For centuries, the women of southern Oaxaca, Mexico — aka the Juchitan — have stimulated myths that conjure notions of Eden and the existence of a matriarchal utopia. Determined to crack open the reality beneath the region’s fanciful aura, documentary filmmakers Maureen Gosling and Ellen Osbourne immersed themselves in Juchitan society so as to project a more realistic picture on-screen. But even the weight of reality can’t dull the Zapotec women’s reputation.
“Women light up the streets like flowers, but if you cross them, they’ll cuss you out,” a local says it like it is. Women of all ages adorn the streets with the colors of their elaborate traditional vests: fuchsia, orange, rose-red, etc. embroidered on black velvet, overtop a full skirt that flows to the ground. Their dress is a symbol of power, connecting them to the earth and sun, but it’s also a mirror image of their self-assured strength.
Both the Juchitecan men and women describe how they see themselves in their own words. Patriarchy, and/ or industrialization never took hold in Juchitan. It’s not that women dominate the society so much as that they’ve maintained their sense of dignity and security: “Having a child here is valued and we enjoy it.”
Women run the market — men fish and farm. Their activities are distinct from, yet complement, each other and are viewed as equal: “In the same way that a man can support a family, a woman can as well, because she has a valuable job.”
Women also administrate. They handle all the household financial planning because “When men run around with money in their pockets, they get ideas, or they meet up with friends. They waste money.”
Zapotec women thrive through a sense of community and accomplishment, with an intact sense of self and a constant flow of support from bonding together. They have little to no envy of First World life styles and corporations that don’t respect natural resources, culture or spirituality, and which promote a sense of isolation: “There are women who don’t work, but they suffer in life.”
Maybe the Juchitan is Eden, or the closest thing Earth has to it, a Third World Shangri-la where pride in your work — therefore, satisfaction with yourself — is the elixir of life that beatifies far beyond Botox and Max Factor.
Take Blossoms of Fire as an alternative to working for the money middleman. In it we see a people and a way of life more balanced and directly connected to the maternal earth source of us all.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Director Maureen Gosling introduces the film and leads a post-screening Q&A. Call 313-833-3237.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].