Psychic José Ledesma says he'll get famous on his merits, not just the numbers of people who visit his shop, which he says number in the thousands. He reads tarot cards, makes potions, creates talismans and just plain talks to people. All from a closet-sized space at the back of his botánica on Central Avenue in Vernon. His shop is called Esoterica, and he's had it for a little over a year.
"I try to help people," he says. He listens to complaints ranging from bounced checks to phlegm-filled lungs to a spouse's infidelity. And he tries to fix the situations. "I'm going to be famous because what I know needs to be known."
What needs to be known from Ledesma comes from a long lineage of people he calls "seers."
"My aunt, my grandma, my great grandma, my great great grandma all did this," he says. To make some potions work, he says he calls on his ancestors, in Spanish, in West African dialects and, sometimes, in Sanskrit. He asks them to help make a tincture to clear away headaches, a hex to scare away mistresses.
Botánicas, which seem to be popping up all over Los Angeles, are a one-stop-shop for spirituality, religious supplies, health care and therapy. While they're generally associated with "folk Catholicism and other Latin American religious traditions," these shops can appeal to a broad client base.
In this audio slideshow, Dr. Patrick A. Polk, curator of UCLA's Fowler Museum, discusses the role of botánicas to the diverse L.A. community. Polk has been studying botánicas for 20 years and, in 2005, published the book "Botánica Los Angeles: Latino Popular Religious Art in the City of Angels."
Back at his shop, Ledesma focuses on helping his clients become financially stable. He says people fly in from Australia, Africa and Europe to hear what he has to say. They also walk to his shop from down the street in Central Los Angeles. He tells them that the best way to awaken the spirits that hold the cash is to buy a specially formulated talisman.
"I'm so sure that whenever you possess one of those, you will be wealthy and you will be prosperous," he says. "Your economic situation will grow and grow and grow, as long as you possess the talisman. You will have food, you will have money, you will have everything. Then, you will not lack of anything. You will have a comfortable life."
In the little shop in Vernon and across the world, a lot of people buy that.