Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.
Erika Buenaflor has 20+ years of practicing as a curandera, mentoring with curanderx in the Maya Yucatecan jungle, and studying curanderismo in academia. She has a master’s degree in religious studies with a focus on Mesoamerican shamanism and curanderismo. She has written books including Cleansing Rites of Curanderismo, Curanderismo Soul Retrieval, Sacred Energies of the Sun and Moon and Animal Medicine. She is the founder of Realize Your Bliss providing spiritual counseling including workshops.
Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?
My mother passed down the gift of resiliency to me. I was two years old when my father was brutally shot in a labor dispute in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. This was, of course, absolutely devastating for her. Yet, in less than two years she forced herself up and without the complete support of our family, she went to college as an immigrant, moved to the States, and learned to speak English, while not always knowing what she would be feeding us. She was the first person in her family to go to college, obtain a computer science degree, and is an incredibly intelligent and beautiful Latina. Despite our differences, she will always be a rock star to me for her will to persevere.
If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?
I would love to meet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz 17th century Mexican writer, philosopher, and poet. As a child and teenager, Sor Juana began writing astounding works on divinity, art, and culture. As a young woman, she gained prominence and recognition for her multitalented brilliance, and was not afraid to blatantly critique the misogyny within the Church and Mexican culture as a whole. She learned Nahuatl at a very young age and gained primary access to our remaining ancient Mesoamerican books and codices. I would love to sit with her and listen to her understandings of God, divinity, and especially her thoughts on ancient Mesoamerican understandings of soul energies.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be that sweet spot between authentic humility and a complete bad ass. I was advised anytime you feel doubt creeping in, bow down, and admit that you are in the process of remembering your potential; truly, you don’t know anything. Thank God, your ancestors, and spiritual entourage for guiding you. Then, get up, and be the bad ass you are, while always being kind, compassionate, and understanding.
Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?
I feel my mentors saw my potential as a curandera, before I was ready to let that be a goal. My first two mentors Don Tomas and Barbara (she preferred not to be identified as “Doña Barbara”) knew I had the Don, gift of healing from God, and encouraged me to pursue a path as a curandera. But, at the time, it was hard for me to see how I would make this transition. Nonetheless, I continued my mentorship with them, while going to law school and becoming an attorney. By the time I began mentoring with Malina (also preferred not to be identified as “Doña Malina”) and Don Fernando, I had fully embraced my Don, but I still had residuals of doubt. I was unsure how the full-time transition from attorney to curandera would, or even could, happen. They were the mentors that did not put up with my doubt, which is exactly what I needed. Not just someone who believed in me, but mentors who were not going to tolerate my own nonsense.
What do you wish more people understood about what you do?
I am blessed to work with amazing people as clients, truly, and more often than not, we understand each other. I feel the people that see me and say, “I want to do what you do,” they need to understand that as a curandera, I wear many hats—writer, teacher, healer, entrepreneur, mentor, and the list goes on. This requires being very disciplined with my time and energy. To do what I do, discipline has to be your friend and a principal part of your entrepreneurial spiritual path.
What motivates you?
Great food, especially Mexican vegan food. While I am not a strict vegan, if you want me to do something or go somewhere, entice me with the promise of great food.
How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?
My great-great grandmother was a curandera, my great grandmother healed with food, and even though my grandmother chose the Western path of nursing school, I was still exposed to our traditional ways of healing. In college I had an opportunity to take graduate courses as an undergrad and create independent study courses, I chose to study curanderismo. Yet, social justice pulled me in, and I chose to go to law school with the goal of advancing social justice. While in law school, I met my first two mentors, and continued mentoring them for almost seven years.
In 2005, I experienced a catastrophic injury that resulted in numerous bone fractures, and being in a wheelchair for almost a year. I slipped off a cliff while hiking. My diagnosis was incredibly grim. I was told that if I did walk again, it would be with some kind of assistance, and I would likely be in pain the rest of my life. I had to decide to fully embrace my Don. I envisioned, and knew without any doubt that I would experience an impeccable recovery. During my recovery period, I put into practice everything I learned as a curandera mentee and facilitated my impeccable recovery. After not walking for almost a year, I walked with a completely normal gait in less than two weeks. My transition from attorney to full-time curandera began to blossom in my heart, and eventually became a reality with a lot of hustle, discipline, and faith.
What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?
Pumping out six well-researched books that bridged academic and spiritual worlds, one year after another from 2018 to 2023. I definitely include the guidebook for my Mesoamerican Oracle Cards in this list; although it’s only 96 pages, those pages are full of beautiful information regarding our divinatory glyphs. In my books, I place into dialogue many resources that aren’t typically available to mainstream audiences—codices, ethnohistorical records, archaeological research, artwork—to link our curanderismo practices to our Mesoamerican ancestors; reclaiming our ancestral traditional ways of healing. A critical component to healing and decolonizing our identities and what we root ourselves to.
What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?
I will launch Level II of the Curanderismo Mentorship Program in 2024 with two years of the Level I program backing it. In Level I, I aim to inspire people to place their practice into practice—whatever that may look like, and also stress the importance of establishing safe, nourishing, and rejuvenating practices for themselves and clients, whether they are family members, friends, partners, barter-system clients, or paying clients.
I had been teaching people classes to facilitate limpias and other related curanderismo practices for almost a decade. I noticed that some people took the classes for a year or two. But they rarely practiced giving themselves or loved ones limpias or engaging in other limpia rites to manifest something in their lives. In private sessions, I helped people address their different apprehensions of practicing and inspired their expanding limpia practices to create ideal realities for themselves and loved ones. I use what I learned in these instances and apply it in the Level I program for the first portion of Level I.
We also spend a good time discussing the nuances of creating safe healing spaces for themselves and their clients. In my twenty-five years of practicing, one of the things I regrettably noticed was other practitioners coming to me for the first time, traumatized from practicing some kind of healing work, due to not tending to the nuances of creating these safe spaces. Some people think that creating safe spaces can be reduced to a few anecdotes that involve “protecting yourself,” while maybe helpful, it is much deeper than this, which we cover towards the latter part of Level I.
I feel the way the programs are established is a paradigm shift. Before going into the nuances of healing various different kinds of ailments, which is what we will do in Level II, I feel it is absolutely essential that people feel comfortable practicing the fundamentals of Curanderismo, and understand the nuances of creating safe healing spaces for themselves and clients. In both programs, we meet once a month for two hours, for one year. To truly honor this practice and go deeper we must be willing to stay committed for years. This is a shift to the Western get certified (validated?) in a few days, weeks, months programs. These programs have their place, and this is not what curanderismo is about, this practice is a commitment. The people who I see show up monthly and engage in the chatboards have made amazing strides! I am so excited for Level II and see what comes of it!
What pop culture moment made you feel seen?
After the release of my first book, Cleansing Rites of Curanderismo, and other books, offering limpias, platicas, and soul retrieval became not only accepted, but vastly more common. This is beautiful! I absolutely love that more people are open to offering and receiving our ancestral ways of healing.
How do you practice self care?
This is a very extensive list and essentially covers my entire day. I do more intensive limpias once a month, which is usually a baño with a concreted tea of herbs and flowers that are in my garden and shelves, and two cups of Epsom salt.
Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:
Edith Rincon (@mariposa_mistica) is compassionate and loving when helping people through anxiety and also integrates limpias in her practice.
Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
Hilda Ramirez. (@HealingDivineSkin) integrates her healing work and work as an esthetician to provide holistic self-care and beauty.