Sunday, May 07, 2017

Practicing Abuelita Medicine When Healthcare is Unavailable: Interview with Yerbetera Andina, La Loba

La Loba Loca
Last Thursday the House narrowly passed a bill weakening regulations that have (despite imperfect guidelines) offered health care to millions, that protect people who have pre-existing health conditions. We have been experiencing a continued dismantling of affordable health care for all.  While this is happening, I want to highlight how Chicanas/Latinas have been, for years, working toward strengthening their knowledge of medicine. Today, we welcome La Loba Loca, a yerbetera, a full spectrum companion and birth worker, a chucheria maker to La Bloga to talk with us about la medicina para nuestra gente.  

Amelia M.L. Montes: Tell us about your name:  “Loba” and “Loca” — In Xicana literature, we have a number of characters named “loca” or “loba” by Xicana authors and these characters are strong and visionary.  What does your name mean to you?

La Loba:  I didn’t necessarily come up with this name myself. A friend of mine in college, Lea Wig, came to my room and asked me, "How do you say crazy she wolf in Spanish?" She was coming up with a radio host name, but that name stayed with me. Personally I have gone back and forth thinking about the name and wanting to change it. I am kind of stuck with the name since there are some people out there who already know me by this name and changing it would be a hassle. I do trust in corazonadas and intuitive feelings, so I think La Loba Loca has been growing on me after 6 years of naming it. In the last years I have started to understand why that name is so significant to the work that I do.

La Loba grinding hierbas
Last winter I was helping out in a garden at a Filipino center. At that point I had already started answering to Loba and not my birth or "legal" name. The garden instructor looked at me and said that in her island, there was a story about a woman called the "black she-wolf."  She went out to seek revenge against the Spanish colonizers who had killed priests who were supporting or "protecting" the indigenous people. I write "protecting" in quotation marks because I do not believe in priests or members of major powerful institutions such as the church as protectors, but anyways that is the story she told me. The story resonated with me since most of my sheroes have always killed colonizers or made it really hard for them to succeed. Moreover, I come from South America and have friends and connections in the feminista movements and groups who use "loba" and "lobas" as endearing terms to refer to free womxn who run in groups, en manada, and are constantly subverting against the mainstream heteropatriarchy. So pretty much revoltosas, malhabladas, bullosas, gritosas, sensuales a su manera, people who sit with open legs, people that prefer to orgasm with themselves or friends than go to church, people who love outside enforced monogamy and heterosexuality, muxeres tercas, peludas, desordenadas, womxn who love womxn, libres, atrevidas, locas, pretty much la peor pesadilla del sistema, una sistema wanting people sad and powerless.

"Loca" is a term that goes hand in hand with "Loba." Someone that is loca is usually a womxn who refused to live up to expectations given to her by the cisheterosystem. Loca is the one who leaves the abusive husband,  the one who kills her abuser, the one who refuses to acknowledge the street harraser, the one who decides to scream if a dude cuts her in the line, or the one who decides to build abortion support networks in the community, or the one who takes off on a trip by herself. I also think a loca is somebody who acknowledges that this world can be super cruel and evil. When I decided to name the project La Loba Loca, I was unaware of ableist language so when I started to read more articles and post about ableism, I felt really uncomfortable with my name. I grew up in a household, like probably most of us, where mental health was never talked about. When I started to ponder about why Loca was in my name, I started this process of realizing that I was, in fact, called loca as a kid, because I would shift moods quickly, or I would do something that was not considered "normal." I have been consciously working with anxiety for a couple of years, so for me using loca has become a reclamation of an identity that is usually policed.

Amelia M.L. Montes: Your website tells us you are Peruana.  Tell us more about your early beginnings.  

La Loba:  I was born in Peru and I migrated to Santiago, Chile in the early 90s due to the Pinochet dictatorship.  I then immigrated to the U.S., then to Chile, then to the U.S. again to go to college.  I attended the University of California, Berkeley.  I majored in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on sterilization on Quechua women around the Fujimori Dictatorship (late 90s to 2000).  I stayed in the U.S. after finishing my thesis and graduating. I currently live in so-called Los Angeles but I am also diasporic so a lot of my work is heavily influenced by my friends and lesbofeministas in South America. Most of my work is around feminist sexual health, reclaiming our bodies and health through herbal medicine, documenting herbal and traditional knowledge in my family and where I am from. I am also a seed saver and plant caretaker. I currently do online and in-person knowledge shares on feminismos, calderones, pocimas para la cuerpa y destruir el sistema, abuelita knowledge and more. I also host gatherings for people, especially Spanish speaking groups and specific "only for" Brown/Latinx and other People of Color to come together and share about herbal medicine and tradition. I think these gatherings are important because the times I have organized them, there are many friends who come out and facilitate a portion of the share, and then the people who show up start sharing about their medicine. There is a beautiful knowledge exchange that happens that is not top-down like many other "learning spaces." For me Abuelita knowledge and holding passed-down knowledge is sacred, is very important to dismantle a system that tells us that knowledge creation is mostly white, cis, hetero, upper class and educated through a western system. A while back I wrote a piece on Abuelita Knowledge (click here for article) and I recently came up with a little definition for it:

"Bodies of knowledge that have been oppressed, stolen, 
silenced, gone underground, hidden themselves in
between spice jars in kitchen cabinets, locked away but
remembered and restored when necessary. Abuelita 
knowledge is understanding and recognizing that there is
much knowledge and medicine in our elders, our
ancestors, ourselves, and in this old mama we call earth.
Abuelita knowledge came to me as a way to resist the
current monopoly on education and information sharing.
As a migrant, Queer, Brown Peruvian feminist, Abuelita 
Knowledge has helped me understand that there are
many resources and bits of knowledge left that exist, 
way beyond the current narrow, classist and white 
supremacist confines of academia and other 

Elder Mujer hands preparing herbs
Amelia M.L. Montes: Did your own family practice what is sometimes called in this country, "alternative" medicine? 

