We spent the second two days of our trip in Juchitan and Ixtepec. One of the things Juchitan is known for is its muxe population. A muxe is something like a Zapotec transexual, except the Zapotecs actually recognize the muxes as a third gender. We met with Mistica (right), who spoke with us about being muxe and how the meaning of the word has changed over time.
Mistica drew several distinctions between muxes and homosexuals (for example, she considers her current boyfriend to be "on loan" from the heterosexual community and expects him to marry a woman). To be honest, I was a little confused by a lot of her talk -- whether due to the Spanish or the topic or my own perceptions about hetero- and homosexuality, I'm not sure -- but I did think it was interesting that the muxes are considered a unique (and valuable) gender.
The next day we went to a migrant center near the train tracks. The center, run by a Catholic priest, houses and feeds Central American migrants who ride northward-bound trains through Mexico en route to the United States. There was a little anxiety at our approach (we discovered later that we had inadvertently arrived in a van rented by the same company favored by la migra) but once they realized we were just students, they were happy to usher us in.
The space reminded me of the center the Joads travel to in The Grapes of Wrath. There were dorms and bathrooms and areas to cook and do laundry and lift weights. We met in an open room with a concrete floor and tin roof, with folding tables and chairs and a television set. A half dozen cabbage heads sat on a shelf along one wall, and a handful of migrants peaked over another wall to see what we were up to.
We began by talking to the priest, but he quickly invited the migrants near the wall to join us and by the end of our coversation we'd expanded the circle to include several dozen migrants. We asked them questions, and they had a few for us as well. The majority were from Guatemala, then Honduras and El Salvador, with a few from Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia. Only a few were women.
They talked about the dangers of travel (assault, robbery, kidnapping, rape, falling off the trains...) and their reasons for migrating (job opportunities, personal security, natural disasters, escaping violence...). We asked how long they planned to stay in the United States, and most of them said a few years at most, although one admitted he planned to stay permanently. Only a few were making the journey for the first time. Some had been deported and some had left by choice.
After the official talk we broke into smaller groups. Some people toured the grounds, some helped serve lunch (beans and tortillas) and some tried lifting the weights and dancing salsa with the migrants. Many of us continued smaller side conversations. At one point, a train rolled into town with a dozen migrants on top, and several of the men grabbed sacks and left to catch it.
It was a hot, sunny day, and by the end of the afternoon we were all tired, so Oliver mercifully cancelled our afternoon session on windpower and we went to the ojo de agua, a public swimming hole near the town. So, a bit of culture, a bit of education and a bit of fun. All in all, a good trip through the Isthmus.