MUXE: the Language of Art & Culture
"I wanted to created a documentary as a supporting artifact depicting just as my art does the Language of Art and Culture of the Muxe community."
Mexican American Artist
Mexican American Artist
As part of my ongoing effort to celebrate and explore Mexican culture through art, I have been greatly inspired by Muxe - one-of-a-kind individuals who are assigned male at birth but grow up to dress and behave in ways traditionally associated with women. While there is some overlap with the transgender community, Muxe exist within a particular cultural context in Oaxaca, Mexico. They are not transgender women, as they don’t identify as women; they identify as Muxe. The Zapotec culture, concentrated in Oaxaca, is dominantly Catholic today and yet accepts Muxe as a vibrant and even necessary part of the community.
While there is some overlap with the transgender community, the Muxes exist within their own cultural context and gender identity in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Muxes constitute a completely separate category of gender identity based on gender attributes, or third gender. Unlike many transgender persons in the United States, the Muxes are highly respected in their community and are said to bring good luck and fortune to those who surround them. The Muxe culture embodies a complex identity that beckons to be brought to light.
In the state of Oaxaca in the south of Mexico, there is a region called Juchitan de Zaragoza with a population of 120,000, 80% of whom speak the native language, Zapoteco. There are no gendered pronouns in the Zapotecan language, which goes hand in hand with the prevalence of Muxe. A Zapotecan legend tells that San Pedro went to spread the seeds of life around the world. In one bag he had the men’s seeds, in another the women’s seeds, and in a third bag he had the Muxe’s seeds. He spread some of each across the world, but once he got to Juchitan, one of the bags broke - the Muxe’s bag. This is why many people think that Muxes in Juchitan are more visible and have the liberty to dress, walk, and act how they like. There is greater cultural understanding an acceptance of Muxe in Juchitan, but where ignorance is present there will always be some amount of discrimination. Juchitan de Zaragoza is the only place where you can find Muxes and their value is linked to the ancestral beliefs of the Zapotece culture. This community has an innate and unique understanding of gender fluidity and social and sexual liberation tied to its roots as an indigenous culture of Mexico.
Juchitan de Zaragoza, Oaxaca 2020
As a Mexican American, I bring forth my heritage as a crucial component to keep my culture alive.
As an artist, I am fascinated by the dialogue between different cultures and traditions. By exhibiting in Mexico, the United States and upcoming European sites, I’ve found inspiration in the intersection of diverse communities and gained an appreciation for worldly interactions.
I explore personal experiences, emotions, and connections through the lens of my past and present in order to create a vibrant future. Through my work, I strive to increase social awareness of the many parts of my intersectional identity and experience as a Mexican American member of the LGBTQ community. Through each piece, I seek to convey a unique yet universal sense of being, feeling, or thought. I hope to challenge stereotypes, commercialization and commodification, and the arbitrary barriers we create between our shared humanity.
Vouge Mexico ,2019
Muxes don’t have to “come out” to their families, since theirs is considered a natural identity. The discovery of whether a male child will be a Muxe turns into a collective one, allowing friends and family to participate in the experience. Muxe often hold skilled jobs in their communities, such as hairstylists, chefs, seamstresses, and also care for their parents and other elders. They become the guardians of the family in every aspect of the word.
The main purpose of this project is to research the Muxe community and immerse myself in their culture, beliefs, and views on gender. Through this endeavor, I hope to gain a better understanding of Muxe and Zapotecan culture, which I will then translate onto the canvas in a series of art pieces intended to celebrate Muxe and illuminate this unique community for a broader audience.
Documenting this journey is an essential part of the project. I’m planning to travel to Juchitan and spend two weeks with a community of Muxe. I will also visit Oaxaca City and Huatulco to experience more of Zapotecan culture and speak with local experts to broaden my understanding. In addition to learning and collaborating with that community, I will create initial sketches and develop ideas for the resulting project to be shared in Kansas City and elsewhere. I hope this will be a powerful way to create deeper knowledge and social awareness of this unique facet of Mexican culture and its roots, while at the same time exploring the larger understanding of gender fluidity across cultures. I want to discover how we can enrich our appreciation of our local transgender, non-binary, or “third gender” (two-spirit) individuals and communities through valuing the lives and experiences of Muxe.
Through educating the American public about the unique experiences of Muxe, I hope to honor this aspect of Mexican culture in a way that also broadens the horizons of the viewer, connecting art and culture to inspire thought and discussion about sexuality and gender both here and abroad. I also aim to subvert the commercialized model of Mexican art and better represent its full spectrum, from folk art to “fine” art and beyond.
Want to follow the journey of exploring the Muxe community with Hugo and his talented team?