By David Alire Garcia
JUCHITAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Destruction wrought by Mexico’s massive earthquake has put a spotlight on the quasi-matriarchal indigenous traditions of the worst affected town, with women and third-gender ‘muxes’ playing a leading role in the aftermath of the disaster.
Located in Mexico’s narrow isthmus region, about 400 miles (644 km) southeast of capital Mexico City, Juchitan bore the brunt of the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that flattened thousands of buildings in the humid market town in a matter of seconds and took at least 98 lives nationwide.
In vivid contrast to Mexico’s macho, male-dominated society, travelers have noted since at least the 1800s the relative equality of Juchitan’s mainly Zapotec men and women, as well as the prominence of muxes, Zapotecs born biologically male who mix gay and feminine identity.
After the earth shook violently just before midnight on Thursday, women, muxes and men all leapt into action, in many cases pulling away rubble with their bare hands.
“I carried my mother out as I left the house, and then my brother and I went to rescue my aunt who was trapped,” Peregrina Vera, a tall, 26-year-old muxe, said in a sing-song voice, her long hair tied in a bun.
She then helped pull up rubble to free her grandmother after hearing shouts for help, Vera said, sitting in an outdoor patio just beyond the collapsed walls of her house, where two aggressive pet ducks snapped brightly colored bills at visitors.
Locals say there is a muxe in every Juchitan family. They are widely accepted despite an ingrained Roman Catholic heritage and known for dedication to family, especially for taking care of mothers as other siblings move out.
Among the severely damaged buildings was the downtown market, the most important for miles around and the heart of Zapotec women’s economic power for more than a century. Slated for demolition due to the quake damage, its loss is a blow to Juchitan’s women.
Irma Lopez, 44, who sold traditional indigenous clothing, was proud that 80 percent of market vendors were women but said it meant they were particularly hard hit by the destruction.
“We are the ones who have lost the most,” Lopez said, standing just outside the market as a light rain fell. She was waiting for relatives to help remove her last boxes of merchandise, as trucks pulled up to haul away her and other women’s goods.
In an 1859 account, French traveler and historian Brasseur de Bourbourg appreciatively described the…