La Bruja de Texcoco: Empowerment and Trans-Femininity Through Traditional Mexican Music

La Bruja BELatina Latinx Feature

If there are still portals to connect directly with the spirituality of the earth, one of them must undoubtedly be the voice of La Bruja de Texcoco. 

Artist, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and ambassador of the Mexican tradition, La Bruja has a studio album under the title De Brujas, Peteneras y Chachalacas, and is one of the jewels of Latin American music today.

A performer of Mexican folklore — including costumes, flowers, and songs — La Bruja speaks of herself in the third person, and recounts with her velvet voice a journey worthy of Latin American magical realism.

At almost 33, she is now one of the most influential musicians on the Mexico City scene and little by little, like Copal’s smoke, her career is spreading in stories and tunes throughout the continent.

While for many what impresses most about her is her appropriation of the traditional Mexican symbolism in a skirt, a huipil, and a populous beard, her trajectory as a musician and as a change manager — as well as her deep and constant introspection — are really the beating heart of her identity.

An Early Baptism

It was at a party in Texcoco, a town just outside Mexico City, where the man who then called himself Octavio arrived with his traditional mariachi musicians to play at a party. Dressed in a hat and guayabera, he was received by a witch doctor that said, “I was waiting for you. You are a woman.”

Before his surprised eyes, the brujo continued: “Look at your hands, they are a woman’s hands. And you are not just any woman; you are a witch, one of my witches. And you came here for something.” Between smoke and mezcal, the party continued, and after a supernatural experience, Octavio received his new name from the hands of the brujo: La Bruja de Texcoco.

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“At the end of all that, the next day, I remember that we stayed at my friend’s house, and I asked him for his bike because I wanted to go for a ride. Thinking about everything that had happened the night before, it made me reflect on my life story. I realized that I was always blinded to a femininity that was there since I was a child and that for social reasons I did not develop it. I was sure, very sure that what I was doing was wrong. Why? I didn’t know. I just knew it was wrong and that it wasn’t well seen in society.”

La Bruja reflects on the cultural imposition of a society marked by inequality, and returns to her childhood to question herself: “It was only colors, it’s a dress, it’s asking for a doll. It’s details.”

“Then I realized that the Mexican tradition, even though it is a very macho culture and very violent towards women, is also a very rich culture. That is to say, I can call myself a Bruja from a cultural reading crossing this line of magic and tradition that Mexico has with the social. That is to say, I cross that line from the magic and the beliefs and the culture of Mexico; I can name myself as what I want to be.”

“I can call myself a woman, I can call myself a witch,” she adds.

Music Came First

“My dad was a musician,” she says. “Since I was a child I was very used to the theme of the stage, of the party, that music is accompanied by a special moment in people.”

It was thanks to her mother that she began her musical studies at a very young age, in parallel with her formal education. But once she arrived at the university, the weight of self-imposed restrictions was greater.

“Unfortunately they teach us here in Mexico that music, like any art, is a privilege we cannot give ourselves, when it should really be a priority. That’s why I studied for a degree.”

 

But in her 20s, the call to continue making music was stronger. She then tried to enter several professional classical music institutes, where she was rejected, again and again.

“They made me believe that it was too late, they made me believe that I was too old to be a musician when I was barely 20. When I had spent my whole life studying music, when I could read music scores and play various instruments, they told me it was too late,” she added.

“Because my background was classical, orchestra, facing the reality that institutions force you to have a diploma to prove anything, I felt rejected. So I spent three years, literally wasting my time, trying to get into the music education system.”

It was then that she decided to enter the school of Mexican music, where, with the help of harp master Mario Barradas, she found traditional music and a new vocation.

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“I began to enter this world, and I also realized that Mexican music is not learned in schools, you learn by traveling, meeting people, you learn by going to parties, to the fandango, you learn by meeting the real traditional musicians. Because I am only a performer of traditional music, and I interpret it as I perceive it, but I am not a traditional musician.”

