On May 3, I attended the RAICES conference on traditional medicine. It was at the Raymond G. Sanchez community center, and lasted for five hours total, though I only stayed for three.
RAICES is a community group that sells and teaches traditional Mexican medicine. The name, RAICES, is a Spanish word meaning “roots”, and is also an acronym for the group’s mission: Remembering Ancestors, Inspiring Culture, Empowering Self.
When I arrived a bit after 10 AM, the first thing I noticed was a large crowd of people on the west side of the building. It confused me at first, but upon a closer look, it was evident that it was a ceremony of sorts. Unsure, I skipped the crowd and entered the building, where the booths participating in the conference were finishing their preparations. As I wandered, browsing the booths, I noticed a familiar name on a stack of business cards: Tonita Gonzales. My teacher had recommended her to me because of her experience and knowledge in traditional medicine, so my main goal for that Saturday was to get some time to consult with her. I asked the person sitting at the booth, and received the answer that Tonita was still at the opening ceremony outside, so I took a business card and continued to browse the booths.
The booth that captured my attention was that of a garden curator for the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens. She was in charge of the curandera garden there, and had brought several plants in containers to teach about. One plant that she talked about was Mayan Mint. She told us to smell it, and explained that although the fragrance was spicy and pungent, the flavor was very sugary and sweet, and told us to taste it. It was indeed sweet, albeit with a slightly spicy undertone, but she was right. (Perhaps that can be made into a metaphor for human nature, but this is a post about medicine.)
The ceremony outside ended as we were talking, and people flooded in. Shortly afterwards the workshops began, and I headed to the workshop held in the same large room as the booths. It turned out that Tonita was holding the workshop, so I decided to speak to her afterwards. As it began, she gave a short autobiography and then began. The workshop didn’t have a specific focus; instead, she had brought different plants from her garden at home to explain. She had an assistant pass a plant around as she spoke about the details and properties of each plant. I remember as she talked about chile, mentioning a mother putting a cut chile into her son’ wounded arm, and everyone around me wincing. She went on to explain how the chile helped stop the pain and the wound healed with minimal scarring.
Afterwards, I joined the crowd surrounding her for questions, and eventually got to ask her if she would have any time that day so we could talk. She said that she probably would, but didn’t give a specific time, so I left her to answer other questions and teach her next session. I joined a crowd in another, smaller room as a woman spoke about her life and how traditional medicine had impacted her.
Once that was finished, I returned to the larger room and noticed Tonita wandering a bit, so I went up to her and asked if she had any time at that moment. She said it was all right, so we sat down to talk. She was absolutely gushing with information, to the point where it was almost a bad thing. Sometimes, when I asked a question, she gave me so much backstory and detail that I almost forgot what my original question was. We talked about different plants, non-native plants, and plant families, among so many other subjects.
By the time we were done, it was around 1 PM, and an announcement was made that they would be drawing raffle prizes soon. I entered myself in the drawing and returned to the booths I hadn’t gotten to look at before the workshops.
There were two booths with sample beverages made from curandera plants. One of them had two iced teas in large plastic jugs, clear, so you could see the bright colors. One jug was orange, with a bowl full of tamarind pods in front to indicate the flavor. The other was a deep, rich red, and a bowl filled with a dry flower that I didn’t recognize. The sign read, “Jamaica”. The other booth had two insulated jugs with a hot beverage made from amaranth, the “food of the gods,” according to the Aztecs. It was rich, creamy, and delicious.
Unfortunately, I didn’t end up winning any raffle prizes, but the conference was definitely a great experience.