Maggie Van Ostrand
the turn of the 20th Century, a scandal erupted in Mexico City. It
was called "The Famous 41," and occurred on November 17, 1901.
Police raided a private party on La Paz Street and arrested 41 men,
half of whom were dressed as women. Talk about frilly frocks on burly
frames, I've seen wounds dressed better than that. The event was considered
nefarious then, but today, we'd just say, "ÁCarramba! A drag ball.
Men dressing like women might have shocked Mexican society in those
days, but not any more. At the turn of the 21st Century, we fight
for invitations to fiestas like that, parties with a little creative
flair and lots of interesting people bejeweled and bedecked in feathery
Ultimately, who can blame the minority of Mexican men, the ones who
aren't out fighting bulls or their wives, driving a smoking taxi or
a lopsided truck or farming their land with a hoe and a hacksaw, for
wanting to be perceived as women or at least dressing like them?
The shrewd women of Mexico have run things since the beginning of
time. Despite appearances to the contrary, Mexico is a matriarchal
Only the shrewd women of Mexico could steward their families in such
a subtle manner that the men remain totally unaware of who's really
in charge. They believe they are. It's clever to let them think that.
It's also expedient and painless. A Mexican woman's best-kept secret
is how to get what she wants by making the man think it's what he
Of the many lessons I've learned from my inspiring Mexican daughter-in-law,
Keiko, my favorites are how to let a man think he's running the show,
and how to pick the time to make your stand.
When they were buying a refrigerator for their new home and Keiko
had her heart set on one specific model but her husband favored another
not much to her liking, she said nothing. They bought the one he chose.
"Why didn't you insist on getting the one you wanted?" I asked, having
been invited along for the family event.
She replied, "If it makes him happy to have that one, then I am content.
A refrigerator is only a refrigerator."
On the other hand, when it comes to something that is important, she
takes a stand so gentle and so filled with wit and humor, he believes
he changed his mind on his own. Married to her, my son is a fulfilled
and happy man, utterly convinced of his stewardship. It's okay to
brag if it's the truth.
Keiko is as clever and shrewd as many other Mexican women, including
Sor Juana InŽs de la Cruz, a self-taught rebel nun known as "The Mexican
Phoenix," who unleashed a storm of ecclesiastical condemnation with
her scandalous poetry, and still ended up on today's 200 peso bill;
President Porfirio Diaz' first wife, Delfina Ortega y Reyes, who carried
a pistol of gold adorned with Mexico's symbolic snake and eagle and
might've used it to convince Diaz to retire; and actress Dolores
del Rio, who amassed a large fortune with her superior business
Balancing "The Famous 41," we have Frida Kahlo, who in her youth often
dressed as a man without being arrested, and Amaranta G—mez (born
Jorge G—mez) who campaigned in 2003 as Mexico's first transgender
What makes a man manly? It's not how he dresses, it's how well he
listens to a woman.
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
June 15, 2005 column