Displaying the clothing, festivals and stories of muxe people, Carolina Tieppo ’24 delivered her Brace Student Fellow Presentation titled “Les Muxes: How a ‘Third Gender’ Practices Self-Love in Latin America” on Monday, November 7. Muxe people—a category which includes transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary identities—have historically lived in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Tieppo’s presentation explored the resistance of the muxe people to systems of gendered oppression in Latin America.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Tieppo shared how her presentation developed. Originally wanting to research gender neutrality in the traditionally gendered Spanish language, Tieppo changed her mind when she connected with Yasmine Allen, Instructor in Spanish. Inspired by a slide from Allen’s MLK presentation last year on gender neutrality, Tieppo decided to do research on muxe people with Allen as her Brace Student Fellow Advisor.
“I wanted to take [the topic] further and also explore [muxe] identity in the context of Latin America and toxic masculinity or ‘machismo’ in Latin America and also, marianismo, which are expectations for cisgender women in Latin America that [are] built off of machismo [as a way] to uphold machismo. I got all these little bits and pieces together and it turned into my Brace research. I submitted a proposal in the spring … and now I’m here,” said Tieppo.
Tieppo immersed the audience in the stories and lives of muxe people, including the discrimination they face and how they persist in the face of oppression. Tieppo began her presentation by sharing the story of Mistica, a muxe person from Juchitán who was disowned by their family, debunking the popular misconception of Isthmus of Tehuantepec as a “queer paradise” and highlighting the discrimination that is still prevalent in the community.
“Anyone who reads about the Vela de las Intrepidas watches a video on it or even goes to Juchitán to see the event in person, would think that Isthmus is a ‘queer paradise.’ However the promotion of toxic, traditional ideas in Isthmus society proves otherwise…The act of restricting muxes to masculine clothing and hairstyles is present not only in home life but also in work life. … Although muxe folks are accepted by a large part of the Isthmus population, some muxes claim that they would no longer be accepted if they established a public romantic relationship, especially if that relationship was with a man,” said Tieppo during her presentation.
Tina Phan ’26, who had never heard of the term “muxe” before attending Tieppo’s presentation, reflected on learning about the discrimination muxe people faced. According to Phan, the new awareness she gained from the event motivates her to continue working for the inclusion of muxe and other gender non-conforming people.
“We have a lot of work to do towards allowing groups like the muxe people to be able to live the way that they identify without having to conform to these expectations of who they are, such as working hard but also being very family and home oriented. I think that my biggest takeaway is we have work to do,” said Phan.
Attendee Victoria Ortiz ’23 related to the concepts of machismo and marianismo, stating that she appreciated learning more about the background and development of gender norms. Ortiz felt Tieppo’s presentation would empower people to resist restrictive social constructs such as machismo in their own lives.
“I obviously have grown up in a Latinx family and am Latinx, so the idea of machismo has always been there. I think learning about why it’s so prevalent really put words to something that me and a lot of friends have dealt with our whole lives. Obviously, you grow up knowing what machismo is, but I think having the history behind that, I was able to understand…where machismo came from, and why it’s so prevalent. I think that information can definitely equip everyone to better combat it, rather than it just being a concept that people think about,” said Ortiz.
Tieppo’s faculty advisor Yasmine Allen, praised her ability to authentically represent muxe culture and people. Working with Tieppo in the classroom and on her presentation, Allen described her admiration for students when they assert their authentic identities.
“This past year learning from my students [who are] living their full truth and living their authentic lives is so freeing and I think that, viewing that through the lens of muxe people, allowing yourself to be who you are and being true to yourself is the most important thing that I’d like the audience to get out of [the presentation],” said Allen.
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