Vicks Rub and the Sign of the Cross: Mexican Healing Gesture

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a specific gesture used to cure sickness that relates to her family’s Catholic background:


Leah: “So when your kid has the flu… for some reason, Mexican moms like, obviously use Vicks [vapor rub for decongestion], but if you put it on in a cross-shape, it supposed to… help. Like, they’ll apply it in the shape of a cross on your feet or your forehead or whatever.”

Isabella: “Does that signify God helping you recover?”

Leah: “Yeah, and it expels the demons. It has a lot to do with the Catholic tradition.”


Here, Leah describes a folkloric gesture that has religious overtones. In addition to applying Vicks vapor rub to help their children recover, Mexican mothers will supplement the healing process with a religious gesture. This practice marks a synthesis between American and Latin American customs. Those who practice this tradition acknowledge the utility in Western medication (i.e. the Vicks rub), but they also feel these treatments are more effective if they are supplemented with Catholic symbols and gestures.


Though Leah is not religious herself, she still practices this tradition at times. It has acquired significance in her life because she associates it with her mother and her childhood. This typifies cultural inheritance between older and younger generations.