On the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico it’s socially acceptable for men to drink every day during the lunch break or after work, or both!
As a naive European, I was expecting to find a drunken dysfunctional society, where the women are forever frustrated with the men, but instead I find that the women are actually encouraging the situation.
Frequenting several cantinas (bars) in Juchitán I saw that women only usually go to the cantinas to collect their men. This doesn’t mean that they do not drink, though, at all the fiestas I went to I found the women drank a lot, but it was usually more controlled. They didn’t end up on the floor as the men often did.
Due to this seemingly unregulated society of drinkers, Juchitán has become known as Chupitlán! (Land of Booze!).
The irony of the alcoholic problem on the Isthmus, however, is that the women are usually the ones in charge of selling the beer at public events and fiestas. This means they are an integral part of this vicious cycle of alcoholism, driven on by their matriarchal need to succeed at business and stay in control.
I challenge my girlfriend Katerina with this theory: “Don’t you think the women should accept a certain amount of responsibility for the level of drunkenness on the Isthmus?”
Katerina, however, doesn’t agree: “Beer will always be on sale …” she insists, “it’s the responsibility of the consumer to drink less, not the seller to sell less!”
A matriarchal beer seller in Juchitán – drawn by a local inebriated man
The first beer company to start cashing in on the frequency of fiestas on the Isthmus was Corona back in the 1950s. They supplied tables, chairs, ice coolers and even gave away free booze to promote themselves. Soon beer became the main stay of all events, and many people now blame the over consumption of alcohol on these companies, saying they have turned the traditional fiesta into an excuse to get absolutely slaughtered.
Before beer arrived on the scene the women reportedly drank horchata (a non-alcoholic maize drink flavoured with spices) or ‘agua de Jamaica’ (iced hibiscus tea). But, the men still drank mescal or tequila, which is even more potent than cerveza (beer). So, the argument that beer companies introduced alcoholism to the Isthmus sounds a bit flawed to me.
At the end of the day, boozing has always been a part of the Isthmus Zapotec culture, and always will be by the looks of things. But, I still find it a little suspicious that the women have cornered the market, and seem to be targeting the men especially.
Despite what my girlfriend says about how these matriarchal beer sellers are not to blame for the problems of alcoholism on the Isthmus, I can’t help thinking they are using the situation to manipulate the men and keep them under control.
Speaking to the men, however, very few seemed bothered by the drunken state of affairs. So either they haven’t cottoned onto to it yet, or think they are the ones who have manipulated the women allowing them a free unadulterated lifestyle in the – Land of booze!
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