Mexico

The Dance of the 41: Mexico's Biggest Gay Secret

On November 17, 1901 in Mexico City, a scandal took place amongst the aristocracy that created a shift in the political and social climate. Police raided a private gala on Calle de la Paz, in which 42 men with a mixture of high-society and lower class were arrested, half of whom were dressed as women. This type of party was not uncommon at the time, however. Many men who lived clandestine, alternative lifestyles, partook in celebrations where cross-dress elegance was the focal point of the affair. Sexual curiosity was a taboo, but it is a type of down low system that created great controversy, especially in a pre-revolutionary Mexico.

There was a difference between this and other balls that had taken place in Mexico, though. On the night of November 17, 1901, political figures were in attendance creating a traction that elevated the raid to national news. It is rumored that the Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, the son-in-law of Mexico’s president Porfirio Díaz, was present and he was known to have led a curious lifestyle, surrounding himself with the lavish beauty of other men.

That night, when 42 men were arrested, Ignacio de la Torre y Mier was released and the presses ran with a story that called 41 men as the culprits for the horrific event. It became known as the 'Nefarious Ball of the 41' and preempted satirical drawings and propaganda by many news outlets, specifically showcasing the work of José Guadalupe Posada, whose creations are internationally known and he is now considered Mexico’s most prominent cartoonist and engraver.

It is not truly known what happened to the famous 41, but it is said that of the alleged 41 men who were detained, half were released because their families sought public clemency while the rest were sent to Yucatán as labor and military support. Prior to the releases and the hard labor, the 41 dandies were forced to wear dresses and made to sweep the streets. They were publicly ridiculed and heckled by the Mexican people while having objects thrown at them.

We do not know the story of the dance of the 41 because it was basically removed from history. A few years after the events took place, a book mentioning the occurrence was written by Eduardo A. Castrejón, but it disappeared from libraries and bookstores, copies were destroyed, and only fragments of the stories in his book remain. For over a century in Mexican culture, the number ‘41’ is negatively associated with homosexuality, and to be called ‘41’ is deemed disrespectful and an insult. Hotels have even avoided the number 41 in numbering their guest rooms! It is a negative legend that spawned from historical events, but there is still much to be learned about the events leading up to and following that infamous night on La Paz street.

Here we are - 116 years later, still battling issues related to sexual identity and trying to educate the world about the perils that surround the LGBTQIA community. Despite the strides we have made in teaching tolerance, hundreds of trans individuals are killed annually and hate crimes still go unreported. We have a long way to go, especially in countries where people are still persecuted, tortured, and killed just for being who they are.

When I first learned about the dance of the 41, I thought, “How has no one done an exposé on this story?” “Why haven’t we learned about this in our history books? Why don’t we use this as fuel for change?” I felt a personal connection to the men who had been targeted in 1901 and who had essentially become sub-human rejects of society. Their story was my story. I took it upon myself to research, learn, and share with anyone and everyone who would listen. As a result of my research, this topic eventually became my MFA thesis and a screenplay that took home an award at the Oaxaca Film Festival. 

During my hunt for information about the dance of the 41, I learned about Honor 41, a non-profit organization based out of Los Angeles that promotes the positive images of Latino/a/x LGBTQ community members as a catalyst for change. When I first came across Honor 41, I was excited to learn that an organization based on a story that I felt so personally connected to existed and was doing the very work I felt equally compelled by. Honor 41 aims to take away the derogatory connection to the number 41 by educating others on LGBTQ history and highlighting our narratives. Like Instinct Magazine, it contributes to society by profiling stories that resonate with the LGBTQ audience and that could possibly, save lives.

Since its founding, Honor 41 publishes an annual list of 41 honorees from around the world that have contributed in some capacity to the LGBTQ community. From doctors to activists to teachers and writers, Honor 41 is doing the work and celebrating our rainbow.

 

 

Honor 41 was founded by Alberto B. Mendoza, who made the organization his mission after also learning about the dance of the 41 when he turned 41. I have had the privilege of working with Alberto and sharing stories on how we are all connected because of the dance of the 41.

Because today is the anniversary of this historic event in LGBTQ history, he shared some thoughts with me for Instinct Magazine:


How did you first hear about ‘The 41’?

