“Borderlands Curanderos” examines faith healers and revolutionaries

El Paso-based photographer Charles Rose was concerned. He had agreed to photograph the popular Mexican curandera and reproduce for sale. So much was no problem. This is how Rose earned her living. But Teresa Urrea had attracted much attention on both sides of the US-Mexico border since her arrival in El Paso in June 1896, not only for her miraculous healing by faith, but also for her connection to recent border rebellions involving Yaqui Indians .

And while Teresa was no stranger to being photographed (she often sat for formal portraits), Charles Rose’s photo would be different. A Mexican gentleman asked Rose to print a text in Spanish and English on the back of the photos that read: “Señorita Teresa Urrea, Juana de Arco Mexicana” (Miss Teresa Urrea, Mexican Joan of Arc). Although Rose claimed he couldn’t read the text because it was written in Spanish, the photographer still had reason to believe it might contain language that was, as he put it, “objectionable” to the Mexican government.

Charles Rose knew the man who gave him the manuscript. Lauro Aguirre, the author of Señorita Teresa Urrea, Juana de Arco Mexicana, was a journalist and a friend of Teresa Urrea and her father. He was also linked to the recent border uprisings in Nogales and other places on the border. Rose knew Teresa, her father, and Aguirre had the reputation revoltosos – Mexican exiles and political insurgents who opposed the Mexican government from the US side of the border.

He knew that Aguirre was co-editing an opposition newspaper with Teresa Urrea El Independientewho exposed the injustices of the Díaz regime. Instead of doing what Aguirre asked for the text on the back of the photos, Rose visited Teresa’s father, Don Tomás, and through an interpreter, expressed his concern at the pressure of those words. Don Tomás suggested that Rose simply omit his name from the photos if he was concerned about the text.

Charles Rose did not take Don Tomás’ advice. Instead, Rose submitted the manuscript to Francisco Mallén, the Mexican consul in El Paso, on the pretext that he needed a “careful and correct” translation. Mallén had the manuscript translated and confirmed Rose’s suspicions: Señorita Teresa Urrea, Juana de Arco Mexicana was indeed “obnoxious” to the Mexican government. In fact, it was a revolutionary manifesto that suggested Teresa Urrea would overthrow the Mexican government:

“…her undisputed superiority has led popular sentiment and public opinion to see in her the only person capable of changing the fate of Mexico, of shaking off the tyranny of a government that murders without trial its enemies, cities in… bursts into flames and eradicates. like a Negro slave, the Yaqui and Mayo races… she is the only person who can… lead to duty and redeem a people terrorized by the cruelties of tyranny and stunned by the fanaticism of the Roman clergy… As is believed that she will do it to overthrow the current government and change the political situation of Mexicans, she will be seen as the Mexican JEANNE d’ARC.”

Rose must have known the lyrics were arson. He approached the Mexican consul in El Paso to take the manuscript to the Mexican government and warn them of another possible border riot, or at least make it clear that he was not involved if one did. Rose commended himself to the Mexican consul, saying: “I have the utmost respect for your government and given the recent riots which the leading newspapers and cables seem to be implicating these people in, I think it best to take your advice follow. ”

As Charles Rose suspected, Teresa, her father Don Tomás, and her boyfriend Lauro Aguirre weren’t just in El Paso to heal. They were also involved in a political project that criticized the Mexican government of Porfirio Díaz – and even tried to overthrow it and replace it with a reformed, more enlightened one. In fact, authorities on both sides of the border were beginning to believe that the teresista The attack on the Nogales Customs House on August 12, 1896 was not a one-off event, but possibly only the first in a series of coordinated attacks designed to start a revolution.

“Borderland Curanderos”

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August 17 rebels, some presumably the same as this one teresistas attacking the Nogales attacked the Mexican Customs House in Ojinaga, Chihuahua (across the border from Presidio, Texas). In early September, fifty gunmen were reported to be across the border from Columbus, New Mexico teresistas attacked the Mexican Customs House in Palomas, Chihuahua.

The US consul in Juarez (then Paso del Norte), Mexico, wrote a letter to the US assistant secretary of state on September 9, 1896, warning him of the clear possibility of an attack on Juarez in the coming days “Mexican malcontents Teresa Urrea and Lauro Aguirre, who lived on US soil at the time.

The combination of these three attacks, launched within three months in 1896 from the US side of the border with Mexico, all in the name of “La Santa de Cabora”, made Teresa Urrea a shambles for both the Mexican and US government dangerous. The widely read manifesto Senorita Teresa Urrea, Juana De Arco Mexicanaaddressed the turbulent situation at the border, harnessing the revolutionary energy surrounding Teresa Urrea and making state officials (and their supporters) very nervous.

