushed and drunk with water or wine temper the stomach, provoke menstruation, urine and sweat, remove intermittent shivers by smearing a little near body cavities, rid the body of flatulence, they excite the venereal appetite, they cure the weakness that comes from the dislocation of the liver, they open the clogged passageways, they loosen contracted limbs, they relieve dropsy, they provoke vomit when drunk with lukewarm water, and they cure shivering of the fevers and even the fevers themselves evacuating the cause of urine and sweat.”

Strange 15th-century disorders aside, like the floating liver, the cempasúchil has been shown to be effective in the majority of the ailments Hernández listed and continues to be an important ingredient in many natural remedies in Mexico today.

Traditionally, the cempasúchil has been used to treat intestinal parasites. Drink 3 cups of a tea made from a pinch of flower petals and 1 / 4 liter of water. The flowers also have anti-inflammatory properties.

A diluted, lukewarm tea is given to babies with colic commonly called empache. The flowers have spasmolytic properties which help soothe the bellyache and reduces fussiness.

An infusion or tincture of the flowers is also used to treat susto or espanto which are nervous conditions. The compounds in the flowers have a sedative effect.

Both antioxidant and antibacterial, the cempasúchil has traditionally been used for wound care. The flowers are crushed into a poultice and can be applied directly to the injury or sore. The crushed leaves are used to treat boils and burns which aids in healing.

In the Yucatan, Tabasco, Oaxaca, and Veracruz, the cempasúchil is used to treat fever. Extracts from the plant are applied in a tincture to the bottom of the feet to provoke perspiration and sweating. In Guerrero and Tabasco, the plant is used to treat colds.

The petals are edible and have anti-aging properties, so go ahead and sprinkle some on your salad. Or you could this chicken in marigold sauce recipe or one of the dishes in the video below.

This versatile plant is also a boon to the gardener, being a natural insect repellent. Crushed petals rubbed on your skin will repel mosquitos.

The petals make a non-toxic dye. In Mexico, dried and powdered petals are fed to chickens so that their skin and eggs are yellower. There is also a cempasúchil pulque (moonshine) made in some areas.

All in all, there is more than one reason to have cempasúchil in your herbal repertoire. 

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Filed under Health, Mexican Cultural Stories, Mexican Food and Drink, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

National Coloring Book Day

Did you know that August 2 is National Coloring Book Day? Well, now you do! 

Did you know that coloring has benefits even for adults? Coloring is equated with meditation. It is low-stress and it relaxes the brain. (See 3 Reasons Adult Coloring Can Actually Relax Your Brain) Coloring also keeps those fine motor skills tuned up and improves your mental focus. (See Health Benefits of Coloring for Adults).

Did you know that I have a coloring book out? My artist friend Claudia and I combined our talents (hers is artist and mine was just compiling the information) to create a coloring book about Moroleon, Guanajuato. 

And did you know that for the next few days, in honor of National Coloring Book Day, you can get The History of Moroleon for Kids free at Amazon?history of moroleon

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The Girl who Inspired a Revolution

In honor of International Women’s Day, and in light of Yalitza Aparicio Martínez’s moment in the sun at the Oscars, I’d like to talk about an illegitimate, indigenous girl from Cabora who inspired a revolution and became a saint.hummingbirds daughter

Teresita Urrea was born on October 15, 1873. Her birth name was Niña García Noña María Rebecca Chávez. Her father, Tomás Urrea, was the hacienda owner of Rancho de Santana, Ocoroni in Sinaloa, Mexico and her mother, Cayetana Chávez, was a 14-year old Tehueco servant on the ranch.

In 1880, Urrea moved his ranch to Cabora, Sonora because of some issues he had with Porfirio Diaz. After arriving in Cabora, Teresita had some sort of fit and lapsed in and out of cataleptic states for several months.

She began to do healings as a curandera shortly after she recovered, mostly ministering to the poor, downtrodden indigenous people of the area. People came to her for healings which she performed in the name of the Virgin de Guadalupe.

The Mayo and Yaqui referred to her as La Santa de Cabora which angered the Catholic church officials. The press got wind of all this and started to include regular articles about Teresita in the Mexico City newspaper El Monitor Republicano.  Her legend became intertwined with the events that led up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 beginning around this time.

Drought prompted the Tarahumara village of Tomochic, Chihuahua to ask for her intervention with the powers that be. While she was there, the village inhabitants had a violent confrontation with federal officials after the auspicious battle cry ‘Viva la Santa de Cabora!” or so the story goes.

Teresita and her father were exiled from Mexico by Porfirio Diaz in May 1892 as the cause of the indigenous insurrections. They were escorted to the border by the Eleventh Regiment and Twelfth Battalion of the Mexican army led by General Abraham Bandala.

After she was exiled, Teresita’s name and sainthood continued to be the rallying call for the Tomochitecos. Federal troops finally destroyed the village and killed at least 300 villagers. The Mayo also united under her banner and attacked Navajoa, Sonora after their lands had been seized by the government.

