After the first street wedding fiesta in my previous blog post, we head off jerkily on the motocaro to our next fiesta with our hosts Jorge and Juquila…
This is a public fiesta to celebrate the sixteenth century Spanish Carmelite nun St. Teresita, and is staged in a large basketball court opposite the Palacio Municipal (town hall) in the centre of San Blas.
Inside, however, there is nothing religious about the event, women sell boxes of beers at the entrance and a single electronic keyboard player creates a noise like a full brass band. There is no segregation of the sexes, people are free to sit where they want – everything is a lot more relaxed than at the previous street fiesta.
Juquila points out the Mayordomo (sponsor of the fiesta) sat at a long table under the basketball net, and she casually informs us that he is a muxe (homosexual).
“Un puto (male prostitute),” Jorge adds, sniggering to himself, and points out another dozen muxes gathered at the back of the fiesta.
Later on the dance floor I get one of the larger and more bolshie muxes trying to steal me from Katerina for a dance. His name is Chiquita (the little one), and is dressed in full Tehuana outfit, and is quite persistent. I am bit too drunk to know how to evade the situation, so Katerina cleverly makes him the centre of attention by photographing him repeatedly as he tries to balance a bottle of beer on his head.
For the Isthmus Zapotecs, muxes are considered the third gender, and are generally accepted into society with little homophobia. The word muxe comes from the sixteenth century Spanish name for woman ‘muxhe’, and describes all the deviations of sexuality from transvestites to transsexuals to homosexuals, but it is important to note that muxes are always male.
“There are about ninety muxes from small to big in San Blas, but no old muxes,” Jorge tells me informatively. “This is because they all die young from too much sex,” he adds, and we both split our sides laughing.
Juquila and Katerina are aware the beer is beginning to lower the level of conversation, so we are ushered us up and onto our final fiesta.
Just as we are staggering out of the fiesta, a disagreement breaks out amongst some of the men, a woman try to intervene and narrowly misses a punch.
Back on the motocaro Jorge drives bumpily into a secluded back street, to a pre-wedding party taking place in the bride’s home. Before entering Juquila buys a couple of plastic washing-up bowls from a woman conveniently sat on the street outside. We are led into a garage where a crowd of men are listening to a local guitar duo – we get strong wafts of marijuana. We are then directed into a room where loads of plastic washing-up bowls are stacked up against the wall. Juquila tosses her bowls onto the pile, and then turns to greet a small welcome party.
“What will the bride do with all these bowls?” I ask in disbelief.
“She will sell them after the wedding,” Juquila says in an obvious voice.
The bride appears and greets us with a hopeless smile, as if to say she is fed up all the fuss and just wants to go to bed. It is nearing one in the morning, and I too am feeling pretty drained. The bride is in her early twenties and has the plump beginnings of a respectable Isthmus lady.
“This is her child,” Juquila points at a small girl clinging onto the brides dress. “The bride’s child!” she emphasises looking across at the relatives.
“When you come next time, she will have another wedding,” Juquila says, making the relatives laugh.
“She just likes men too much!” she adds, unable to resist over-stepping the mark.
The relatives stop laughing and look visibly offended. We exit the room swiftly to where the marijuana smoking guitarists are strumming out some of the best Latin rhythm I have ever heard.
Sat with Jorge trying to drink a final shot of tequila and listening to the music is the perfect wind-down to a full-on evening of matriarchal fiestas. In all, we have been to a drunken street fiesta where the old tradition of virginity testing lives on; to an public fiesta where all three genders mix and have a good time; and finally to a laid back house fiesta with virtuoso guitarists. What all of them had in common is that Jorge and Juquila had to turn up out of obligation, in order to drum up support for when they hold their own fiesta.
On the way home Juquila complains that fiestas can also make a very big hole in your wallet: “We are invited to five or six fiestas every weekend – that’s about twenty fiestas per month!” she explains. “And, as well as giving money and presents, the women are also expected to help out with the preparations and the tidying up afterwards. All this takes a lot of time and energy, and if you try to ignore the invitation, be prepared for the repercussions – people in San Blas do not forget in a hurry,” she stresses.
The next morning while I’m nursing a massive hangover, Katerina comes up with the idea that because the women do all the work at the fiestas, it must mean they are more concerned with gathering social prestige than the men, which suggests that the structure of Isthmus Zapotec society is dominated by female honour!
For me, however, this idea sounds a bit over the top, because it is usually the men who are the main sponsors of fiestas, but I do admit that women play a very important role in keeping these vibrant inebriated fiestas alive. From cooking the food to selling the beer, to forming the majority of the guests and keeping the men under control. I take another painkiller and sink back into my hangover, leaving Katerina, who drank considerably less than me to go and find some food and write up our experiences.
Later in the week I come down with a high fever and uncontrolled vomiting, so drag myself to a local clinic for some tests. The young smartly dressed doctor lady doesn’t hesitate to attribute my stomach problems to the street fiestas I frequented at the weekend, and warns me that constantly shaking hands with men who do not wash, and eating food with dogs on the street is not without consequence.
Diagnosis: amoebas, stomach fungi and worms. I spend the next three days recovering.
Like the doctor, Katerina also seems happy to have me sedated and under control. The only conciliation I can draw from the whole experience, is that when she tells the women of Mercado Cuarenta about me getting sick, it makes them laugh so much they all want to invite us for another load of fiestas!
Next time… I’m going to be looking into the rebellious nature of the Isthmus Zapotec women. Over the course of history they have not been afraid to take up arms and challenge all their oppressors – from Spanish colonialists to modern-day dictators.
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