Pedro Martinez (L) braids the hair of a friend dressed in the traditional costume of a Zapotec woman in Juchitan. (Reuters)

Mexico is still reeling from Thursday's earthquake, which killed at least 32 people and reduced hundreds of buildings to rubble.

The magnitude 8.1 quake was felt across the country's Pacific coast. But of course, some areas were hit much more severely than others. One of the places that has suffered most is Juchitan in the state of Oaxaca. At least 17 people have been killed there. Entire streets have been turned into rubble; the town's white city hall has been reduced to debris.

Juchitan plays a special role in Mexico. The city of 100,000 is home to the country's indigenous Zapotec people, who run a matriarchal society. "Juchitan women run the economy, and they know how to manage their finances. Men, whether they are farm hands or factory workers, hand their earnings over to the women so that they can distribute money in the home. If a man wants to buy cigarettes or go out and get drunk, he gets money from the woman of the household. Women decide everything in Juchitan. Even physically," photographer Graciela Iturbide told Jordan Elgrably a few years ago. "The Juchitan men are often smaller and skinnier than their women, who are taller and wider than they are."

(Iturbide has been reporting on Juchitan since the 1980s.)

Many of the city's men work as fishermen or farmhands, which leaves women to run the market. That economic freedom translates to social freedom. "Women here don’t need men to go out and dance, drink, or smoke, because we’re the ones earning the money," Xóchitl Vicente, a Oaxacan state public education adviser, told Fusion.

"Women are public figures here," Marina Meneses, a sociologist and Juchitan resident, told the Los Angeles Times. "Women are the main organizers."


Soldiers remove debris from a partly collapsed municipal building after the earthquake in Juchitan. (AP Photo/Luis Alberto Cruz)

 


Evacuated patients lie on their hospital beds shaded by a tree, in the aftermath of the massive earthquake, in Juchitan. (AP Photo/Luis Alberto Cruz)

The Zapotecs' unusual outlook is folded into the city's fabric in other ways, too. Juchitan is home to a sizable group of "muxes," a term that describes the community of gay men who date heterosexual men while dressing as women. According to Fusion, the community dates back at least to the 1950s and probably much further. "They are different from the American trans movement and not really part of the larger global LGBTQ community," Fusion explains. "The muxe tradition is local and indigenous, and its own thing."

"They say God gave St. Ferrer a bag of muxes to spread across Mexico and the entire continent. But upon arriving in Juchitán, the bag broke and he spilled them all,” Marluu Ferretti told Fusion.

Juchitan is famous for its fiesta culture, and locals throw several parties a year, some of which celebrate sexual diversity. At these events, the women dance and recite erotic poetry; the men drink.

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit the southern coast of Mexico, killing dozens. Mexico President Nieto said it was the biggest quake in 100 years. (Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)

As the city begins to rebuild, it might be worth recalling the words of Mexican writer Andres Henestrosa. "Juchitecas have no inhibition, there is nothing they can’t say nor anything they can’t do. The Juchiteca has no shame; in Zapotec there are no bad words."