Family, community and love

Now we know we should have mended the safety net

Posted 5/6/20

The Spanish flu swept through Taos 102 years ago and a curandera named Maggie Mascareñas saved many lives.

She lived in Cañón when I knew her in the 1970s and she was already old. Back then I was an enjarradora, a traditional mud plasterer, and I did adobe restoration jobs. I was working on a very old building whose owner hired me on condition I put a certain relative on the job. I soon realized why. Nobody else would ever have hired him - I found beer cans in the straw. He got on his horse during the lunch hour one day, drunk, and got bucked off.

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Family, community and love

Now we know we should have mended the safety net

Posted

The Spanish flu swept through Taos 102 years ago and a curandera named Maggie Mascareñas saved many lives.

She lived in Cañón when I knew her in the 1970s and she was already old. Back then I was an enjarradora, a traditional mud plasterer, and I did adobe restoration jobs. I was working on a very old building whose owner hired me on condition I put a certain relative on the job. I soon realized why. Nobody else would ever have hired him - I found beer cans in the straw. He got on his horse during the lunch hour one day, drunk, and got bucked off.

But in spite of writhing in pain, the veins in his temples throbbing like snakes, he refused to be taken to the doctor and insisted we take him to Maggie. So somehow we got him on a scaffolding board, put him in the back of a pickup and took him to her.

Frail, sharp-eyed, unflappable, she told us to roll him, mud and all, onto her immaculate table. She had ruffled chintz curtains with faded strawberries and red geraniums. Graffiti published growing in coffee cans. With her veined, bony old hands she put that sweating, panting, groaning, twisting man back together, gave him a serious tongue-lashing, charged $10 and sent him sober and humbled, but unassisted, shuffling back to the pickup to make my life miserable for the rest of the job.

There are different specialties in curanderismo. The parteras are midwives. There are yerberas (herbalists) and sobadoras, who do body work, and some like Maggie, who knew them all. Construction work is dangerous and hard on the body, and we often needed sobadoras.

I used to go to Maggie, a Mr. Suazo who lived by the old graveyard on the reservation and a Mr. Gonzales also from Cañon. I know the latter two were friends because I saw them together up at the hot springs once. They must have learned from the same tradition or else they exchanged techniques, because their body work had an identical, distinctive style very different from European-based massage. Sobadores also work on animals.

Indigenous healing systems vary depending on climate and hence available pharmacopeia, upon culture and history, but they all have certain things in common. They are old, having survived the test of time. And they are all based on the principal that everything is connected. Patients' bodies are not considered or treated separately from family, the spiritual world, community or the environment.

Western thinking is finally catching up with the past, and we are developing a vocabulary for things Maggie took for granted, words like "ecology" which is all about the intimate connectedness of animals, their habitats and our human health.

Psychologists are defining dis-eases like addiction as "being dis-connected." Science is connecting dis-ease with social and political conditions such as poverty; and racism is connected to the high incidence of heart disease and diabetes in people of color, and epicenters of disease are connected to injustice and income inequality.

It is suddenly clear that our lives depend on acting together, as a consciously connected community that includes everyone. It is obvious - we can't exclude anyone from medical treatment anymore. The most privileged aren't safe until the homeless are safe, nobody is safe until the migrants are safe and the 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

There is no more my safety, only our safety. And furthermore and perhaps even more important - all safety is environmental.

Like a magnifying glass, COVID-19 has made the places where we are disconnected into huge, gaping cracks and people, not just "them" but people like you and me, our friends, businesses, organizations and whole supply chains are falling into widening cracks.

Only now, when we can't hug our friends, gather in groups to pray or dance or protest, only now can we see how much we need the connections we took for granted. We are going a little crazy without the universal, biological human need to act like the herd animals we are.

Now we know we should have mended the safety net all other developed countries have - universal health care. Too late we know a system that prioritizes profits and ruthlessly cuts costs disconnects humans from healing itself. An insane arrangement that was the perfect host for a pandemic to run rampant, uncontrolled, killing and killing.

Maggie would never have refused to treat anyone because they had no money. Every time she gave her healing or medicines she added another thread connecting herself to the community - and simultaneously repaired the most vulnerable places in the collective weaving that covered us all with security.

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