Sometimes it takes an “act of God” to reveal the strong among the weak. On Friday, September 8, 2017, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake occurred in the Pacific Ocean off the southern coast of Mexico. Its shakes could be felt as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City, and a tsunami warning was issued (though no cataclysmic waves were reported). The states of Chiapas and Oaxaca were severely affected, with as many as 98 killed throughout Mexico. The city of Juchitan in Oaxaca suffers hardest with widespread destruction, as aftershocks continue to flatten already damaged structures.
Juchitan, just 400 miles south of the nation’s capital, is an evolved, peaceful community existing within the oppressive machismo that rules the rest of Mexico. The town of 100,000 is 80% indigenous, mostly Zapotec, and has been a matriarchal society since at least the 1800s, as indicated by written European records. Though women are generally the shot callers and manage the money, Juchitan men are still a present and vital part of the family, though the division of labor is equal with men cooking and washing dishes, tasks women are automatically assigned throughout most of Mexico. Adding to the enlightened anomaly of Juchitan culture is the integrated presence of a third gender, muxes, “Zapotecs born biologically male who mix gay and feminine identity.” Despite the invasive presence of the Catholic Church, muxes are an essential part of Zapotec society, naturally accepted as “there is a muxe in every Juchitan family.” Muxes have a reputation for their devotion to family, specifically to mothers when other siblings leave the home.
Though Juchitan is the city most affected—the downtown market, run for centuries by strong Zapotec women, is devastated—its unique dynamic will overcome the situation.
“Many say Juchitan is the ultimate matriarchy. It’s a city of women who fight, who work hard,” said Felina Santiago, a muxe and beauty shop owner whose home was damaged. “Now more than ever, we’re going to work to get back on our feet.”