Traveling Back to Mexican Roots with RAICES

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.

Their setup for the opening ceremony. I wonder who that saint is.

Their setup for the opening ceremony. I wonder who that saint is.

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.)

Another plant that Maria Thomas, the Botanic Gardens curator showed. This one is Agastache: http://tinyurl.com/lfyhuex

Another plant that Maria Thomas, the Botanic Gardens curator showed. This one is Agastache: http://tinyurl.com/lfyhuex

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.

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One view of the large room. The booths are out of the frame to the left, and a workshop can be seen in the background.

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.

Tamarind makes for a tart, refreshing beverage. http://tinyurl.com/lcrjnsx

Tamarind makes for a tart, refreshing beverage. Source: http://tinyurl.com/lcrjnsx

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.

I later learned that Flor de Jamaica is the Spanish name for hibiscus flowers. They do make a delicious, if slightly bitter, tea. Source: http://tinyurl.com/kp9lbrh

I later learned that Flor de Jamaica is the Spanish name for hibiscus flowers. They do make a delicious, if slightly bitter, tea. Source: http://tinyurl.com/kp9lbrh

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up winning any raffle prizes, but the conference was definitely a great experience.

-Gabi

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6 thoughts on “Traveling Back to Mexican Roots with RAICES

  1. After reading this, I do not see a clear focus of this post. It is generally scattered with information which at parts is uninteresting and dry for me. I think this post would benefit from being broken into a couple of smaller posts on the conference, where each one is specifically on curandera, drinks or the workshops. Ultimately, this is a somewhat free written post, which with some tightening up of the language could be largely successful and interesting to read, but sadly it does not fit the underlying goal of this project.
    On a positive note, the bright and colorful pictures and the writing does bring me to believe that you gained a lot from this conference. Your interest in the topic makes it clear you were engaged while at the conference. However, more information on the workshops and about the information you received from Tonita would benefit this post greatly.
    Lastly, tightening up your language in this post would help to improve it. I’m left with several questions, such as what is a curandera garden? What plants did Tonita bring in with her for the workshop? How did the chile help her son? Does it possess herbal properties?
    -Will

  2. This post on the RAICES is very informative. It gives a great description of what RAICES is and how it shows how traditional Mexican Medicine is used in an age when you can go to Walgreens and pick up some medicine. I liked reading this post because it has the right amount of humor in it to make it funny, but at the same time proving a point. What are some more traditional medicines used for scarring? I like the chile idea and I just might use it. I felt that you could go into just a bit more detail about the ceremony. I thought that it sounded interesting, but there wasn’t really enough information on that. I really enjoyed reading this post and keep up the good work.

    • The reason that there wasn’t much information on the ceremony was because I didn’t attend it for fear that it would contradict my religion, but I understand your curiosity! I don’t think it would do any harm to research and post about it, so I will keep that in mind! Thanks for your comment.

  3. The RAICES program sounds very interesting, and some of the information pertained to your actual project, but I see this post as one about the experience and it doesn’t completely connect with your project plan. Bringing in the drink information and the chile pain relief tied it back into the ideas, but the rest of the post was just about being in the actual place. Maybe you could include more stuff that you took notes on or add more detail to the stuff from the booths or workshops. It is well-written and informative of the actual place, but try to connect it with your project.

    (Great pictures though!)

    • Thanks for your suggestions! In hindsight, I do see that my focus in this post is a bit too far off from what it should be, so I may revise this one, but I will definitely fix that in later posts.

  4. This post contains a lot of information…I am actually a little unclear as to what this really even has to do with a curandera garden. I’m guessing it is a garden filled with spices and herbs for medication…but it is so unclear, I am still left confused. You speak about the opening ceremony at the beginning, and I am left wondering why you did not attend it? I am curious to know what it was about. You also talk about listening to Tonita’s presentation, but you do not give detail of exactly what she was talking about. How did the chile help the cut on the boy’s arm? How did it prevent future scarring?

    Another question I have is what the second presentation was about. You did not talk about it at all, and leave the reader very confused as to why you would even involve it into your blog post. I do, in fact, enjoy the pictures you used. I like the descriptive detail as to how the drinks tasted.

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