I learned about it in April of 2012, a few months before my 41st birthday. I was telling a friend how the number “41” had been haunting me since I was 14yrs when “friends” nicknamed me “41”. I didn’t know it was the equivalent of calling someone gay/maricón in Mexico. Since I lived 5 minutes from the Tijuana/San Diego border it was something these kids knew about. I didn’t, much less did I know the story behind it until I was having dinner with that friend. I told him my experience with “41” and he asked me, “How did those kids know about the story of the 41?” I asked him, “What Story” and then he told me.

Why do you think that the events of 1901 in Mexico City have not been more widely publicized?

For starters, it’s had such a negative stigma for those who got labeled “41” that even asking about it can generate unwanted attention. I also think that since the Mexican Revolution was near, the story got lost…and as a mostly catholic country, I don’t think it was a story that the church, LGBTQ people and others who could be affected wanted out there.

What can we learn from the events that occurred in Mexico City on November 17, 1901?

Unfortunately stories of hunting, persecuting and jailing LGBTQ people have happened for hundreds of years and continue to this day all over the world, just this past summer in Nigeria, 42 “homosexual men” where arrested in a hotel. A similar arrest happened in Uganda the year before that, and just last month in Egypt raids against gays were increased while in Indonesia 51 men were detained for being at a “Gay Spa”. In the US a raid in June 28, 1969 of the Stonewall Inn (a known gay bar) in NYC, is credited for starting the modern US LGBTQ movement when a revolt against police by mostly Drag Queens and Trans women finally had enough. While a lot has been achieved since then in the US, just last year on June 12, 2016 49 people where massacred in a Gay bar in Orlando, FL. So it still continues and probably always will in one way or another.

How did Honor 41 come to be?

I started Honor 41 because for me the labeling of “41” was traumatic experience. When I finally heard the story, it healed me because it somehow confirmed I was not alone and also saw myself in history. I wanted to reclaim “41” as a source of pride, educate others about that moment in our Mexican LGBTQ history and I wanted to find ways to honor the legacy of all Latino LGBTQ people who went un-heard and unseen by celebrating the faces, voices and stories of Latino LGBTQ role models throughout the US. Because as Latino LGBTQ members we are not normally represented in mainstream media, gay media and Latino Media, and when we do it’s not in a positive way, I wanted to fill a void that I believe is still missing. In addition, I wanted to help create role models for us as Latino LGBTQ people. I didn’t have those role models growing up and I wanted other generations that follow to see us and potentially look up to us so they too can have a bright future. I think this is why most of the honorees of the 41 List also agree to share their story, to help others because they didn’t have that support.

What is the goal of Honor 41?

The main goal is positive visibility of who we are, what we are about and about our stories. I want us to define who we are and not wait for others to tell our stories. When I launched Honor 41 as a 501c3 in 2013 personal story telling was not as popular as it is today. Our first project “The 41 List” featured the stories of 41 LGBTQ role models in their own voices in a video interview, to date we have 164 interviews and have featured LGBTQ Latinos from 14 different Latin-American countries, the US and with a balanced representation of all of our community. In many ways I feel Honor 41 has helped contribute to the confidence of all of us that our stories matter and we all have a story to tell. Today, with the popularity of social media platforms and more tools to share and captures one’s personal the awareness and increased support of the Latino LGBTQ community is at an all-time high, but mostly in big cities, so there is more to be done.

How is Honor 41 a catalyst for change?

The bravery of 164 Latino LGBTQ role models sharing their personal stories of coming out, family issues, success and pride have helped empower others to share their stories. In addition the “41” selected each year from across the country form a special bond that connects them and has helped usher new partnerships for activism, business ventures and friendships, ones that may not have happened if not for them connecting thru being on the list. The big contribution I didn’t expect was that parents, teachers, siblings, friends and clergy have been watching the videos of these amazing 164 role models and have often commented, thanking us for sharing the stories that now gives them more confidence their LGBTQ kid, student, cousin and friend will be ok.


So today, on the 116th anniversary of the dance of the 41, how can we look to the past to help us pave a better future? How can we create change so that the realities of those who came before us can be heard and taught? I, for one, am grateful for outlets such as Instinct that provide a platform for LGBTQIA individuals to openly share stories, initiate discourse, and join the movement each and every day. Today, this is how I remember those 41.

