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The Herb 13c ,. “Best place to cure what ails you” Explore our Oasis of Earthly Delights! extensive array of natural health and bodycare products comprehensive collection of herbs great gift ideas and much more! .2 Sa t . 10-6:30 200 West Mary 444-6251 Sat . 10-5 masses of clamoring followers. Word spread widely that he cured the mentally ill by placing them in a rope swing attached to a tree, and cured physical ailments with raw eggs and native plants. In 1928, The New York Times wrote that interest in both a nascent Mexican rebel movement and a presidential campaign had “waned recently, as the public has devoted itself to extraordinary reports from Espinazo.” That same year, Mexican President Elias Calles visited Espinazo to meet Fidencio, possibly intending to arrest him for practicing medicine without a license. But the president left Espinazo a believer, claiming Fidencio had healed him. The story; reported throughout Mexico, solidified Fidencio’s reputation as one of his country’s most important curanderos. Fidencistas believe that El Nifio predicted his own death, telling his followers he would live on through materias. There are more than a thousand of them nowmen and women who say the folk saint uses them as vehicles to converse with those in need. “I lose consciousness:’ says Lidia Velasquez, a 70-yearold materia from Edinburg. “I’m just flesh. It’s Fidencio’s spirit:’ During healing sessions, the materias close their eyes, sometimes convulsing as they call on Fidencio. For hours at a time, they speak in the squeaky falsetto said to resemble the saint’s voice, doling out traditional remedies and advising prayer. Fidencio isn’t the only spirit channeled by Mexican or Mexican-American healers. Nor is Fidencismo the only brand of curanderismo, or folk healing, still used on both sides of the border. There are kueseros, or traditional bonesetters; yerberos, or herbalists; and sobadores, or traditional masseuses. Fidencio is believed to be the leading santo popular or folk saint, attracting a following of more than 100,000, according to anthropologists. The faithful call themselves a Catholic sect, and often invoke Jesus and El Niiio in the same hymns. In Espinazo, key chains and candles emblazoned with his image are sold next to paintings of Catholic saints. The Roman Catholic Church has refused to accept Fidencismo, calling Espinazo’s pilgrims heretical and misguided. The church’s derision hasn’t stopped Fidencismo from spreading north of the Rio Grande, where missions and weekly healing sessions can be found in all of Texas’ major cities. Thanks to northward migration and word of mouth, tens of thousands of Fidencistas call Texas home. Throughout the three-day festival, their conversation often returns to the shortcomings of the American health care system and the triumph of faith over science. “When I could afford it, I went to a doctor:’ de los Angeles Martinez says. “It was always the same. More and more pills. More and more money:’ When the income from her small bridal store no longer covered hospital visits, she decided to look for alternative treatments. De los Angeles Martinez went to a local healer known for channeling Fidencio. The healer first prescribed the juice of an aloe plant and a bottle of water with pieces of chaparral to treat her kidney infection. “It was incredible,” she says. “I felt healed not only physically, but emotionally:’ Now, like many pilgrims in Espinazo, de los Angeles Martinez turns first to a healer. If the healeror the spirit being channeledtells her to seek medical help from a doctor, she tries to do so. At times like now, when she can’t pay medical bills, she says Fidencismo is her only option. “With El Nino,” she says, “it’s not a question of money. It’s a question of faith:’ “When I could afford it, I went to a doctor. It was always the same. More and more pills. More and more money. With El Nino, it’s not a question of money. It’s a question of faith.” Fidencismo continues to spread in Texas as health care among Latinos lags far behind that of other minorities, largely because of an uninsured rate more than two times the national average and more than 10 per cent higher than among African Americans. And health care for Latinos appears to be deteriorating rather than improving. In 2006, the National Healthcare Disparities Report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that quality of care was rising for all racial and ethnic groups except Latinos. Experts say the numbers are closely tied to immigration; Americans born outside of the country are about 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured than those born in the United States. In Espinazo, those statistics are supported anecdotally. Jessie, a 30-year-old from Houston who asked that his last name be omitted to protect a relative’s job in a hospital, remembers when his mother, uninsured at the time, was diagnosed with gall bladder problems. “We live in an age now where either you have health insurance, or you don’t go to a doctor, and you tough it out:’ he says. Or you find an alternative. Jessie and his ailing mother came to Espinazo in the late 1980s after the family learned of Fidencismo through an acquaintance. When Jessie’s mother’s health improvedthanks, they believe, to an herbal remedy and a materias spiritual interventionhe made a commitment NOVEMBER 14, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11