Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Que viva el Vivaporu

A vintage jar of Vivaporu, May 2010
A vintage jar of Vivaporu, May 2010
Photo by TK/Flickr (Creative Commons)

So being out sick today has me thinking about ways to feel better, and while I have yet to reach into the medicine cabinet for it, I've been thinking about Vivaporu.

To everyone else, it's Vicks VapoRub. To generations of Latinos who as children were smeared under the nose and on the chest with the minty, smelly, greasy stuff by immigrant parents and grandparents, it's alternately known as Vivaporu, Bibaporu (how Caribbean types, like my folks, tend to pronounce it) or the one-size-fits-all Veex.

A quick search brought up several blog posts ("My Mom Made Me Eat Vicks!" one headline screams), videos, even t-shirts dedicated to Vivaporu, the Latin American cure-all and, for some, torture cream. Here's what Latina-ish guest blogger Joe Ray posted about Vivaporu as applied by his Sinaloan mother (with my slight G-rated edit):

Having asthma as a kid, my mom would rub Vicks (AKA vaporu, vivaporu, or el veex) all over my chest, usually along with other very nasty smelling herbs/weeds. Not yerba buena but my guess is that it was probably more along the lines of yerba m*#rda. After rubbing it on my chest, she’d make me put on a heating pad over my shirt and blanket. I can’t stand Vicks. I knew some kids ate the stuff. I like the smell of eucalyptus, which she would also boil leaves into a tea but I still find Vicks to be quite repulsive. has the following definition:

Remedio para cualquier tipo de herida o gripe. (Remedy for any type of injury or flu.)

Originada de la palabra ingles: Vick's Vapor Rub. (Originated from the English word: Vick's Vapor Rub.)

The ingredients blended into the petrolatum base include camphor, menthol and strong-smelling eucalyptus. The scent will clear nasal passages, yes. It will also attract hungry koalas.

But then, Vivaporu isn't nearly as nasty as this cold. Off to the medicine cabinet.

And if anyone reading this has a good immigrant home remedy to share, please, bring it on.