Nervous excitement fills the air as 200 people gather to watch the Curandera demonstrate laugh therapy.

A woman is called on as a volunteer, but there’s one problem — she hasn’t been able to laugh for 10 years.

Tonita Gonzalez, owner of Tonantzín Traditional Healing, was diagnosed a decade ago with Bell’s Palsey and Trigeminal Neuralgia, which causes paralysis on one side of the face and pain originating from the face.

“It was at that moment that I realized how much my emotional state of being affected my health,” Gonzales said. “(The Curandera) said, ‘You can’t smile, not because of the paralysis of your face, (but) because of the pain in your soul.’”

That is the power of Curanderismo, Eliseo “Cheo” Torres said.

Torres, vice president of student affairs at UNM, teaches the Curanderismo class on campus, which revives the art of traditional medicine, he said.

Healers from North and South America come to speak to the Curanderismo class. This year’s speakers come from Peru, New York, Texas, Mexico and Missouri, he said.

Curanderismo is a practical art with many daily uses, he said. For minor aches and pains, certain plants help: stomach aches can be cured with spinach and clove; aniseed helps with a toothache; for insomnia or headaches, chamomile and orange blossom tea can help, he said.

“It’s a class that has gained a lot of popularity within the last 14 years,” Torres said. “So much, that we have two additional online courses because of the demand.”

Summer Little, director of the Women’s Resource Center at UNM, said she helps organize transportation for the visiting healers and plans the health fairs associated with the class because it’s a valuable part of New Mexico’s roots.

“It’s a window into the past, but it’s also a way to learn to take care of yourself and how you can assume responsibility of your own health,” she said.

Little said she has been involved in the Curanderismo class for three years, and even enrolled in the class herself in 2012.

“You know, just learning about plants that are readily available and what they can do for you — like sage, lavender and all kinds of different teas — I thought it was really interesting and really valuable,” Little said.

The class is cross-listed with six different departments including Latin American studies, Spanish, Portuguese, anthropology, language literacy, sociocultural studies and women’s studies.

The class is intended to be inclusive to allow students to take credit in their various departments, Torres said.

Curanderismo is traditional medicine practiced by many throughout Central and South America. It is a holistic approach to healing that includes mind, body and spirit, he said.

The class, Traditional Medicine without Borders: Curanderismo in the Southwest and Mexico, is being offered this summer between July 14-25. The class is also offered online during the fall and spring semesters and as a non-credit massive open online course.

Lauren Marvin is a freelance writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.