Indigemama Offers Authentic (Not Appropriated) Indigenous Mexican Ancestral Healing

Panquetzani of Indigemama
Panquetzani of Indigemama
Courtesy of Indigemama, photo by Jim Pollock

If you grew up Latino, you may recall your grandma or abuelita performing some odd (to your pocha self) healing practices on you with herbs whenever you suffered an illness or injury. For me, it was seeing the sliced tip of an aloe vera leaf being squeezed onto my freshly burned skin because of an accident with la plancha. Growing up Latino also meant hearing about the miracles that sobadores (massagers) do to stiff backs or even dropped uteruses.  

While some dismiss these practices as mere superstitions, others stand by their legitimacy one hundred percent. Panquetzani (whose name means "lifter of banners" in Nahuatl) is a firm believer of her work as a practitioner of Mexican folk healing because growing up as an indigenous child, it was simply all she knew. Now, Panquetzani guides women to better reproductive health with her Long Beach-based business, Indigemama. Panquetzani is also advocating for the protection of indigenous practices from cultural appropriators. 

OC Weekly: When did your exposure to indigenous healing begin? 

Panquetzani aka Indigemama: One of my earliest memories is my grandmother giving me a limpia (cleansing) with ruda (rue). When I was four years old I use to think I had this connection to the universe and read minds of animals and communicated with plants. I mentally convinced a cat to come over to me and that was the first time I ever touched a cat in my life. Turns out I was allergic to cats and my whole face had swelled up and my eyes were closed. My grandma found a ruda plant and started whacking me in the face with a ruda branch—she was giving me a limpia.

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What I didn't know at the time was that when you break plants on a person's body, you're actually breaking up the cell wall of the plant and you're releasing the plant's volatile oils which have actions on the person's body. My body was having an allergic reaction, so the slapping of the rudawas opening my pores. Within a minute, my face was back to normal. That was one of my big moments in life because I realized, "Oh my gosh, when there's an emergency, I can trust the things and people around me like my family and these plants." With a skilled practitioner, there can be very immediate results.  So I grew up with a very deep trust in plant medicine. 

How did you learn to practice Mexican folk medicine? 

Coming from an uncut lineage of healers, Mexican traditional medicine, and curanderismo (traditional native healer), picked up holistic methods from family in Northern Mexico and Central Mexico. I also apprenticed with an elder in [my grandma's] community from Michoacán—she taught me a lot of womb-specific massages which makes up a lot of my work. Other elders in my community taught me herbalism and additional cultural teachings. I've also taken anatomy and physiology courses for a more thorough understanding. It's all cumulative. 

How did you retain what you learned? 

I think a lot of our parents and grandparents still hold onto a lot of Mexican traditional medicine but the wide generational leap prevents us from sharing it and to learn from our elders. My grandma spent so much time teaching me these things. She was a Spanish teacher and very into Mexicanidad (Mexican pride) so she thought living in the U.S was important for me to know who I am. A lot of it was really spending time with my abuelita for so many years. 

How did your business, Indigemama, start? 

In 2007, I became pregnant with my first son and I started realizing that natural healing isn't a part of my friends' cultures. I saw the strongest women having horrible, traumatic hospital births, not breastfeeding, not baby wearing, and having a really hard time with parenting and childbirth. Nobody was talking about it. So I used my voice and said "Hey, this what I'm doing for my pregnancy. This is how I'm taking care of my body." and folks listened to my advice and they wanted more and they brought their friends. In 2008, I took a doula training, which was a very white training—it wasn't culturally sensitive it had no racial socialization component. I took the training and I brought myself with me and all of the things from my apprenticeships throughout my life and that became a niche for me. Using the postpartum teachings of my abueltia [which Panquetzani has created into a book called A Cerrar Las Caderas (To Close The Hips)], I started helping women who wanted to get pregnant. I would adjust their womb and close their hips and before I knew it my house became a community center. It all really unfolded itself naturally. 

Do you feel that indigenous healing is becoming non-existent? 

