Women Who Inspire Change: Mesoamerican Healers
Anna Hamling, Guest Contributor
“This book is about the intellectual traditions of Mesoamerican women,” explains Paloma Martinez-Cruz in the opening lines of Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica: From East L.A. To Anahuac. A young Chicana college professor, Martinez-Cruz has written a captivating personal narrative that intertwines with the historical account of the ways Mesoamerican women healers played a role during childbirth and helped cure the sick. The resulting story is an engaging read for those intrigued by indigenous healing practices, medicine, and spirituality.
According to Martinez-Cruz’s research, women healers were not simply physicians; they were defenders of a feminine knowledge about how to maintain wellness. At a time when elite women weren’t permitted to obtain higher education, women who were healers possessed the power of medical specialists and, therefore, enjoyed a dignified status in society.
Inspiring examples of courageous women were abundant. Determined to become educated and not be governed by a husband, the famous nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz—who is often referred to as Mexico’s first feminist—made the choice to enter a convent rather than live in “a prison of marriage.” Two hundred years after Sor Juana’s death, her determination to heal the sick was carried forward by Matilde Montoya, Mexico’s first female physician.
By Montoya time, women had access to formal education and convent life had lost its lustre. In spite of the professionalization of medicine, indigenous healing practices survive today and are widely used in Mesoamerican communities to repair those who are unwell.
Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica enriches our understanding of the alternative healing practices that Mesoamerican women have been performing for centuries. The book serves as a reminder that holistic approaches to treating patients have a history in both women’s role in nurturing communities and their empowerment.
Anna Hamling is a senior teaching associate in the Culture and Language Studies department at University of New Brunswick. Her current research is on women artists from around the globe, Latin American dance and cinema, and feminist issues.