Grace Alvarez Sesma
Grace is Mexican/Chicana with ancestral Indigenous roots in Sonora and Baja California. Like many families in Mexico, her mother and tias (aunties) used cultural remedies to help keep their families healthy. She grew up experiencing the curing of empacho through the abdominal sobadas that her mother gave her and watching her auntie cure neighborhood children of mal de ojo and caida de mollera. As a child she was particularly influenced by watching and listening to another tia, a curandera, share stories about helping neighbors and friends with various spiritual illnesses as well as to her uncle who was a well-known sobador and huesero, bonesetter. Being raised within cultural ways she understood from an early age how demanding the path of Curanderismo can be and that one must be truly called to these healing ways by Spirit. Although the ancestors visited her in dreams during childhood, it wasn't until the mid-1990s after experiencing very clear warning dreams that failure to return to the traditional medicine ways of her family/ancestors would bring severe consequences (a story that she shares during some of her pláticas), that she formally undertook the study of curanderismo and other healing traditions by undergoing rigorous training with healers in Baja California and the United States. Married at 16 and divorced at 19, a single parent with two daughters, Grace left high school in order to support her family and later received her GED. She worked hard often holding two jobs which eventually lead to her becoming the administrator of a psychiatric partial hospitalization program for several years. In 1991 she started a consultancy practice specializing in public relations and cultural competency. In acknowledgement of her commitment to serving her community, in 1993 she became one of 26 women nationwide to be selected Fellow of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, a collaborative leadership project with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During that time she went on to become the founder of MANA of Imperial Valley which promotes advocacy and leadership of Hispanics, Latinas, and Chicanas. In acknowledgment of her work, she has been the recipient of many community and leadership awards including two commendations from the California State Senate. Now in her early sixties, Grace was recently presented with MANA of Imperial Valley's Legacy Award.
Answering the Call of the Grandmothers
Grace was called to the medicine ways in dreams from early childhood; and, beginning in her late teens through her 30’s, was visited in the dreamtime by a group of Indigenous Grandmothers dressed in the traditional clothing of various nations (tribes). They gave her teachings and urged her to return to the ways of the Ancestors, of the Medicine, in preparation for the days to come when she, and other women, would help usher in and support the return of the energy of the Grandmothers; the spiritual power that would be helping restore balance between the feminine and the masculine in the world as well as bring forth the call from Mother Earth for a return to respecting land, water, and holy places. Congruent with these personal visions, Grace, in May 2006, attended the gathering of the 13 International Indigenous Grandmothers Council in Huautla de Jimenez in Oaxaca, Mexico.
During the early 2000s, one of her elders began to strongly encourage her to start sharing with her community what the Grandmothers in Spirit, and he, had taught her. In July 2006, she was invited by Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona to teach a course on the Native healing ways of the United States and Mexico. Following traditional protocols, Grace approached local Kwatsan elders for their permission to bring her medicine to their traditional territory. After receiving their blessings she accepted AWC's invitation to become adjunct professor and began teaching the course, "Exploring Native American Medicine Ways: Learning from, and honoring, Indigenous Healing Traditions."
As part of her community responsibilities she has been asked to participate in baby blessing ceremonies, offer opening prayers for gatherings and social justice actions; to provide spiritual assistance to persons during end of life transitions, and house purification rituals, and to facilitate family and community conflict resolution circles.
In addition to her curanderismo practice Grace continues to have diverse roles in community building and social justice coalitions, helping organize grass-roots advocacy groups. In 2013 Grace lead a successful social media protest to stop the Disney Corporation from trademarking the Mexican holy days known as Dia de Muertos.