Meanwhile, Teresita and her father settled in El Bosque near Nogales, Arizona. Teresita began practicing her healing arts again.

In 1895, she was living in Solomonville, Arizona where Lauro Aguirre and Flores Chapa were publishing an anti-government newspaper called El Independiente. In 1896, the two journalists published a pamphlet which referred to the Tomochic rebellion and called for the overthrow of the Mexican government. Flores and Chapa were arrested and tried by the United States government. During the trial, Teresita was named as an accomplice in the drafting of the pamphlet calling for equal rights for all. After the men were acquitted, Teresita moved to El Paso, Texas where again Aguirre was publishing newspapers. She was featured in newspapers in El Paso as “an apolitical spiritual healer.”

In 1896, a group of 60-70 Yaquis and Tomochis attacked the customs house in Nogales, Arizona under the protection of La Santa de Cabora calling themselves “Teresitas”. It was rumored that some carried a picture of Teresita over their hearts as protection.

The Mexican government demanded Teresita extradited back to Mexico, still blaming her for the uprisings. Teresa made a public statement in the El Paso Herald on September 11, 1896, denying she had anything to do with the attack in Nogales.

The Mexican government made at least 3 attempts on her life. Teresita married, Guadalupe Rodriguez, a Yaqui miner, in 1900. Guadalupe tried to kidnap her to return her to Mexico the morning after their marriage. He was arrested, declared insane, and sent to live in an asylum. They were divorced in 1904.

Teresita went on the road with her healing. She signed a contract with either a San Francisco publisher or pharmaceutical firm, sources are unclear which. She performed in public in several large cities, including St. Louis and New York. A conflict over charges the tour promoters had been exacting from those who came to see her ended her contract.

She had a daughter in 1902.  In 1904 she had a second child. Not much is known about the father of these children. She died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1906, and was buried in Clifton, Arizona where her father is also buried.

Whether or not Teresita actively incited the indigenous to revolt against the oppressive regime of Porfirio Diaz, the idea she embodied was an inspiration to thousands. Just four years after her death, Mexico entered a long and bloody civil war.queen

If you are interested in reading more about Teresita’s life, you can read Teresita by William Curry Holden, La insólita historia de la Santa de Cabora by Brianda Domecq, The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America written by Teresita’s relative Luis Alberto Urrea.

You can also read my review of The Hummingbird’s Daughter here.

 

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Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Religion, women in Mexican History

2019–International Year of Indigenous Languages

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Did you know that 2019 has been declared International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations? The organization’s goals include increasing understanding, creating conditions for knowledge-sharing, and integration of indigenous languages with the dominant cultures of each country. UNESCO has even set up a site which lists events, ways to get involved, and teaching resources which you can find here.

The Mexican government officially recognizes 68 indigenous languages which have approximately 350 different dialects. Most of these languages originated from 7 larger language families while some resulted from 4 language isolates, that is they developed independently of other languages. Purépecha, the indigenous language spoken in the area where I live on the border of Michoacan and Guanajuato, is one of those language isolates. (See Catalogo de las Lenguas Indígenas Nacionales: Variantes Lingüísticas de México con sus autodenominaciones y referencias geoestadísticas). Twenty-one indigenous languages are in danger of extinction as the last remaining speakers die off.

Since 2003, the Mexican law Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas requires that its citizens receive services in their native tongues. Some strides in that direction have been made because of the efforts of the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas but the results have been limited nationally.

Approximately 6 million Mexicans speak an indigenous language. Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and Yucatec Maya are the two most spoken languages. Six million people is only about 7% of the entire population of Mexico which has allowed for increasing marginalization over the centuries.

However, under the new presidential regime of AMLO, indigenous culture has taken center stage once again. At his December 1 inauguration, the president-elect received the official blessing from the governor of Los Pueblos Indígenas (indigenous towns) complete with incense and cedar staff engraved with 68 indigenous language representations. He received yet another ruling staff on his trip to Oaxaca later in the month. This staff was the official Tatamandón, the staff that symbolizes the ruler of the majority of indigenous communities of the area.

Just days after taking office, AMLO announced the formation of the Programa Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas stating “Daremos preferencia a los más humildes y a los olvidados, en especial a los Pueblos Indígenas de México.” Andrés Manuel López Obrador (We will give preference to the most humble and forgotten, especially the Indigenous Towns of Mexico)

It appears he is making efforts to listen to and incorporate the indigenous population in the new government.

On the other hand, AMLO also approved the construction of what is known as the Maya Train, even going as far as hosting a ceremony to ask Mother Earth bestow her blessings on the construction. Indigenous groups in the area are opposed to the route which will pass through some of Mexico’s most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems.

Furthermore, EZLN (the Zapatistas) have already made it clear that they do not support AMLO in any way, shape or form and will oppose his government with violence if necessary.

Whether the new government fulfills its promises toward the indigenous peoples or not remains to be seen.

What indigenous languages are spoken in your area?

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