The vision of Mexico presented in Juana de Arco Mexicana was a unique blend of liberalism and radical ideas of equality that appealed to Yaquis, Mayos, and others Mexican who were disillusioned with the government of Porfirio Díaz. Díaz’s national project included his idea of order and progressa mantra as well as an official program whose ultimate goal was to unify and modernize Mexico by soliciting foreign investment in businesses such as railroad production and mining.

This development particularly affected the north of the country and created an ever larger and more disaffected agricultural class, including the Yaquis, Mayos and others norteños. Teresa Urrea threatened as Mexico’s Joan of Arc Díaz order and progress. It specifically addressed – and healed – those excluded from the economic benefits of modernization or targeted by its government, such as the Yaquis, who the government deported from Sonora to work on henequen plantations in the Yucatan, or who were killed for not submitting to the government’s wishes.

The manifesto suggested that Teresa Urrea was the only one who could save and cleanse Mexico from this corruption because of her moral superiority and spiritual purity. The notion of a woman as a superior moral and spiritual being reflects the gender ideals prevalent in Mexico (and the United States) in the 19th century and the corrupting influences of consumerism, urbanization and technology in the modern world.

Although Teresa Urrea did not agree with these 19 in many waysth Century gender ideals as she traversed the private and public spheres with her healing – and now with her radical publications. However, young, virginal, unmarried women like Teresa Urrea, particularly as a divinely sanctioned healer, represented the pinnacle of idealized female virtues of spiritual purity and selfless care for others. Thus the Senorita Teresa Urrea, Juana De Arco Mexicana Manifest contrasted the idealized female virtues of Teresa Urrea with a corrupt and violent government led by Porfirio Díaz.

Written in Spanish and translated into English, the manifesto was intended to rally support on both sides of the US-Mexico border for a rebellion against Porfirio Díaz and return Mexico to the liberal ideas of the 1857 Constitution that had been betrayed by the Porfirian government: anticlericalism, bourgeois Freedoms, individual rights, representative institutions, and constitutional guarantees against despotism.

Teresa Urrea’s cohort and opposition to Díaz believed that these liberal ideals were more important than the nation’s collective needs for modernization. Urrea and her cohort articulated this in another document, the Plan Restaurador de la Constitución Reformista (Plan to Return to the Reformed Constitution).

Designed in the house of Urrea on February 5, 1896, just a few months before teresista frontier uprisings, this radical declaration called for a restoration of the liberal constitution of 1857. It listed the evils of the Porfirian government, including its treatment of the Yaquis, and laid out a plan that would severely limit government and priestly powers so that all people in of the Mexican nation would have equal rights and be treated equally: women and men, Indians and Mexicans, rich and poor.

Eventually, it called for an armed revolution to overthrow Porfirio Díaz’s government. Although Teresa, Lauro Aguirre and Don Tomás Urrea did not sign this revolutionary manifesto, there is ample evidence that they were involved. One scholar suggests that Mariana Avendano’s signature means that Teresa Urrea was involved.

Teresa healed Avendano in Mexico, and the two became close friends when Avendano followed Teresa to the United States and assisted her in her healing practice. In fact, Tomás Esceverría’s signature may have been a cover for Tomás Urrea, Teresa’s father. Loreto Esceverría was Tomás’ legitimate wife and it is likely that he used her name to protect himself.

Teresa Urrea and her cohort had a clear and radical vision of what they believed Mexico should be – a spiritual vision that eliminated racial, class, and gender inequality. Lauro Aguirre and Teresa Urrea presented these views in another publication, a book entitled ¡Tomochish!, which appeared serially in El Independiente, the newspaper found on the bodies of the murdered Yaqui rebels. In describing the Tomochian rebellion, it offered a spiritual vision that Teresa Urrea suggested, curandera and a Santa Claus who advocated fair treatment of all races and classes of men and women should be the savior of the nation.

Although Teresa Urrea never appeared in Tomochic (in fact she was in exile in the United States when the Tomochic Rebellion took place), ¡Tomochish! used the Tomochic rebellion to crack down on the corrupt Díaz government and promote a Santa Teresa-led nation: “…it is the beginning of a period of true spirituality; it is the beginning of an era of women’s emancipation, whose heroine – through no fault of her own – was a young woman; it is the awakening of the poor, the illiterate, the lepers and the socially excluded.’”


Jennifer Koshatka Seman received her PhD from Southern Methodist University and is currently an Associate Professor of History at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she teaches courses in US and Latin American history.

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