Sunday, December 2, 2018

Muxe: A Poem that Never Dies

We live in an increasing changing world, for better and for worse. What used to be taboo is in some ways becoming more visible in today’s world. And yet we often seem to take one step forward and two steps back in our evolutionary process. I would like to focus on the issue of transgender in this blog entry. My visit to Juchitán to partake in la Vela de las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras de Peligro was a unique cultural event that I was privileged to experience. The three-day celebration was not held last year as the city was in mourning over the devastating earthquake that shook Juchitán in September 2017. The event is now in its forty-third year and is dedicated to St. Vincent Ferrar, the patron saint of Juchitán.
Since I know very little about the transgender world, I do not want to try to give information that I do not know first hand. It is best for me to share the photographs that I took while in Juchitán and let someone knowledgeable inform us about the world of the muxes.
I am very fortunate to have a friend, Elvis Guerra, a muxe from Juchitán, who is a very talented poet. Elvis, who writes in both Zapotec and Spanish, was the winner of the Premio CaSa 2015 for poetry. My photos are a very shallow glimpse into the world of the muxes, a three day look into a very complex world with many layers. Elvis' words go to the very core of it. I sincerely want to thank Elvis for giving his permission to use his poem (originally written in Zapotec and Spanish), Erica Nava for translating it into English, and to all the wonderful people of Juchitán de Zaragoza for their willingness to share their incredibly rich culture so openly with us.

A Muxe is…
Muxe is a leap into the mouth of the abyss.

Muxe is an ever-dazzling smile.
Muxe is a native Zapoteco that dreams he is a princess.
Muxe is a body of a man with the voice of a woman.
Muxe is a joke in school, a burst of laughter in the street, a clown for all.
Muxe is a universe populated by men.
Muxe is being naked in a stare-filled street.
Muxe is a “yes” to everything and to everyone.
Muxe is to challenge the other, to those that hate and have never learned to love.
Muxe is a skirt imbued with hand-embroidered flowers.
Muxe is the one that drinks the wine of brave men.
Muxe is a home, always open.
Muxe is the one that never says “no”.
Muxe is to look in the eyes of those who disregard you
Muxe is to dream that you marry a man.
Muxe is to walk to the altar on the arm of the father who never knew how to love you.
Muxe is the one who was beaten up by his brothers.

Muxe is the boy who played with a doll made of sticks.
Muxe is the one arriving at a party all dressed up
Muxe is carrying a flower in your mouth.
Muxe is a fire on the mountain.
Muxe is waking up with an erection in a mini-skirt.
Muxe is the boy who wants to wear a huipil to his drawing class.
Muxe is the cantina and its dust-filled womb.
Muxe is De Profundis by Oscar Wilde.
Muxe is a student kicked out of his home.
Muxe is an ever-eternal instant.
Muxe is a 65cm waist and a 19 cm penis.
Muxe is the pride of the family. Wait no… that´s false.
Muxe is freedom that is battered.

Muxe is a high-heel that never breaks.
Muxe is the eye that cries for many men.
Muxe is an arm, a leg and many hearts.
Muxe is the movie that you´ll watch your whole life and never finish.
Muxe are those that were born hurt.
Muxe is the corn that never sows its seeds.
Muxe is the flower that falls apart to perfume your bed.
Muxe is a very expense velvet huipil.
Muxe is an etching by Goya.
Muxe is the accent that gives meaning to words.
Muxe is the legitimate mother of freedom.
Muxe is a tortilla that you eat, but don´t recognize .
Muxe is the food you push aside in public, but enjoy in private.
Muxe is the bitch that bites your ear at 11 o´clock at night.
Muxe is a never-ending dance.
Muxe is a poem that will never die.



For anyone interested in excellent resources on issues of gender and bodies to share with children, check out the important work being done by Maya Christina  Gonzalez. .

Thursday, March 1, 2018

José García Antonio: The Man Who Sees with his Hands

José García Antonio is a ceramicist and sculptor. Since the age of seven, he has been taking clay from fields surrounding the pueblo of San Antonino and forming it into figures that represent the rich culture of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca.

As a child, José would go to a nearby spring and dig his fingers into the rich mud that was at the bottom. He formed it into small figures from his imagination. As he grew older, he refined his talent for sculpting. At the age of twenty-three, his brother-in-law, who was a ceramicist, gave him a bag of clay and asked him to make a statue of Mexico's beloved Cantiflas. It came out very well, and from that time on, José dedicated himself to sculpture.

José prides himself on the fact that he is self-taught. He never took a class or had a maestro. He experimented on his own and found what his heart was drawn to: making sculptures that reflect his Oaxaqueño and Zapotec roots. For the past thirty-one years, he has been working side by side with his wife, Teresita, specializing in making parejas (couples) from the seven regions of Oaxaca. Special attention is given to the trajes (outfits) worn by the women of each specific region. In addition to this, they revel in making mermaids, magical, mythical creatures that allow them to use their imaginations and talents to the fullest. When I came to visit them, they were finishing work on a very large piece entitled, Boda del Mar (Sea Wedding). José had masterfully crafted the piece, and Teresita was artfully embellishing it with birds, fish, and flowers. The piece weighs about 40 kilos and stands approximately four feet tall (1 meter 30cm).

Boda del Mar
When José was in his mid fifties, life presented him with an obstacle that would have been insurmountable by many; he lost his sight to glaucoma. Doctors told him that he would have to rely on his sense of touch to continue his work, and with time and determination, he did. “I learned to see with my hands”, he told me. He found it easier to make larger pieces, ones that were life size. “I took the clay (arcilla) and began to make what I wanted to actual size”. Teresita, took his life size creations and added the details with the utmost attention. “Él es mi maestro”, she said respectfully. She has become “una maestra” herself in the thirty-one years they have been married. They work as one, complementing each other with precision and respect.
José at work sculpting

José has given workshops to children in local schools.He said that to be a successful ceramicist, "you need to have two qualities: curiosity and patience. Many children want to makes something perfect right away. That's not how it works, you need to be patient, remain curious, and keep trying".

José and Teresita's three children and one grand daughter all sculpt clay as well. They are gifted craftspeople working together as a family. At age twelve, their grand daughter has already received three awards for her ceramic work. Yet despite the recognition that the family has received over the years, they remain humble and unpretentious in the work they do and the way they live. They are doing the work they love; it is what gives their lives meaning. José put it simply: “Eso es lo que estoy haciendo, que estoy viviendo, este trabajo tán bonito para mi”.