Skip to Content
Featured

Boyle Heights’ New School Curandera Is Here To Help You Heal From Broken Hearts and To Say ‘Hasta La Chingada’ To Gentrification

4:03 PM PDT on September 2, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]alking down 1st Street in Boyle Heights, espiritista Wendy Rodriguez points out the “for lease” signs that dot storefront windows along the busy commercial corridor. 

    “That medical clinic there, it’s been there forever. To see all these businesses closing, it’s just sad,” said Rodriguez, who, unlike your typical spiritual healer, wears oversized black shades and a sugar skull face mask framed by her flowing dyed-grey locks. 

    “I’m just hoping and praying that I can do some brujería, so we can stay and drive all the gentrification away, a good limpia para que se vayan a la chingada,” said Rodriguez with a laugh.  

    Botanica Olokun opened on August 5th. As the pandemic sweeps through the predominantly Latinx neighborhood that is already grappling with gentrification, Rodriguez hopes to bring spiritual relief to locals with the brick-and-mortar iteration of her online store.

    Boyle Heights is no stranger to the occult. It has plenty of old school botanicas that function as spiritual pharmacies selling candles, oils, herbs, and amulets drawn from religious and folkloric traditions in Mexico and Central America. These spiritually charged items help clients with everything from financial woes to a broken heart. 

    Her bruja-gone-glam aesthetic and magic-themed memes, Rodriguez, 38, have racked up more than 90,000 Instagram followers since starting her @BrujeriaGirl page last year. The self-professed “baddest bruja on the block” uses social media to breezily narrate glimpses into her everyday life, unwittingly crafting an online persona that is sassy, relatable, and lauded by followers who tune in regularly to Brujeria Girl’s Instagram Live sessions. In these sessions, she does spiritual counseling and shipping updates—flashy acrylic nails and all. 

    “I’m trying to break the stereotype of what a curandera should look like. I don't want people to think that we all have brooms and wear a tall pointy hat,” said Rodriguez. Apart from breaking age-old stereotypes, Brujeria Girl is also changing the way people receive services. Before cell phones and social media, clients had to stop into a botanica for something like a spiritual cleanse. Rodriguez has moved her work into the digital age and offers virtual candle work and tarot card readings to cater to a mostly younger client base. 

    “I’m trying to break the stereotype of what a curandera should look like. I don't want people to think that we all have brooms and wear a tall pointy hat,” said Rodriguez.  

    “If somebody wants individual candle work, they Venmo me then I prepare the candle, pray on it and burn it on my altar,” explained Rodriguez, who sends clients a text confirmation once the candle is burned. “I used to do group candle work ceremonies on Instagram Live, but people were copying my altar and reposting my stuff on their pages, so now I send a text confirmation for that too.”

    The opening of Botanica Olokun will enable Rodriguez to offer her services IRL, where clients can get tarot card readings for $100 and limpias for $550. 

    Shelves at Botanica Olokun on opening day.

    Unexpected repairs pushed back opening day by over a month. Still, even with the short notice, Rodriguez sent out on social media, there was a long line of mostly-female clients and followers waiting to take a selfie with Rodriguez and browse her handmade products as soon as the botanica was open for business. 

    "I’ve been following Brujeria Girl online. I’m excited to meet her. And it’s a new Brown-owned business in a Brown community, I wanted to show my support,” said Ever Velasquez, who was holding a pot of lilies she brought as a gift for Rodriguez, who is of Salvadoran descent. 

    Botanicas are often the first line of healthcare or legal defense for undocumented immigrants who avoid public entities for fear of deportation, so helping clients with issues of health and immigration is expected, said Rodriguez.

    The botanica’s front-of-house is bright and airy, where images of pop culture icons Bob Marley and Walter Mercado commingle with religious statues of la Virgen de la Caridad stands shoulder to shoulder with La Santa Muerte. Shelves are stocked with the usual botanica items and Brujeria Girl Cosmetics’ millennial pink eyeshadow pallet and other Brujeria Girl products, including the aptly named Big Schmoney Moves and Big Drip Love spray. 

    “The inspo for the sprays came from Cardi B. I love her,” exclaimed Rodriguez. “I even have her lyrics tatted, ‘Knock me down nine times, but I get up 10,” she said, lifting both forearms to reveal the lyrics to Cardi B’s song “Get Up 10” written in cursive alongside a red stiletto heel. 

