Today at LA68 Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska, there is a screening I wish I could attend. It’s a documentary called “Oasis,” by Alejandro Cárdenas, who according to Radio Netherlands, arrived in Yucatán in 2006 following a potential story about Zapatistas. Instead, he came across the Oasis de San Juan de Dios, and AIDS shelter in the small village of Conkal, 16 kilometers northeast of Mérida. Not to be confused with the Oasis drug and alcohol rehab center in Mérida, this bare-bones
hostel shelter has no doctors or nurses. “The patient who is the least ill takes care of the others,” says Cárdenas. I first heard of Oasis when the polo grounds held a fundraiser for them. Other than that, I know almost nothing about the place.
The film follows three indigenous Mayans who are gay, have AIDS, and have dealt with rejection from their families. “Their stories are also of poverty and of love,” according to Radio Netherlands, one of the few sources of information I have found on this film. The interview gripped me at this point:
The three live in a small village where people are particularly intolerant of gays and lesbians. “The way homosexuals are treated in Yucatan communities is particularly bad”, explains Cárdenas. It’s even worse than in the rest of Mexico, which has the second highest level of hate crimes in the world.
I thought we were moving to a place of tolerance, kindness and tranquility. That’s certainly the picture painted for prospective expats. It is possible that both portraits are true? I think it is, and I’m sure I’ll never wrap my head around the contradictions. These stories of misery are a reminder that acceptance and tolerance are not to be taken for granted.
Mérida is very gay, but it’s not the Castro. Still, there’s at least one gay cantina near the main square, one or two bathhouses, and an annual gay pride celebration. Once on 62, we saw a young guy browsing online profiles of other guys from his laptop in a coffee shop, apparently unashamed and making no attempt to conceal his search. Drag shows have moved from the periphery of town to El Teatro Merida and at a club next to the Doubletree. Can I take these as signs of progress and hope? I mean, I’ve never heard before that the peninsula was actually worse in this regards than the rest of México, and I’m shaken to hear how such an undogmatic country rates in hate crimes. This, in a country whose supreme court recently removed free-speech protection from anti-gay slurs.
The documentary trailer inspired this short film by Finnish photographer Meeri Koutaniemi. I’d really like to see the movie that inspired such a powerful, tragic portrait of this 40-year-old man who is “king” by day as a cook, and “queen” by night as a transvestite sex worker.
If anyone reading this gets to see the screening tonight, please leave a comment and let us know what you thought!