In southern Mexico, third-gender 'muxe' festival mixes celebration and activism

By Jose Cortes

JUCHITAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Members of southern Mexico's third-gender 'muxe' community celebrated sexual and gender diversity over the weekend, while committing to fighting for LGBTQ people in the face of recent losses.

Thousands attended the weekend festival, known locally as a "vela," in the city of Juchitan, in the state of Oaxaca, where the streets were filled with dancing and music, and where a pageant featured muxes in traditional dress.

In Indigenous Zapotec cultures in this region, muxes are people born biologically male and mix gay and feminine identity.

"In the Zapotec language, there is no gender," said Felina Santiago, considered by many the matriarch of Juchitan's muxe community. "We have always existed and we have always resisted."

Before the festivities began, a special mass was held for festival attendees and other members of the local community.

This weekend's festival is called the "True Fearless Seekers of Danger" vela, a name that harkens to the risk many members of the community face.

In 2019, Oscar Cazorla, who founded the vela over 40 years ago, was killed at home.

The vela also comes less than a week after Ociel Baena, Mexico's first openly non-binary magistrate and a prominent LGBTQ activist, was found dead on Nov. 14 at home in the state of Aguascalientes.

Both deaths, neither of which has led to an arrest, are a reminder for the vela's participants of the fight to make Mexico safer for gender-diverse people.

"Our fight will end the day we have equality, the day there is respect for the community and, above all, the day when going out to fight is a privilege and not a necessity," said Elvis Guerra, a participant in the weekend's muxe pageant.

(Reporting by Jose Cortes in Juchitan; Writing by Brendan O'Boyle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)