From Gardening to Postpartum Care, Latinxs Are Reclaiming Ancestral Healing Practices

·7 min read
Loba
Loba

Image Source: Loba

While the commoditization of wellness in the United States has historically only served the privileged, barriers to mindfulness practices have begun to wane. As a result, more low-income communities of color are embracing holistic lifestyles. For a growing number of Latinxs, the adoption of wellness routines has been accompanied by a journey toward ancestral healing that is rooted in reclaiming lineal practices that were long demonized and forgotten.

In communities throughout the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Latinxs are increasingly seeking connections to the past while healers who have secretly been providing time-tested curative services rooted in regional ancient practices are coming out of the shadows. In fact, a number of virtual and in-person communities have populated throughout the past five years offering workshops and conversations aimed at educating groups about ancestral medicines, as well as the violent colonial history that forced their ancestors to practice these traditions in private.

"I think we are recognizing how so much knowledge has been lost, and the reason it has been lost is because of these oppressive systems that stem back to colonization that told us our way of being was wrong."

"I think we are recognizing how so much knowledge has been lost, and the reason it has been lost is because of these oppressive systems that stem back to colonization that told us our way of being was wrong," Loba, the Peruvian-born creator of the herbal consulting and education platform Flora Pacha, tells POPSUGAR Latina.

According to Loba, who uses they/them pronouns, unlearning the myths that Spanish colonizers propagated about Native people while simultaneously investigating and reclaiming ancestral traditions are both empowering and rebellious acts against the colonial project.

For the past decade, Loba has been relearning what they call "kitchen magic," growing and working with foods and plants that were once condemned or outlawed, through conversations with their elders in South America as well as learning from local healers in Los Angeles and New Mexico. While the process is political for Loba, it's also about reclaiming medicines and sharing them with others so they are not lost among the next generations. Through the podcast Wild Weeds as well as their workshops and virtual classes, Loba offers herbal education that aims to reconnect people to the land.

While gardening can be therapeutic for individuals and communities, especially when working with plants that have healing properties, the land also benefits.

"When I think I'm connected to this land, this plant, or this water, then I feel like I have a responsibility to take care of the land and the quality of the water."

"When I think I'm connected to this land, this plant, or this water, then I feel like I have a responsibility to take care of the land and the quality of the water. I understand that I can't waste water or pollute the environment. My health is interconnected with everything that's around me," Loba says.

"We have a deep-rooted tradition for postpartum care and see it as crucial and vital to the survival of every human being."

In Long Beach, California, healer, wellness coach, and doula Panquetzani offers ancestral healing that's rooted in Mesoamerican traditional medicine through her practice Indigemama. Centering reproductive health, she draws on folk practices passed down to her by the matriarchs in her family to support people throughout their pregnancies. But according to Panquetzani, one of the many aspects that separate folk Mexican birth work from prevailing allopathic medicine is its prioritization of postpartum care.

"We have a deep-rooted tradition for postpartum care and see it as crucial and vital to the survival of every human being," Panquetzani tells POPSUGAR Latina. "In Western culture, we're taught we have to bounce back and continue life as usual. Society supports it by putting these unrealistic expectations on postpartum families and the birther that doesn't give them enough time off to recover."

For more than a decade, Panquetzani has been providing traditional Mexican postpartum care. These services prominently include bodywork like sobadas, or womb massages, which incorporates the physical manipulation of reproductive organs so they are adjusted and release tension, coupled with emotional support. But it also incorporates baños, herbs-infused baths; teas and caldos, broths; as well as community care, like childcare and support that ensures that the parent is getting the rest they need without worry.

"Western culture normalizes postpartum depression, feeling overwhelmed, alone and crying. These are all signs of a lack of wholesome traditional postpartum care because when you receive that care you don't feel lonely. Instead, you feel very held."

"Western culture normalizes postpartum depression, feeling overwhelmed, alone and crying. These are all signs of a lack of wholesome traditional postpartum care because when you receive that care you don't feel lonely. Instead, you feel very held," says Panquetzani, who refers to the healers who developed and provided these practices in the past as doctors rather than diminutive terms, like "brujas" ("witches") or "curanderas" ("folk healers") that they were labeled.

The practice is also deeply rooted in ancestral healing. According to Panquetzani, postpartum healing is one of the deepest and sustainable ways to bring one's ancestors to life and heal together through the body.

"It's just an ancestral joy. Your ancestors cry through you [and] they laugh through you. There's a communion that happens. There's a celebration that happens, a feeling of liberation that you never felt before when you come home to your ancestral body of knowledge," she says.

In Cuba, traditional healing is also tied to ancestral connections. Not unlike Latinxs in the US, there is a similar revival of folk practices taking place on the Caribbean island. There, however, these rituals and medicines have roots in various cultures throughout the country's history, including that of its native Taínos and enslaved Africans who established their own syncretic faiths, namely - though not exclusively - Santería, as well as Chinese migrants who came en masse to work the country's sugarcane farms in the early 20th century.

"We are reclaiming all of these years and histories that many tried to erase."

"We are reclaiming all of these years and histories that many tried to erase," Amberly Alene Ellis, a Baltimore-born, Havana-living filmmaker, photographer, and herbalist, tells POPSUGAR Latina. "These practices always existed but were not accepted. Ancestral knowledge is reclaiming that which was hidden, taken from people and was done in the dark, and bringing it to the light."

Through ReglaSOUL, a plant-based wellness resource for Cubans that Ellis co-founded with her husband last year, she organizes healing workshops and events that educate the community on ancestral practices that they can incorporate into their own daily lives.

With help from local Afro-Cuban healers, farmers, wellness instructors, reiki practitioners, spiritual leaders, activists, and artists, ReglaSOUL provides medicinal alternatives for the general wellness and mental health of Cubans, particularly those in the Havana municipality of Regla.

Much of the work is educational, teaching residents how to identify certain plants and how to use them to create fusions that heal physical and spiritual ailments. For example, local healers teach everyday Cubans how guava leaves, which can easily be found throughout the island, can be used to heal skin irritations, like eczema. Additionally, they break down how yagruma leaves can be placed in baths for limpiezas, the physical, spiritual and emotional cleansing of negative energies or thoughts, as well as other plant-based rituals.

Learning these practices also means discovering how former generations risked their lives to pass down these traditions in secret, a process that Ellis believes has the power to remind oppressed communities today of their might and purpose.

"There is something that happens psychologically when you understand what people who look like you, who came before you, did to protect themselves and future generations they didn't know about."

"There is something that happens psychologically when you understand what people who look like you, who came before you, did to protect themselves and future generations they didn't know about," she says. "In times when you feel attacked for your race or where you come from, there's comfort and healing in knowing people were thinking about you and looking out for us."

Loba, Panquetzani, and Ellis all agree that ancestral healing looks different for each Latinx person because the community is heterogeneous and carries different histories and ancestral traumas, as well as distinct regional plants, traditions, and spiritual rituals. As such, they all encourage those interested in incorporating ancient healing into their wellness routines to make intentional connections with their ancestors and places of origin.