    A Younger, Spiritually Curious Generation 

    Patrons of Botanica Olokun may be younger than earlier generations of botanica clients, but Rodriguez said the most pressing issue for clients remains the same. “Love! People’s number one request is love, but magic works in mysterious ways, so I always tell people to be patient.” 

    Botanicas are often the first line of healthcare or legal defense for undocumented immigrants who avoid public entities for fear of deportation, so helping clients with issues of health and immigration is expected, said Rodriguez. But the coronavirus pandemic brought on a slew of requests for help from people infected with COVID-19.  

    Life hasn’t always been so enchanting for Rodriguez, who, before gaining Insta-fame as Brujeria Girl, was laid off from her job as a mental health counselor.

    “They ask for a health candle, but I can only do so much because I’m not a doctor at the end of the day. I’m very real about what I can provide, and I refuse to make any false promises,” said Rodriguez. 

    Life hasn’t always been so enchanting for Rodriguez, who, before gaining Insta-fame as Brujeria Girl, was laid off from her job as a mental health counselor. “Last June, I started doing readings and practicing with tarot cards. That same month Brujeria Girl got many new followers, and a few weeks later, I lost my job.”

    With three kids and rent to pay, Rodriguez invested her last paycheck into Brujeria Girl. She purchased spray bottles and herbs, made candles, and opened her online store, which has generated a consistent revenue stream. 

    “Luckily, everything fell into place. It all comes down to faith, faith, and hard work,” Rodriguez said. “People tell me that I have to take care of myself because I’m up until 3 or 4 AM. working, but my clients always come first. That way, they want to come back.” 

    Since relocating from the East Coast more than 18 years ago, the New York native has made Boyle Heights her home and the neighborhood’s plight with gentrification her own.  

    “I’m here to serve the community, and people here are losing their homes. So the botanica isn’t only about brujería, but also safe space where people can come and vent,” said Rodriguez, who plans to hold seminars and group counseling sessions at Botanica Olokun once it's safe to do so. “I plan to use my experience as a counselor to help people bring together the mind and spirit.” 

    A bustling opening day at Botanica Olokun came and went, and Rodriguez and her friends continued to unpack the boxes that littered the floor. The colorful painting of Bob Marley and a cowrie shell chandelier waited to be hung. The storefront sign still read “Samy Pet Shop,” but Rodriguez took to Instagram that night to reassure her followers that the botanica would be open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 9 PM before adding “no mask, no service.”

    “There were some delays in opening, and I blame brujeria. Jealousy exists, but it’s okay. Clients were asking me to open already, and I wasn’t trying to waste another month’s rent, so we’re open!”      

    Stay in touch

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    More from L.A. TACO

    What To Eat This Weekend: Cannabis-Infused Boat Noodles, Thai Smashburgers, and “Grass & Ass”

    Plus, a pizza festival and a respected chef from Toluca, Mexico comes to Pasadena to consult for a restaurant menu, including enchiladas divorciadas, and more.

    April 12, 2024

    Facing ‘Immediate Layoffs,’ L.A. TACO Launches Membership Drive to Save Our Publication

    After Sunday, we do not have enough money to make another payroll. We need 5,000 members to become sustainable. Our deadline is April 26th to hit this goal.

    April 12, 2024

    The Final Round of TACO MADNESS 2024 Is Now Open for Voting! It’s Highland Park vs. San Fernando Valley

    It was an incredible comeback to deny last year's winner and bring a first-timer from the San Fernando Valley to the finals. They will have an uphill battle against Villa's Tacos, who lead all teams in total votes so far in the 2024 competition. L.A.'s favorite taco will be decided on Sunday, April 14th, at 11:59 P.M. 

    April 11, 2024

    This New Koreatown Onigiri Spot Is Unlike Any Other in Southern California

    Supamu, which started as a food truck and a series of pop-ups, brands itself as Southern California’s first Okinawa-style onigiri. What sets its onigiri apart from competitors? All the details are in the post, plus where to find it.

    April 10, 2024

    When ‘Tomorrow’ Never Comes: The Saga of a DTLA Bar Staff’s Struggle To Get Paid

    A barback recalled a time when he had to use a payday loan app to cover a dinner bill. “How can you, with a straight face, hand someone a check knowing that there isn’t money in the account,” the barback questioned.

    April 10, 2024
    See all posts