Turning to Healers

Those in Punjab who don’t have access to hospitals and licensed doctors often seek cures from quacks posing as medicine men and the plethora of cure-all medication sold by hawkers at bus stops. In central California too, illegal immigrants turn to traditional healers.

Immigrants interviewed amid the vineyards of Madera and the cantaloupe fields of Mendota said they had faced numerous obstacles to pursuing conventional medical care. Above all, they said, was cost, but other factors included fear of deportation, long waits for treatment in medically underserved areas, and barriers of culture and language.

healers.jpgThis article focuses on the Hispanic immigrant community, but the issue it raises applies to Punjabi Sikh legal and illegal immigrants as well. I would venture that some Punjabi immigrants (legal or illegal), because of the high cost of American health care, would prefer the care of a member of the community with questionable credentials to an emergency room of seemingly hostile nurses and doctors. We’ve mentioned many homeopathic medicines that many people find to be great for preventative and healing purposes. But there is a risk to traditional medicines too- that patients who may have serious illnesses will postpone diagnosis, aggravating an illness that could have been more easily addressed if diagnosed earlier.

Also, using traditional medicine made at home is different from relying on a traditional healer who will still charge a substantial sum for their services, and whose cures might be ineffective or worse. Ms. Arenas is a curandero – a healer who uses herbs and incantation to return the spirit to its equilibrium. Recently she performed an eight day cleansing ceremony for for Maria de Jesus, a 28-year-old undocumented farm worker who had been incapacitated by fearfulness and headaches since a car accident three months earlier.

Leaving her patient to rest, Ms. Arenas drove with Ms. de Jesus’s husband to the site of the accident, where he dug a hole and she sprinkled in rose petals, salt and holy water dispensed from a Gatorade bottle. After stomping in dirt, she waved Maria’s clothing and prayed for her spirit to return home… Over the next few days, Ms. de Jesus reported feeling calmer and said her headaches were gone. The swelling in her arm had not subsided, however, so Ms. Arenas recommended she see a physician. Ms. Arenas asked the woman’s husband for $500 to cover her fee, as well as room and board, and he paid with a check (a more typical visit lasts a few hours and costs $10 to $60, she said).

For illegal immigrants, universal health care plans proposed by presidential candidates will not be universal enough.

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