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

JUCHITAN, Mexico (AP) — Four days after Mexico’s magnitude 8.1 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.

She followed the hearse that bore him a mile to the far edge of a cemetery where temporary covers of branches and palm fronds shadowed the graves, a place that has been all too busy these past few days.

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 are now buried under rubble left from Thursday night’s 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 a half 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.

Late Monday afternoon 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. Faustina had suffered three broken ribs and blood had pooled near her spine.

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…

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