While images of chiropractors and acupuncturists may appear into our mind, just what does Alternative Medicine mean for the Latino population? This website is dedicated to presenting issues about some of these alternative beliefs and medicines. While it would be impossible to detail or outline all of the home remedies as well as the historical and traditional beliefs, this website will explore some of these areas. Additionally, resources are provided to learn more about traditional medicine and beliefs.
For centuries, traditional healers such as Curanderos (healers who typically prescribe, prepare and administer cures), herbalists, and brujos have existed to help cure the native population; their belief systems of Santeria, Espiritismo, and Curandismo have co-existed as well. These traditional medical treatments and belief systems have always been highly variable across regions and Latino sub-cultures, even for the same ailments. These treatments involve a variety of different rituals based on purification, spiritualism and occasionally, repentance.
With all of our modern advancements in medicine, why do people still seek cultural healing techniques?
The answer is due to a lack of cultural competency on the part of most health care providers. Cultural competency is defined by the level of understanding that health care providers have and their ability to recognize that people have different yet valid health systems and beliefs. Cultural incompetence results from a lack of knowledge and understanding of cultural traditions, beliefs, values, and ethical issues by health care providers of patients. Latinos are most concerned about the relationship between themselves and their care provider and are less concerned about the clinic, hospital or health care system. Because of a lack of understanding, a distrust of formal institutions propagates. This lack of Personalismo, the Latino patient's expectation that they will be dealt with in a caring and respectful manner, results in a poor patient/ provider relationship. Latino patients want clear evidence that the provider is concerned about them personally (Villa, et al. p. 36)
Latinos also have a strong belief in the involvement of significant others and the important role they play in a successful treatment and healing process. This is a sub-category of Familismo - the belief that cooperation, mutual assistance, and problem solving should involve a family decision (Villa, et al, p. 37), thus requiring that others, usually family members, be included in decision making of medical treatment. Strong family support systems are very common and can and should be enlisted by Health Care Providers who care of Latino patients.
Well, it depends on how you look at it. The Hispanic Health and Nutrition survey conducted in 1984 found that only 4.2% of a national sample of Latinos had consulted a folk healer or curandero, and the strongest predictors of having done so were limited English language ability and dissatisfaction with modern medical practices (Latino Health Profile). Other reasons for resorting to traditional healers or remedies were to appease family members, reassert cultural roots, or to validate modern treatments by invalidating traditional ones. However, the number of Latinos using traditional treatments is unknown. In fact, research has shown that most people who use these healers also use modern medical resources if available (indicating affordable and accessible). However, what is not known is how many Latinos who use modern medical resources also use some form of traditional medical resource. It has been shown that traditional or folk beliefs and use of folk healers occur primarily in immigrant segments of the Latino population (Kaiser Permanente Handbook).
What is known, is when a San Francisco television station asking for Mexican home remedies opened an on-line forum, the response was overwhelming. In fact over 420 postings have been received and posted on the web-site. While these responses varied from curing a crying baby, commonly known as Mal ojo (a result of being given the evil eye), to quelling a sore throat by simply boiling a clove of garlic in water, all of the responses seemed to come from traditions passed down from generations before. People spoke of their abuelitas (grandmothers), mi madre (my mother) and mi tio y tia (my uncle and aunt) practicing some form of healing techniques on them, whether they were psychological or tangible (i.e., superstitious praying or specially brewed teas, respectfully). From this we can draw the conclusion that while traditional medicine may not always be used, nor most commonly used, it is still quite prevalent.
While Latinos have long benefited from these traditional or alternative (natural) treatments, many doctors have just recently validated and acknowledged the effectiveness of these types of therapies. Now, even the most conservative and most critical link in the health care system, Health Management Organizations and Preferred Provider Organizations, seem to be