Teatro Dallas’ performing arts festival looks at the sexually accepting culture of Southern Mexico in ‘Another Day of Partying’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Even in the 1950s when she was just a girl, Cora Cardona was surrounded by gay people. And surprisingly — at least to our contemporary sensibilities — it was no big deal.
“Homosexuality is part of the culture in the south of Mexico — in Tehuantepec,” Cardona says matter-of-factly. “They have a different attitude toward sexuality. I went there as a child because my mother was from there. In the Zapotecan language, there is the word muxé [pronounced moo-shay], which is derived from the Spanish mujer, woman.
That is the word for gay. When a son born to a family [is muxé], they celebrate it.”
To most Western sensibilities, the idea of celebrating sexual differences is difficult to grasp, but Southern Mexicans aren’t the only ones. Indeed, in Southeast Asian nations like Indian and Bangladesh, the term hijra represents a “third sex,” while Native American cultures recognize “two-spirit” people — the uniting of male and female traits in one person. (The terms often encompass transgender identity as well.) But among a culture like Mexico known for its emphasis on machismo, the idea of gay being OK comes as a shock to some people, Cardona says.
As interesting as this quality is, it’s also largely unknown outside of Oaxaca, which is one of the reasons Cardona is excited to include the play Otro Dia de Fiesta (Another Day of Partying) in her 17th annual International Theatre Festival Dedicated to Mexico, a joint presentation with the Dallas Children’s Theater and Teatro Dallas, the Latin-focused theater company Cardona founded more than 30 years ago.
“People don’t know much about this,” Cardona says. “The [most know only] how Christian morality tailored [Mexican culture].”
While muxé are generally more accepted in this society, there are many challenges and responsibilities along with it, which are addressed in Another Day. “Men will hold each other by the little finger [though not necessarily in a sexual way] — it’s a very open kind of culture,” Cardona says. “And with muxé, there is a pact in the family that the gay son will take care of the parents in old age.”
The play centers around Amanda, a muxé, who befriends Concha, an alcoholic mother to three young daughters. They meet during the velas (candles), a multiday bacchanal of all-night partying.
Although the play is not about the velas, they form an important backdrop to the entire culture, which is “very folkloric,” Cardona explains. “There are [parade floats] that are very allegorical — they throw flowers and candies and such, and fishermen throw nets over the children, accompanied by music. And the Vela Jazmin is one of the muxé [parade floats]. It’s totally integrated into the community with all the mayors participating. Diego Rivera has a lot of murals on muxé, and the Italian photographer Tina Mondotti [preserved the velas on film].”
Still need a context? Think Mardi Gras. Think New York gay Pride. Or, “Imagine San Francisco at Halloween,” Cardona says. “The muxés go out of their way — they work on their costumes forever. It’s very expensive to dress up with all those hand-crafted costumes with embroidery on velvet. And the people turn out, because they know they are going all out.”
And it all leads to several consecutive nights of partying.
“I told my husband the first time I took him, ‘Tonight you’re going to party… and then the next night. And then again. Be ready, we’re not going to sleep!”
The 17th Annual International Theatre Festival will start with a dance performance from the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group on Feb. 4, followed on Feb. 5 by a “mask show for children” and on Saturday, an adult-aimed, wordless performance piece at 3 p.m.; Another Day of Partying plays at 8 p.m. Mario Patriz, the writer/director of Another Day of Partying, who will also perform the role of Amanda, will also give a presentation about the on Feb. 4 at Richland College, 12800 Abrams Road, Sabine Hall at 11 a.m. 972-761-6704.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2016.