The tale of Casa Xochiquetzal

Womenchapter Desk:

After years of working the streets of Mexico City, Carmen Munoz wondered what happened to sex workers like her when they got old – so she campaigned to set up a retirement home.

Few people consider what happens to sex workers who age out of the world’s oldest profession. In Mexico City, many of them find refuge at Casa Xochiquetzal, a retirement home for women just like them. It is the brainchild of Carmen Munoz.

Luchita, a resident of Casa Xochiquetzal, puts on make-up in her bedroom at the shelter

Carmen Munoz was 22 , illiterate and a mother of 7 children when she joined the trade.

She had come to the city looking for work and had been told that the priest at the Santa Teresa la Nueva Church sometimes found jobs for domestic workers. “He only told me that there was tons of work, and to look for it around the area,” she recalls. “I left crying because it hurt me deeply to hear the priest talk that way.”

At that moment a woman approached Munoz to console her.

“She said to me: ‘That man over there says he’ll give you 1,000 pesos if you go with him,'” Munoz remembers. At the time it seemed a fortune, although at today’s exchange rate – taking into account a 1993 revaluation when one new peso was valued at 1,000 old pesos – it is barely five US cents.

“I said: ‘I’ve never seen 1,000 pesos all in one place – where am I going with him?’

“She said: ‘To a room.’ And I said: ‘A room? How will I know what work to do?’

“‘No!’ she said: ‘You don’t understand, to a hotel.’

“I asked: ‘What’s a hotel?'”

The woman told her bluntly what she would have to do.

When Munoz understood, she was shocked.

“Oh senorita no, no, not that!” she said.

But the woman replied: “You prefer to give it to your husband who doesn’t even provide enough money for soap to wash, than to give it to others who will provide for your children?”

Feeling desperate, she went with the man. He gave her the 1,000 pesos as promised but said he wanted nothing in return. He didn’t want to exploit her desperation, he said, and as she cried he pressed the money into her hand.

Perhaps he knew she would be back.

The following day, Munoz’s despair had turned into defiance. She returned to the same corner in Plaza Loreto thinking to herself: “From now on, my children won’t go hungry any more.”

For the next 40 years she made her living as a sex worker on the corners of the Plaza and surrounding streets.

“When I first entered sex work I was dazzled by the money,” says Munoz. “I realised I had worth, that someone would pay to be with me, when the father of my children told me that I was worth nothing and that I was very ugly.”

But working on the streets took its toll. Both the authorities and pimps demanded money. Beatings and sexual harassment were common, and she became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Yet, despite all this, she is grateful.

“Thanks to sex work I was able to take care of my kids and provide them with a roof over their heads – a dignified place to live,” she says.

And years later, she was able to provide a home for others too.


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