La Loba:  To start, I do not like the term "alternative" or "complementary medicine" but I am happy you brought that up! I think that we have been told that herbs, massage, energy work, and all those ancient healing modalities are only "complementary" when in fact they are way older than the current allopathic system. These are not alternative medicines.  They are medicines in their own right.  In fact there are more people in the world only using so-called ‘alternative’ medicine to care for all their health needs. Going back to the question about my family practicing medicine, I get this question quite a lot actually. I did not think my family used more herbs than other families, but when I facilitate sharing circles and I talk about "cruzadas, geraneo, frotaciones," people even from Peru tell me that they did not have access to this growing up. For me, documenting my family medicine and traditions has become super important. The last times I have visited my family, I take a notebook with me at all times and write down with words and drawings what my grandmothers remember about medicine and the people in their families that did curaciones. I’m from Southern Peru—and there’s a lot of traditional Andean medicine and cosmology that is weaved into my family even if it is not stated as such. One time I was reading about Andean anthropology and about wrapping the baby to protect the belly button and one of my grandmothers was saying “Oh yeah—we did all that to you, we put a dry fig on your belly button.” Last month I was reading about the killing of Andean witches to my grandmother, and she went on to tell me a whole story of this indigenous elder she saw being burned alive in her town. I think a lot of the medicine that my family carries, I have been recently learning it, or at least giving it the importance it deserves. I also believe in memories stored in the body, medicine passed down through dreams, through being with plants that have crafted strong connections with past blood relatives…. Those are other ways I have learned.

Amelia M.L. Montes: Tell us about how you became a “yerbetera," a “chucheria maker,” a “full spectrum companion and birthworker”—

La Loba:  I’ve gone to lots of training. I am kind of a nerd always preparing for the end of the world. After graduating from Berkeley, I realized I did not learn a thing. The idea of autonomy became really important to me, I wanted to learn how to support myself, family and community. I wanted skills that had been taken away from us, such as abortion support, pregnancy support, herbal medicine, etc. My community is Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC) and I saw a lack of information and resources that have been taken away from us. I slowly started training with different groups.  I took a bunch of classes. I started to grow a garden, save seeds, talk with other people doing the documenting work I was doing around autonomous health, etc.  

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Tell us more about the term “chucheria”—

La Loba:  “Chucheria or Chucheria Maker” --- When I first started, I was making earrings out of bicycle inner tubes.  “Chucheria” here in Peru is also known as “chinches.” When I started making things, I called what I made chucheria fine arts because so much of the art world is dominated by white upper class people when in reality I find art in the way a Señora del Mercado positions her fruits, or songs people make up after working with a plant, or a crafter making usable art from trash. To me, this is a way to decenter the ways we have been taught about art production.

hand milling with stone
Amelia M.L. Montes:  On your website, you say:  “La Loba Loca mixes the knowledge acquired in academic institutions and also non-western studies and personal research throughout the region.”  Why are all of these important in healing and personal growth?  

La Loba:  It’s important because analyzing knowledge production is important. We have been taught that important knowledge comes from institutions, published books, etc. For me, knowledge productions happen in the kitchen at dinner, a day out in a garden, looking how a plant grows, or sitting with people in circles and sharing.  There is so much more about knowledge productions than just within academia. That is why I think it is important to recognize that knowledge comes from non-western studies and research. Plants have taught me so much about learning. For example, when you’re learning how a plant will work for you—you can read in a book about that plant’s action but you do not know the plant until you work with her and make a connection. I think that for me to learn and create connections with plants, I had to relearn how to learn.  In the academy, going to school as a Brown person, you train yourself how to ask questions, how to talk, how to seem smart so people don’t think you are there just because you are brown. You teach yourself how to fit in a learning system. This does not work with plants.  You can read all the books you want, but you will not meet a plant until you are ready or until that plant chooses to connect with you. An amazing teacher and elder of many had a huge impact on how I relate to plants.  Her name is Olivia Chumacero—from Everything is Medicine (click here for Olivia Chumacero's website). If you are ever able to come to her classes or invite her to your school or community she will blow your mind!

I consider myself a ‘documentarista’ or somebody who researches and documents. For the past few months I have been in Peru and Chile. I had to come here to take care of my grandmother and while I was here I created an online space, that you can still access, called the “Andean Intergalactic Feminist medicine” (click here for link). I am documenting some of the medicine in my family, my community, and interviewing people. There is beautiful feminist and resistance work happening in the Andean region, as well as so much medicine in the food and herbs there. This is my way to document and share some bits of knowledge.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Thank you for sharing this knowledge with us, Loba.  Is there anything else you would like to tell La Bloga readers?  

La Loba:  
First-- The importance of autonomous organizing outside of non-profits and organizations is especially important now more than ever.
Second-- Recognize the importance of Abuelita knowledge (passed-down generation to generation).  Sit with your elders if this is possible for you, ask your familia/community about remedies.  Document "secretos de familia."  Hold this knowledge precious.  Share it with your young ones.  Talk to Abuelitas about their lives.  Listen to the Abuelitas.  

You can follow me on the following social media sites:
Instagram:  @lalobalocashares
Tumbler (blog):
Online Store:

Also-- bring me to your community or college!  You can check out some of my work on my website.


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