In this story: hair, Lacy Redway; makeup, Rebecca Restrepo using Dior Forever Foundation. Grooming, Kumi Craig. It’s a sunny February afternoon at the heart of Mexico City, and in the plaza outside the Bellas Artes concert hall, a few dozen women have spread their wares across vivid cloths. Purple and kelly-green bandanas, symbols of Latin America’s anti-gender violence and abortion rights movements, wreath the women’s necks. They are young and old, teens and grandmothers, college students, activists, and professionals. Some sport tattoos and green hair. Others sheath their faces in black balaclavas. One woman nurses a baby; another plies wires into intricate loops to add to her inventory of handmade jewelry. They sell crystals and beaded hummingbirds, colorful socks and intricately carved pipes.
Across the street, a massive pink female symbol looms over another group of women who tend similar displays. It is one of the “antimonumentas”—an anti-monument—and here, on one of the busiest intersections in all of Latin America, it pays homage to Mexico’s victims of femicide. The police eye the women from a distance. The gathering may appear innocuous, but each day that the group occupies the space represents a tiny victory. They are the Mercadita Feminista, the feminist market, part of a movement that emerged out of the convergence of COVID-19-related job loss and a long uptick in violence against women in Mexico. In order to sell here—and in the metro stations, where the Mercadita began—they have been arrested, threatened, beaten, and extorted, sometimes by police, sometimes by street-vendor corruption networks, sometimes both at once. But the women insist on their right to sell, because the Mercadita isn’t just a market: It’s a protest.
But several months into the pandemic, the police began arresting and confiscating the women’s goods. Selling in the metro is technically illegal, but plenty of people sidestep the law by bribing officials to maintain their territory. The established vendors didn’t like the fact that the newly arrived women were infringing on their space. The arrests grew more frequent. The women who’d just begun to eke out an income found their livelihoods threatened again—this time by the police. One September day in Metro Chabacano, a bustling station where three different subway lines cross, the women had had enough. Dressed in black balaclavas and armed with megaphones, they burst into the station, spray-painted feminist slogans across the walls, and created a bonfire in the middle of the tile esplanade.
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