New Mexican Documentary Shows Baja California's Fight For Marriage Equality

 Award-Winning documentary "No Dress Code Required" will open theatrically in New York City this coming Friday, November 3 with a national release to follow.

 

Directed by Cristina Herrera Borquez, the film won best documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and was an official selection of both the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and Outfest, LA's annual gay film fest.

The doc follows the story of Victor and Fernando, who run a beauty salon in Baja California, Mexico. For many of their longtime customers they are a lovely gay couple -- until they decided to tie the knot.

Even though the Mexican Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June 2015, the city of Mexicali actively defies their nation's court order, preventing Victor and Fernando from marrying.

"No Dress Code Required" is a powerful, emotional story of two men in love fighting for what they want, learning how people they've come to know and love actually feel -- and enlightening the community in which they live. #DownWithHomophobia

Running time: 91 minutes / Not Rated / In Spanish (with English subtitles)

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Travel Thursday: Guanajuato's Magic, Surrealism and Romance

Travel Thursday: The Magic, Surrealism and Romance of Guanajuato

I recently traveled to the state of Guanajuato in Mexico for a friend’s destination wedding. While many people may imagine of sandy beaches or redwood forests when they think of the ideal destination weddings, Guanajuato, one of the most historic regions in Mexico was one trip I simply could not miss.

Located in the Central region of Mexico, Guanajuato has always been on my bucket list of places to visit because of the richness in culture and history that I knew I would find. It offers incredible architecture, beautiful art, food that even now my mouth waters for, and so much to experience for the traveler who is looking for the authentic Mexican experience in a surreal and magical destination.

There was so much to see, do, eat, drink, enjoy in Guanajuato that it is so hard to share it all. Although we were there with a larger group, my partner and I had already put together an itinerary of things we had to hit on our journey. While I have not included everything here, I’ve given the MUST SEE/DO locations that will make your trip to Guanajuato a fulfilling one.

Food and drink was plentiful so to recount my gastronomical escapades would be eternal. But I will share one or two spots per destination where you can feed your taste buds and wet your whistle.


Guanajuato

Upon arriving to Guanajuato’s capital city, Guanajuato, I was immediately taken aback by the immense colors of homes sitting atop the hills of the town that grew larger as we approached. We drove into the city’s center via Guanajuato’s calles subterráneas (underground streets) that weave in and out of each other and magically transport you through its arteries of passage from one side of the city and opens into the heart of the city’s plaza. Like nothing I had ever seen before, these catacomb-style streets are one of the city’s most iconic sites and are nothing short of an eerie scene from a horror movie. But they’re amazing!

We checked into the Hotel Edelmira Boutique a beautiful hotel situated in Guanajuato’s main plaza that dates back to the nineteenth century. Our group enjoyed the historic architecture mixed with modernity of the hotel’s indoor pool, exposed brick, and incredible sites overlooking Guanajuato’s grandeur.

El Pípila

Located atop a hill overlooking the breathtaking site of all of Guanajuato, this giant statue of a miner who was one of the first heroes in the struggle for Independence. Standing at the foot of this statue really lets you take in the essence of Guanajuato with its rainbow of houses, churches, and tiny roads.

 

 

El Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley)

Without a doubt Guanajuato tapped into our romantic side with its illustrious alleys and colorful streets. But quite possibly the most famous and legendary street in all of Mexico is a tiny alley where two buildings are just less than 5 feet apart from one another. Legend has it that two unfortunate lovers shared a romance that ended in death at the alley. Kissing on the third step of the callejón promises to bring a couple 15 more years of happiness and love. So of course…we had to!

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Mummy Museum of Guanajuato)

This oddity is one of the trip stops that is most popular on any visit to Guanajuato. As we entered this museum, we were immediately overcome by a morbid curiosity turned churning feeling in our stomachs. The dozens of bodies that are now preserved in the museum tell a historic tale of Guanajuato’s government and struggles with class. Spanning over 150 years since the first mummified body was extracted from the Santa Paula Pantheon, this museum will leave you wincing even though you won’t be able to look away.

