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The Scandalous Case of Isabel de la Cruz Mejía: Healing, Ethnicity, and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Mexico
AdvisorCurcio-Nagy, Linda A.
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During the seventeenth century, the colony of New Spain experienced a dearth of formally trained and affordable medical practitioners due to the education, cost, and socioeconomic requirements dictated by the Protomedicato. In this absence, Novohispano society learned to heal itself. Influenced by Iberian, Mesoamerican, and African religious and medical traditions, popular healers of mixed caste, gender, and ethnicity learned to heal in a hybrid colonial context. Heavily influenced by popular Spanish Catholicism, urban casta healers like Isabel de la Cruz Mejía functioned as intermediaries between their elite criollo clientele and the native peddlers of empirical healing remedies. They practiced a healing methodology that incorporated many types of knowledge and rituals that colonial society expected and accepted, and thus worked within socially demarcated frameworks by using effective gossip networks, accepted hybrid rituals, and popular religious beliefs. As a hybrid figure, the female casta healer put herself in a liminal position whereby she could easily be denounced to the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The case of Isabel de la Cruz Mejía demonstrates the ways in which the Inquisition was utilized by different segments of society for personal reasons that were in turn connected to larger colonial issues such as class, race, gender, and identity. Her case also suggests that there existed a fine line between magic, healing, and popular piety in colonial New Spain.