Health & Beauty | March 2009
|Mexican Tradition of Massage Lives on in Tijuana|
Mariana Martinez - Associated Press
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Tijuana, Mexico — They work in the U.S. as gardeners, maids and bricklayers.
|Ana Martinez, a street masseuse or "sobadora", waits for clients in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009. The "sobadores" are traditional chiropractor with no formal training, who use a mix of massage and faith to cure everything from sore backs to bad knees. Most of their clients are Mexican laborers in the U.S. who can't afford formal physical therapy or simply don't trust U.S. doctors. (AP/Guillermo Arias)|
And when the physical pain of their labor becomes too much, they cross the border and head to Second Street for Tijuana's mystical masseuses.
The "sobadores" set up shop every morning alongside Tijuana's Cathedral in their battered SUVs outfitted with massage tables and curtains for privacy. They rely on a mix of massage and faith to cure everything from sore backs to bad knees – at $20 (300 pesos) to $50 (700 pesos) a pop.
Their expertise is handed down from generation to generation.
Most of their Mexican laborer clients can't afford medical care or traditional physical therapy. Or, like golf course gardener Jose Lopez, 59, they simply don't trust U.S. doctors.
"Every chance I get, I come down here because once I do, I'm warmed up and ready for the month ahead," Lopez said.
Jose Ramirez, a 45-year-old construction worker who lives in Bakersfield, California, said he's been coming to Tijuana for 10 years. He even brought a friend who had constant hip trouble that U.S. doctors could not cure.
"She walked crooked and was seeing doctors for therapy in the U.S., but she didn't get better," Ramirez said. "She just kept becoming more and more twisted. But she got better with four sobadores sessions."
Despite tighter border security and crackdowns on illegal immigration, sobadores say business remains steady because most of their clients work legally in the United States.
They agree that they won't touch anyone with open wounds, herniated discs or broken bones.
"That is definitely for the doctor," said Juventino Luna, one of the street's most respected sobadores.
Originally from Irapuato, Guanajuato, Luna has been working outside the Tijuana Cathedral since 1982. And he's seen patients from as far away as Colorado.
Luna's two sons are following in his footsteps – but in the U.S. They just opened an office in Anaheim, California, working as licensed masseuses.
"I'm really happy for my boys," he said. "If my clients call me and say they don't want to risk coming to Mexico, I send them to my sons."