February 6, 2009

Traditional “Sobadores” healing immigrants’ pain

By Mariana Martínez Esténs

Don Juventino Luna, is a 58 year old man from Irapuato, Guanajuato, who came to the North in search of a decent wage working in the California fields. But he quickly found that his grandmother’s teachings where even more valuable than his labor under the hot sun.

“Many people have been healed by these hands,” said Don Juve, as he likes to be called, “people who work in the fields, nannies, boxers, even border patrol agents.”

Don Juve has worked outside the Tijuana cathedral since 1982. People from as far away as San Francisco and Colorado come to see him.

Just a year ago he rented a little room in front of the cathedral, where he sees his “patients” in a room full of herbs, rubbing alcohol and potions labeled “bee venom” and “snake oil”.

“The healing formula asks for marijuana,” He explains, “it’s a very powerful herb, but it would jack up the price up five times…and get me in trouble.”

Don Juve, and many others like him are part of a healing tradition helping thousands of people.

They are called “Sobadores” they are a kind of traditional healers and chiropractors, who mix their self-thought knowledge of the human body with faith and age old Mexican herbal remedies.

Their clientele comes mainly from immigrants who live and work in the United States, and come to Tijuana to heal their pains, aches and lesions, many of them work injuries from their hard work in construction, gardening and cleaning.

Amongst the regular clients is José López Salazar, a 59 year old gardner who works in an Oceanside golf course.

“I come often” Lopez explains, “I came all the way out here maybe once a month, after that I’m ready for the next month of hard work”.

Each morning, the intersection between Constitucion and second street fills up with beat up trucks with colorful signs. Inside, a heavy smell of medicine and vapor rub.

Many of the cars have shades and curtains; even massage tables or holes on the floor in order to allow the “sobador” to work the patient while standing.

“Most of my clients come from the US, because doctors send them to rehabilitation therapy and they can’t afford it” says Ana, an expert “sobadora” with 18 years experience working around the Tijuana Cathedral.

“They come because they trust us more, and see results faster, so people recommend us to their friends and relatives,” she adds.

Doña Ana, as she likes to be called, considers her work a “healing power” she had always had, but it wasn’t until one of her sons needed urgent medical care, that she decided to use it as a way to provide for her family.

“My kids played a lot of football, and I always massaged them before they played” said Ana, “Now I have taught the technique to my husband and my son Gregorio, I explained to them this is an art mixed with knowledge and faith.”

Now she hopes her 10 and 7 year old grandsons follow in her footsteps.

“My youngest son is building a reputation as a healer in high school, and when I get home my grandkids offer to rub my legs.”

45 year old, José Ramírez, works as a construction worker in Bakersfield, California and has been faithful to the “sobadores” for the past 10 years.

“Our work is physical, we depend entirely on our physical ability” he explains, “so I come here to relax, I sleep better, I feel better and I give a great effort on my Sunday soccer game.”

Don Juve has even managed to fulfill every father’s dream. His sons not only followed his footsteps, but managed to do it in the United States.

Don Juve’s sons, Ramón and Guillermo Luna, are both permanent residents in the US, they are licensed masseuses and have their office up in Anaheim, California.

“I’m so proud of my boys” he says with a smile, “if my clients call me on the phone and dont want to come to Mexico, now they can go to my sons office and save the trip to Tijuana.”

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