zapotec

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The Muxes of Juchitán 

Juchitán is a town in the southeast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The town which is largely inhabited by the Zapotec Indigenous people, has not only preserved it’s precolonial language and culture, but has also retained gender identities and roles that transcend the traditional western ones. Those which were subjected onto much of the rest of Mexican society by European colonizers. 

This contrasting expression of gender that survives among the Zapotec and Mestizo communities of southern Oaxaca, takes its form in the concept of the muxe. Muxe is a term used to refer to those assigned male at birth, but who identify either as women or as a distinct third-gender. They are an intrinsic part of Zapotec society, and highly respected for the roles they play in families, such as taking care of their elderly parents when their siblings have moved out of the household. Despite the acceptance of them in many rural areas, they face discrimination in more urban areas, mainly by non-Indigenous people who have inherited the Spanish cultural attitude of machismo. 

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The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Albán, inhabited for over 1,500 years by the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Monte Albán, Zapotec capital set on a steep bluff in the middle of the Valley of Oaxaca which rose to prominence after about 400 BCE. Four main phases in the developement and occupation of the site have been recognized.

In period I (500-200 BCE) the slopes of the hill were leveled off to form over 2000 terraces. An acropolis protected by stone walls lay at the centre. Inside was a stone platform surrounded by 140 carved stone slabs depicting contorted human figures. These were executed in Olmec style.

In Period II (200 BCE-AD 300) the palaces were built, along with ball-courts, temples, and an arrow-shaped building in the main plaza. During this period there appears to have been extensive contact with Maya Lowland centres and the increasingly powerful Teotihuacán.

At its peak in Period III (AD 300-750), Monte Albán had an estimated population of 25-30,000. Public buildings, terraces, and residences covered over 40 square kilometres.

Period IV (AD 700-1000) was a time of decline as the main plaza was abandoned. Zapotec influence disappeared, although the site was partially reoccupied by the Mixtec.

-Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.

Photos courtesy & taken by Omar Bárcena.

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The Power of Pride and Tradition Through the Eyes of Photographer Diego Huerta

To see more of his photography, check out @diegohuertaphoto on Instagram. For more stories from the Spanish-speaking community, follow @instagramES on Instagram.

(This interview was originally conducted in Spanish.)

Photographer Diego Huerta (@diegohuertaphoto) has a gift: “I know it may sound like a fantasy, but when I look at the people’s eyes, that’s when I know they are the right person to photograph,” he says. Diego was born and raised in Mexico and currently lives and works as a photographer in Austin, Texas, but every year he travels to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. There, he finds stories in the eyes of the Zapotec people, whose customs have endured for centuries — like these proud feather dancers at Zaachila, an archeological site where the old Zapotec Empire once stood. “One day, as I was walking in the streets, I listened to the noise of drums. As I got closer, I could feel the buzz of people gathering around a house. And then I found these dancers in the patio,” he explains. “As a commercial photographer, that kind of human connection makes me keep my feet on the ground,” Diego says.

The Third Gender of Zapotec Society

In the Mexican state of Oaxaca you will find the matriarchal Zapotec society of Juchitán. The families prefer girls to boys, and some assigned male at birth are therefore raised as girls. They become “muxe” (pronounced “mucha”).

Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners. According to the Wikipedia, muxe may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making jewelry. In village communities muxe may be highly respected, while in larger, more Westernised towns they can face discrimination.

Click here to see the complete photo series of Shaul  Schwarz.

Thanks to Karen over at Crossdream Life.

Benito Juárez • March 21, 1806 – July 18, 1872

Benito Juárez was born on March  21, 1806, in the Zapotec village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca. As president of Mexico, Juárez led the country through one of its most difficult periods. He’s remembered as the “Hero of the Americas.”

Juárez’s legacy is that of a nationalist and progressive reformer who resisted French occupation, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, expropriated church lands, and subordinated the army to civilian control. His birthday, March 21, is a national holiday in Mexico.

Famous quote: “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.” Meaning: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”

Urn of Cocijo, Zapotec, AD 200 to 800.

Although there is no question that the symbolism was fundamentally related to rain, it is evidently true that Cocijo was a god of the lightening that the Zapotecs saw as the operative force in splitting the clouds to release the needed rain. That concept of an operative force, with its clear implications of creative power, may explain the close relationship between Cocijo and the earthly rulers of the Zapotec people. The power of these rulers wielded was derived from the gods, and upon their death, they “became gods” through whose mediation mortal men could approach the essence of divinity.

Such a concept of rulership no doubt accounts for the great numbers of urns depicting human beings wearing headdresses displaying the mask of Cocijo, a way of displaying a mask in ritual regalia.

-P. Markman & R. Markman, Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica, pg 33.

Courtesy & currently located at the The Field Museum, Chicago, USA. Photo taken by Travis.

Benito Juárez • March 21, 1806 – July 18, 1872

Benito Juárez was born on March 21, 1806, in the Zapotec village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca. As president of Mexico, Juárez led the country through one of its most difficult periods. He’s remembered as the “Hero of the Americas.”

Juárez’s legacy is that of a nationalist and progressive reformer who resisted French occupation, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, expropriated church lands, and subordinated the army to civilian control. His birthday, March 21, is a national holiday in Mexico.

Quote: “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” meaning “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”

Image: “Benito Juarez,” by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena, 1968

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