Thanks to her travels in the interior of the country — especially in the central, southern, and southeastern part of Mexico — her musical repertoire grew along with her deep knowledge of the traditions and folklore of a country that is reluctant to acknowledge its origins.

But a deep recognition of the light and colors that would frame her transition, once called La Bruja de Texcoco, was also born.

How to Elaborate One’s Femininity

“My process of femininity, of transforming it began when I first noticed it from beliefs I had since I was a child, when my dream was to be a mermaid. I really liked that mythical female figure. If I could go back and tell that child that he could be a mermaid, that he could do whatever he wanted, I would be free.”

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For La Bruja, this is precisely what her process is all about: liberation, breaking the bonds of an education so marked by patterns of yesteryear, freeing oneself from the cultural constructs appropriated during colonization.

“It is from there that I name myself: from these positions that are so limited, from these minorities that people seek to pigeonhole in a way that they believe to be hegemonically correct, and that in the end we human beings are so diverse that any expression is valid.”

Her construction in femininity, as she tells us, is still incomplete: it is a process of search, a process of definition that is interwoven with Mexican tradition, with her clothing, with her music.

“La Bruja also has a political agenda,” she adds, “from the activist side, from the stage, from the family side. It’s like many points from which one must build and deconstruct at the same time.”

Living Femininity in Society

Once her first musical group was established as La Bruja de Texcoco, embracing her femininity in public was a different process and, as she confesses, a little more arduous.

“This new process makes me more visible, I am more exposed socially, something that I used to do maybe hidden, in the intimacy of my house — like putting on a skirt, putting on a huipil or painting my mouth — is something already public, it is something that I am trying to normalize, and above all normalize it from my person, so they can see me in a normal way, that they can see that I am a human being like any other.”

Living in one of the most violent countries and with the highest rate of femicides in the world, being vulnerable, for La Bruja, is not a matter to be taken lightly.

“La Bruja is not just at a concert or on stage, La Bruja is where people want to see her. This is how I build myself, even though I refuse to expose myself to violence or put myself in a risky situation. In the end I try to balance my transition process with a form of education, educating myself and educating people a little bit from music, from the stage, from wherever I feel comfortable.”

“Making a safe space for me is critical,” she adds.

That’s why her presentations are framed in a performatic process, among flowers, actions, and traditional songs.

La Bruja Performance BELatina Latinx

“I never thought I’d make a group and dress up in one fell swoop,” she confesses. “After I was named a Texcoco witch, I started wearing a guayabera with a skirt, then suddenly I was wearing a flower on my head. And suddenly everything exploded: I was wearing very heavy makeup, combing my hair with many flowers, and wearing many huipiles and dresses. From there, I started a process of female empowerment. I felt very different on stage, and that made me want to experience more situations.”

Fluidity as a Language and as a Tradition

Heir to the multiple trans-feminities of Mexican culture, La Bruja honors and gives credit to the Muxes of Juchitán de Zaragoza, the Chuntaes of Chiapa de Corzo, or the Maringuias of the State of Michoacán.

“They are evidence of the trans-feminities of men who tradition has allowed them to be who they want to be,” she says.

However, it has been the post-colonial syncretism that has led to these types of transitions to carnivals, such as the Huasteca carnival, and to various points “where men have been misled because they have become a fundamental part of folklore.”

“Culturally they’re present, but they’re still seen as one of two: part of a culture that respects itself, or also part of the show, where the transvestites are just putting on a show, they’re just doing drag, for example.”

At this point, La Bruja reflects on another porosity of Latin American culture:

“Wanting us as Latin Americans to be blond, and tall… transvestites focus a lot on this western beauty that has been imposed on us since the colony,” she says. “It’s something that also has to change, the femininities are many. I, for example, have a beard, and I’m happy with the body I have, and I don’t plan to change it, and that’s also a symbol of transition and part of my reading of my own femininity.”

However, she is realistic: the lack of education and the weight of religion in societies such as Mexico have protected processes of violence frequently focused against femininity.

“That change can come,” she concludes, “but I don’t intend to wait for it sitting down.”