Welcome to Paradise!
Translation By Emmanuel Garcia
It is no secret that we are everywhere, that homosexuality transcends language, culture and immigration borders. But who would have known the
small Mexican town of Juchitan, located in the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, would become a 'Queers' Paradise.'
Writer/director Alejandra Islas' new documentary, Muxe's: Authentic, Intrepid Seekers of Danger, sets out to uncover the stories of 10 Mexican indigenous and mestizo homosexual men who call themselves 'muxe.' Muxe, a Zapotec word derived from a colonial Spanish term for 'woman,' is the name of choice for the gays of Juchitan.
Juchitan is characterized by its natural beauty, traditions, singular folklore and colorful feasts. But for many tourists and locals, Juchitan is considered a queers' paradise, a fact revealed to the international LGBT community by the film, which gives insights into a group of men who have been working to create visibility in their community since the early '70s.
The Authentic and Intrepid Seekers of Danger, as they call themselves, fight social justice issues related to HIV/AIDS, and also hold an annual festival—a drag contest—to pick the 'Queen of the Intrepid Ones.'
The film itself tells the story of how these men have integrated themselves into their community. While it shows the opposition they sometimes face, the film primarily uncovers a place where being muxe is considered a blessing and where sexuality is not a choice but part of your destiny. The film includes comedic elements that illustrate how the muxes view life.
In a followup interview with Emmy®-nominated, Mexican writer/director Alejandra Islas, answered ten questions about one of the best new documentaries of the year.
Emmanuel Garcia: The name of this magazine is Identity. How do you identify?
Alejandra Islas: I am heterosexual, a documentary filmmaker at heart but I also hold a passion for narrative film. I'm attracted to life stories that deal with transgression and with rebellion. This is why I the idea of doing a film about the muxes, a homosexual community in the south of Oaxaca who fightfor acceptance and tolerance in a country wheremachismo still dominated and captivated me. In my life, I have had a few gay friends, but getting to know the muxe's has helped me end and rid myself of prejudices and expand my vision and appreciation for them.
EG: I imagine an important part of producing a successful documentary is to become invisible in order to capture the reality of the participants, what did you do to become invisible?
AI: A documentary, for me, consists of listening and observing. I like to get to know the lives of other people; I love, for example, talking with elders because they have so much to tell, they have all these stories accumulated. Listening and getting to know the biographies of others is the first step in order to begin to imagine how you can weave the story so that you are able to astonish and move. In this case, I observed, listened, but I also hung out with various muxes, I went to parties and bars with them, we drank beer, had conversations and laughed a lot and little by little, they began to trust in the project.
EG: What caught your attention to embark on this project.
AI: Aside from the part of transgression that characterizes the muxes, I was also attracted to their feminine side. I could identify with them in
that aspect and I didn't feel like I was dealing with men, but with close girlfriends.
EG: What message would you like to convey in this film?
AI: I want the people who see this film to understand and respect sexual diversity. To accept the right of being different and to break away from their own prejudices.
EG: What did you record on camera that didn't make the final cut?
AI: A conversation between Eli and Gerardo about the political participation of the muxe's in Juchitan and the Ismus from the fights of the COCEI in the '70s. In the end I decided to cut that part out to not enter in a political topic that is is very complex. I believe another Documentary could be made on this theme.
EG: Is this your first project with a gay theme?
AI: Yes it is my first, but I already have another film in mind about a lesbian couple who also live in Juchitan.
EG: What other future projects to you have in mind?
AI: I have two documentary projects in the Ismus of Tehuantepec: the short of the lesbians that I told you about and another about 'taberneras,' a group of women who who's living consist of selling beer at the town festivals and parties. They are women who a very independent and very happy but the job of being a 'tabernera' tends to disappear. I'm starting to initiate the investigation about those topics and starting a fictional screenplay that mixes personalities and situations that I've had a chance to learn and lived during the process of working in Juichitan.
EG: What inspires you?
AI: Talking about stories of people who dare to live differently, who take a risk, and are passionate about what they do. I am compelled to tell these stories be it through a documentary or through fiction.
EG: How would you describe the people of Juchitan?
AI: A vital people, dynamic, enlightening and who know how to enjoy life.
The film has premiered at film festivals in Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, and is prepared for more film fest screenings this year, including the Miami International Film Festival and the Mexico International Gay Film and Theatre Festival.
Emmanuel Garcia is the Chicago Correspondent for SCENE magazine. To read more www.emmanuelgarcia.com .