Mex­ico earthquake hit hard at cen­ter of Zapotec ‘muxe’ cul­ture

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - By The Associated Press

JUCHITAN, Mex­ico — A few days af­ter Mex­ico’s Sept. 7 earthquake de­stroyed her home and much of her work, Pere­g­rina Vera at­tended her third funeral.

Two were for friends who died in col­lapsed build­ings. This time, it was an el­derly neigh­bor, Her­milio Martinez, whose heart ap­par­ently gave out a day af­ter the big quake as the city of Juchitan shiv­ered with re­peated, ter­ri­fy­ing af­ter­shocks.

The quake killed 96 peo­ple across Mex­ico, and it struck hard­est here in the heart­land of Mex­ico’s Zapotec cul­ture — a re­gion famed for deep-rooted fem­i­nism, the flam­boy­ant “Te­huana” dresses of­ten worn by Frida Kahlo and for one of its most noted tra­di­tional sub­cul­tures: the “muxe,” peo­ple born male who dress and iden­tify as women and who are ac­cepted, even hon­ored, for their con­tri­bu­tions.

Among them is Vera, a 26-year-old cre­ator of whim­si­cal dec­o­ra­tions for the many fes­ti­vals and par­ties spread across Juchitan’s cul­tural cal­en­dar. Many of her works were buried un­der rub­ble from the mag­ni­tude 8.1 quake.

“It started slow, slow and we were think­ing that was it,” Vera said. Then there was crash­ing, dark­ness. “Peo­ple yelling. Ev­ery­one cry­ing.”

Her 73-year-old grand­mother Faustina had been buried un­der rub­ble for half an hour when her house across the street col­lapsed as she slept in a ham­mock. Vera said that shortly af­ter the quake, just a day be­fore he died, the 90-year-old Martinez had seen her on the street and asked how Faustina was do­ing.

Last week, a front-end loader and dump truck fi­nally ar­rived to haul away what had been Faustina’s house as rel­a­tives watched for items that could be sal­vaged.

It was about that time that Vera learned that her grand­mother had been trans­ferred to a third med­i­cal cen­ter — this one an hour away — and would soon be flown to an­other for surgery on her back.

Through­out the city of some 100,000 peo­ple, res­i­dents like Vera tried to main­tain their com­po­sure and chip away at the im­pos­ing task of re­build­ing lives sud­denly shaken to the ground.

“Most lost their prop­erty, their home. For oth­ers, the house is still stand­ing, but is un­in­hab­it­able,” said Felina San­ti­ago Val­divieso, who is ac­tive in the muxe com­mu­nity. Many are with­out in­come be­cause their places of work were dam­aged. “It is go­ing to be a long time for us to re­cover and to see how we can help our­selves and lift our­selves back up.”

On Mon­day, Vera’s wardrobe re­mained buried un­der adobe bricks and clay roof tiles. She found tight-fit­ting jeans, a low cut flow­ered top and beat-up flip-flops.

Vera lost eight hand­made em­broi­dered dresses — ex­am­ples of the most cel­e­brated of Zapotec hand­i­crafts — that had been passed down from her other grand­mother. She swiped through photos of her­self wear­ing them on her cell­phone and vowed to find and re­store them. “You’re never go­ing to find (oth­ers like) them,” she said.

Two men who had col­lected do­na­tions from Oax­aca’s LGBT com­mu­nity ar­rived at a friend’s house with a car full of pro­vi­sions. Vera re­ceived a call to pick up the bag of beans, pasta, tor­tillas, sugar and other items. Other muxes from as far away as Mex­ico City and Ver­acruz were also headed for Juchitan with aid.

Asked how she will move on, Vera said, “Start from zero, start again at the bot­tom.”


Oax­a­can muxe Pere­g­rina Vera sur­veys earthquake dam­age at a friend’s home in Juchitan, Mex­ico. Two of her friends died in col­lapsed build­ings.

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