Museo Casa Diego Rivera

For the art-lovers out there, the home of Mexican painter Diego Rivera is located not far from Guanajuato’s central plaza. We toured Rivera’s childhood home and experienced lots of his early works that were undoubtedly inspired by his hometown.

Eat & Drink

La Clave Azul – Some of the greatest mezcal I have tasted outside of the state of Oaxaca. This hidden gem in Guanajuato is at the end of an alley that becomes a three-story cantina decorated by eclectic artifacts and memorabilia. We drank here until the wee hours of the morning and even closed down the bar. Right before wandering off to the Callejón del Beso.

Enchiladas Mineras (miner enchiladas) – This street food will make you utterly happy! After a long day of touring (or a night of drinking) this twist on regular enchiladas is something typical of Guanajuato and whose name comes from the many silver mines located in the state. Enchiladas smothered in sauce, queso fresco, potatoes, carrots and served with a side of equally delicious chicken. You are bound to find these anywhere while you are in Guanajuato—but the best places are called fondas, which is a restaurant right out of people’s homes. Don’t be afraid! This is some of the best food around and at a very small fraction of what you would pay at a regular restaurant. If you can get some recommendations from locals or your hotel, take them up on their suggestions. You’ll be dreaming about those enchiladas for months to come.


Dolores Hidalgo

On a day trip toward San Miguel de Allende, we stopped at the town of Dolores Hidalgo which is known to be the town where the battle for Mexican independence was born. Here is where the famous Mexican cry for independence was first shouted by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla—a shout that is often heard in regional music from Mexico.

Tumba de José Alfredo Jimenez (Resting Place of José Alfredo Jimenez)

Prior to reaching the town’s plaza, we arrived at resting place of José Alfredo Jimenez, who is the godfather of Mariachi music. Hundreds of people gathered the colorful sarape mosaic to pay their respects to the man who gave birth to a Mexico’s most popular genre of music. Believe me, it’s like what Graceland is for Elvis fans.

Plaza Principal – Jardín del Grande Hidalgo (Main Plaza)

Dolores Hidalgo is one of Mexico’s primary producers of ceramics, which we saw in every single storefront. These hand-painted pieces of art

Around the town’s central plaza we were welcomed by homemade ice cream vendors that offered unconventional flavors. Flavors such as butter, cactus, beer, tequila, avocado, shrimp cocktail and more--this definitely is not your typical Baskin Robbins.

Eat & Drink

Nieves (Ice Cream) – Anywhere around the main plaza in Dolores Hidalgo you will find these vendedores de nieves (ice cream vendors) where you will have your pick some obscure ice cream flavors. This is the livelihood of these vendors and they take pride in making visitors smile. Take advantage of the endless samples they provide and try yours in a cup or in a cone.


San Miguel de Allende

A great appeal to traveling to Guanajuato for me was the possibility of visiting San Miguel de Allende. This colonial-era city is known for its vibrant cobblestoned plaza, baroque Spanish architecture, colorful artwork, lush parks and some of the finest dining in Mexico. Just this year, San Miguel de Allende was voted the Best City in the World by Travel + Leisure. But before all the hype, this city had been on my bucket list because of the bohemian lifestyle that ex-patriots find endearing. Many foreigners travel to San Miguel de Allende and decide never to leave because they fall in love with the city’s charm. While there are many foreigners inhabiting San Miguel de Allende and essentially gentrifying neighborhoods and businesses, you need to venture out into the city to see the magic and witness the surrealism of the architecture.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

This hauntingly stunning baroque-style cathedral is the focal point of San Miguel de Allende as it broods before the city’s central plaza. The pink hues church’s towers are iconic around the world. A must see stop on a trip to San Miguel de Allende, this church dates back to the late 19th century. Whether from afar or close up, the neo-gothic parroquia makes for a perfect backdrop for your travel photo album or Instagram (no filters needed – cuz if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it!)

Biblioteca Pública (Public Library)

None of my trips are complete without visiting at least ONE library—what can I say? It’s a librarian’s dream! After walking around for over an hour hitting itinerary spots, I couldn’t help making a B-line for the Biblioteca Pública. The library is located at the converted 18th Century Convent of Santa Ana (even cooler!) and has incredible reading rooms with murals touching every inch of the ceilings. The library has a café and bookstore and serves as a community center for the foreigners who have become residents of San Miguel de Allende. The library was started in 1954 by a Canadian, Helen Wale, who wanted to bring books and literacy to the children of San Miguel de Allende…and over six decades later I got to geek out in all its glory.

