Latinos' Religious Healing and the Impact of the Immigrant Continuum
This paper aims to explore the multi-dimensional linkages between health and religion/spirituality among Latinos in New York City (NYC). Botanicas, which literally means botany, are local dispensaries that offer spiritual, healing, and religious goods and services to a mostly Latino and Caribbean population in NYC, as well as in many other US urban centers. Based on a long-term ethnographic study (2004-15) on botanicas, that included in-depth interviews with 84 Latino healers, this paper addresses their main beliefs and practices concerning mental health illness among vulnerable groups.
Most Latino healers support a multi-causal explanatory model of mental disease, that finds its main pillar on the combined effect of social stressors and divine causas (causes) as the source of their patients’ suffering. Latino healers’ main conceptual ideas regarding mental illness are informed by the “immigrant continuum,” which refers to the deleterious impact of Latinos’ post-migratory experiences (e.g., undocumented status, family conflicts and financial concerns) as the inner roots of their emotional suffering. The most frequent mental health issues mentioned by Latino healers — and treated at the botanicas— are depression and nervios (nervousness). These conditions are seen as the complementary sides of the “immigrant continuum,” and are treated via natural medicines (e.g., herbs), informal counseling and religious treatments, such as praying and ritual cleansing.
Towards the end, this paper develops the notion of “sociosoma” in order to further conceptualize botanicas’ holistic explanatory model of mental health and disease. In the conclusions, this piece discusses the overall research and policy implications of this study, including the need for more sophisticated theoretical and methodological tools able to encompass Latinos’ mental health beliefs and practices vis-à-vis their unmet needs.