A lot of folks think indigenous healing is running out or it's not present anymore, but it's almost like people are blind to it because it's so ingrained in our culture. Most Mexican families know that when you have a tummy ache you take some chamomile tea. Oregano in menudo is not cooked it's broken to crush the volatile oils to put on top of the menudo when already served because otherwise the volatile oils will evaporate and you won't get the antibacterial, antiseptic, and digestive components of the herb. So, I feel like we are practicing indigeneity; we're just not aware of it. If you think you're not practicing, you probably are. 

Do you think foreigners are trying to preserve the culture of indigenous medicine or exploit it? 

It's sad because I feel like a lot of white people are-well meaning, but they're so indoctrinated into their colonialist mindset that they don't realize what they're doing is harmful to us as a people and they just can't stop themselves. A lot of it is exploitation. A lot of people will start trademarking and copyrighting and claiming they're originators of certain things or selling indigenous things without contributing to indigenous people anywhere. But they can do whatever they want—they can sell a product and come home and be white and they have that privilege. There's nowhere I can go without being indigenous. I'm representing my culture 24-7, the good and the bad in everything. 

Can indigenous people trademark their practices too if foreigners are doing so? 

If our practice were the norm then there wouldn't be any need for copyrighting. You wouldn't trademark menudo—you can't trademark something that is so ingrained in the culture. Instead of trademarking I'd rather see popularization of the medicine so that there is no need for copyrighting. 

Are there aspects of Western medicine that contradict or supplement indigenous healing? 

I feel that indigenous and Western medicine can definitely work together. For as long as Western medicine has an ethnocentric perspective, that perspective is "Oh it's just old indigenous medicine—an old wive's tale." As long as they have that mentality, then, there won't be any building bridges. Historically, our medicine has been repressed and that's one of the reasons why I feel so privileged to know the work and to pass the work that I'm doing because people shed blood for practicing these types of therapies. That doesn't just go away in a few generations. There's still a subtle inferiority complex and there is fear. For example, I cannot say the name of the woman who taught me because she fears that one day they'll break into her house and say that she shouldn't be doing what she's doing because it's not legitimized in the Western world.

And so there's a lot of fear around it and that's also something I personally struggled with and that's why I did my work for free, and by donation, and for very little pricing for many years, and why I didn't advertise myself as a business for so long. That's something I have to get over if I'm interested in preserving these traditions. I was born to my grandmother for a reason. And I was born at this time and this year for a reason, and I need to own that and walk without fear so I can help folks and help preserve this method of healing. 

Mexican folk healing
Mexican folk healing
Courtesy of Indigemama

What are the most common issues women face with their reproductive system? 

Generally, I believe people think their womb is a quiet organ that they only pay attention to during menses or pregnancy and the rest of the time it's just dormant but that's not true. The uterus is working for you 24-7. The uterus is having a contraction up or a contraction down, sustaining your viscera, it's connected to the 23 different muscles in your pelvic floor, it also moves during orgasm and helps you experience pleasure, it's important for hormonal regulation.

What's an issue women of color face during pregnancy? 

I could not find a doula of color in all of Los Angeles—my grandmother ended up being my doula. I needed a doula so I became one. Little by little there have been more birth workers of color. In 2009, I helped found Ticicalli Yahualli ("House of the Healers," in Nahuatl), an indigenous birth worker collective.  I wanted to make sure women in my community never felt the way that I felt because it was a horrible feeling. I wanted to go against the grain and I did not have the support, the infrastructure, or the community around for what I really wanted to do. So, I created what I felt that I needed at that time. 

What's your clientele like? 

My services are for everybody, but I focus on women because I feel that women are the pillars of the family and the community. I feel like if I help to educate women they'll educate their family and community.  I see a lot of women for menstrual imbalances, PMS, infertility, post-partum, and women who just want to practice self-care and want to keep their wombs in alignment. With Western culture, a lot of our traditions have been taken away with colonization and industrialization. With Indigemama, I've been able to bring these practices back and offer these services to folks who don't have abuelitas (grandmas) the way I had. 

For more information, visit indigemama.com


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