La Esquina: Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano (The Corner: Museum of Popular Mexican Toys)

Located on a converted building on a corner (for which it gets its name) is a museum dedicated to the traditional toys of Mexico. From masks from the turn of the century to the modern-day curiosities, La Esquina provides a historical and beautifully artistic look at the craft of toy-making. Each gallery space is setup to feature toys by theme which include toys around the regions of Mexico, friendship, play kitchens, playing house, fairs and carnivals and more. This was a quick stop in our trip to San Miguel de Allende, but I quickly reverted to an 8-year-old version of myself when I saw the life-sized luchadores (wrestlers) taking up a corner of the museum. La Esquina is just another aspect of the whimsy that you will find in San Miguel de Allende.

Eat & Drink

San Agustín Chocolates & Churros (Do I need to translate this one?!) – If you’re looking to fill that sweet tooth, this café specializes in churros and other confections. It’s a great sign when you see a long line out the door—don’t run away! It is worth the 10-15 minute wait. When you’re ready to order, I suggest you try their combination order and try a churro filled with chocolate, cajeta (caramel), or condensed milk. You’ll thank me later!


León

After a weeklong of incredible adventures exploring the romance, mystery, magic and surrealism of Guanajuato, we arrived in the city of León, the state’s largest city. León, whose name means ‘Lion’, is the state’s (and possibly the country’s) largest producer of leather goods and most populous. This leg of the trip to León resulted in a different experience. We checked into the Hotel NH Collection León Expo, a recently constructed, modern hotel full of amenities that our group really enjoyed—including breakfast every morning, a spa, and a pool that I’m sure we would have enjoyed had it been in full repair. While we had spent lots of time exploring rural and traditional areas of the state of Guanajuato, León provided a more urban, bustling and thriving city.

Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms)

Like many of the plazas you will find around Mexican towns, the Plaza de Armas in León is the watering hole experience. Couples, families and people of all ages gather to enjoy ice cream, food, and entertainment. The Plaza de Armas is located right before Municipal Presidency Hall of León where outside of its front doors clown performers entertain children and laughter ensues in the afternoons.

Arco Triunfal de la Calzada de los Héroes (Triumphant Arch of the Heroes)

Constructed in 1883, this arch symbolizes the pride of the people of León. It is dedicated to the heroes of the Mexican independence. Atop the arch is the statue of a mighty lion which welcomes all who visit the arch to the zona centro, the city’s downtown area. The arch, reminiscent of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is a focal point of the city and the most visited location in León. Fountains and a tree-lined promenade make for memorable pictures and Instagram posts.

Zona Piel (Leather Zone)

No, it’s not what you think! While León is the highest producer of leather items in Mexico, you won’t find EVERYTHING leather there—but you can find just about everything. From shoes to wallets to bags to hats and jackets—everything is crafted in the state of Guanajuato and is way more affordable than anything in the states. I spent an afternoon browsing around shops and ended up picking up some gifts—haggling is pretty fun!

Eat & Drink

Panteón Taurino (Taurus Cemetery) - If you eat ANYWHERE in the city of León you have to try Panteón Taurino. This restaurant resembles a bull ring where the images of deceased bullfighters decorate the walls, bullfighting is on the televisions, and the tables are tombstones with defunct the names of bullfighters. While you wait for your beer or parrillada (personal barbecue) you will witness the servers jump on the bar and simulate a bullfight that commands audience applause and participation. This restaurant is a staple in the city of León and located just outside of the zona centro.


Like I mentioned—there is so much I could have included here about travel to Guanajuato, but from what I have shared are some of my favorites moments and places of this trip. The greatest thing about this trip, however, was that we went with a group of people who were easy going, fun, and up for exploring. We met some great people on this trip that we would like to travel with again. Without those memories, Guanajuato would have not been the same. So find yourself a group of friends who are up for some city exploration and take yourselves to the city of magic, legends, and mummies and I dare you to not fall in love.