The Immigrant

I’m supposed to shower by candlelight. And brush my teeth and clip my toenails without benefit of electricity. The


, my Mexican psychic and healer, told me to. I told my friends he was research for my new novel, but actually I have to admit I was looking for answers. The


told me never to turn on my bathroom lights and to use only a single white candle when I bathe. He said I will lose my insecurities, my fear and 10 pounds if I follow his instructions. It seems easy enough. I can brush my hair and pee in the dark. God knows I’ve always wanted someone to tell me what to do.

Unfortunately, the curandero didn’t speak English and I speak no Spanish. I had to take Joseph, a third-generation Mexican-American, along as interpreter. I was embarrassed because Joseph is probably half my age and very hip, but he seemed to think it perfectly normal that I would seek this kind of guidance.

I made an appointment for the morning of my birthday. Joseph drove in his brand-new truck through the flats of Highland Park. Every face was Mexican, every sign was in Spanish. I felt like a tourist in my own adopted hometown. I assumed we would go to the curandero’s house, like the “psychic advisors” cottages we all drive past. I imagined my fortune told in his dining room. Instead, my curandero was in a storefront shop. A sandwich board outside read “Cartas de Tarot,” and “Limpia” and “Yerba” and gave the prices. This was not somebody’s grandmother with a chipped crystal ball; this was a business. Joseph opened the glass door for me. Incense burned. The shop was small and crowded with both pagan and religious artifacts. A statue of St. Francis — I think — was draped with necklaces, some gold chains with crystal crucifixes and some leather strings dangling bones carved into animals. There were Day of the Dead–type skeletons and pottery creatures and beads and rosaries and packages of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and a large print of the Last Supper. Every wall was full, every surface covered.

The curandero came out from the back. He was young, handsome — dark hair slicked back, surprising green eyes. He wore a shiny shirt covered in stars and moons, a too-perfect outfit. His teeth were bright white and straight when he smiled.

He led me behind an ornate cabinet filled with silver candlesticks and taxidermy to a card table covered with a brightly embroidered cloth. He sat on the far side of the table and motioned for me to sit on the other. We exchanged pleasantries through my interpreter. They — the curandero and Joseph — laughed together more than I thought was necessary for a simple, “Fine. How are you?”

Then he was quiet. He took my hand and looked at my palm, ran his fingers over the skin on my wrist. He nodded. He used a Bic lighter and set a small bush of herbs on fire. They smelled like licorice. He waved them through the air and over my head and shoulders. He recited something I didn’t understand. I looked at Joseph, but he shook his head; it didn’t need translation. The curandero chanted and waved his herbs, and I closed my eyes and was transported.

Before I moved to Los Angeles I had never eaten any Mexican food other than a taco, never heard any Mexican music but the “Mexican Hat Dance,” obviously knew nothing about Mexican culture or history. Now I’ve lived in Echo Park for 17 years and I am the minority. The curandero talked to me — through Joseph — for an hour at least. He asked questions and told me things about myself that I don’t know how he knew. He had me hold a raw egg in my hands and he told me to keep pink quartz by my bed and to light a candle every year on my birthday and let it burn all night. I am still waiting to see if his predictions come true, but I have tried to follow his orders. I think what he was really saying was, “pay attention” and be conscious in my life. If you only use the toilet in the dark, you have to think before you sit or you get wet feet.

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