This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES en Español. Leer en Español.
Legally, she's called Francisco Marven, though the name by which she's known on social media is Lady Tacos de Canasta (Basket Taco Lady). She introduces herself as just Marven. She's 33 years old and lives south of Mexico City. "I'm from a tough neighborhood, but they support me," she says, laughing.
Her official spot was on the Historic Center's Madero Street, but she was moved from that corridor recently, along with the other small business owners who'd set up shop there. Today, this self-made lady is a nomad who rolls the city's streets on her faithful blue bicycle. She also sells her wares in the Centro Médico bazaar in the Roma Sur neighbourhood. I accompanied her to Merced Market, where she acquires the materia prima for her tacos and their salsas.
Walking through the stands, she belts out, "Tacos! Basket tacos, tacos!" while people laugh, whistle, and are surprised by the fact that this tremendous raspy voice—as if she'd long been a hardcore mezcal drinker—comes from a woman whose braids are as big as her smile.
The crowd here isn't biting: The basket remains almost full, even after several turns around the market. We take a break in the Plaza de la Soledad, in front of the church that shares its name. "I like this church because in Oaxaca there's another one with the same name, so every time I come here I remember where I'm from," she tells me as kids play around us.
MUNCHIES: Do you go out selling tacos de canasta every day?
Marven: In the beginning, no, but I do now. I developed a taste for them.
I've heard you sometimes refer to yourself with a feminine pronoun, and other times with a masculine pronoun. Which letter in this whole labyrinth of LGBTQIA do you identify with?
As you say, it's a labyrinth of letters; it's just missing 'chigungunya-parvovirus!' [Laughs]. If you ask me where I find myself in this labyrinth, the only thing I can tell you is that I'm in the happiest place. I can be trans, I can be gay, but above all, I'm an invention because I invented this character. But to stick with one letter? No. That would be like labeling myself. Why put myself in a box in which I don't belong? I'm an explosion of things! If I want to go out one day looking like a bum with a hat and a bun, well, I'll go out that way, and if the next day I want to go out with my eyelashes, makeup, and my braids all done up—well, I like that, too! It's part of my own diversity.
So it doesn't bother you if people refer to you as masculine or feminine?
No! I could care less if you call me Chano or Juana, but what I can't stand is people who are fresh and treat me like their best friend. Because what they don't see is that behind this personality, I'm a motherfucker. But yes, I used to get more annoyed by all this. But now I'm learning that they can call me 'buddy,' 'pal,' 'motherfucker,' or 'faggot,' and it causes me less and less conflict. Let them call me what they want.
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I see that you're proud of your dress, your braids, and your copper-colored skin. Do you consider yourself muxe?
Yes, of course I consider myself muxe. For me, more than a word or label, it's truly belonging to a third gender. I have many muxe friends; I go to many muxe parties, I have my muxe clothing… I'm from there; I love Oaxaca!
What's the most beautiful memory you have of a muxe party?
The first time I went to a muxe party, I showed up in my Flor de Piña (Pineapple Flower) outfit. All of my girlfriends said, 'We have to be beautiful!' And I realized that at the parties there were lots of girls who went to be seen, more with a city-type of clothing. I remember that they even nicknamed me 'Tecla', which is a word for the kind of girl who does domestic work. But those kinds of comments have never affected me. I felt like I was in a dream, dressed in an embroidered huipíl blouse, with my ribbons. And ever since then, each one of my friends who comes here to Mexico City brings me traditional clothing and that's how I began to go out like this—and it's for that reason that the video went viral.
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Who taught you how to prepare the tacos and salsas that have made you so popular?
My parents. My father, above all. They have dedicated themselves to lives as taco vendors, and not just basket tacos. Before, we lived in Ecatepec, but later we realised that tacos sell better in the south and we moved there. I'm going to be honest: I told my parents 'I am never going to sell basket tacos!'
And look how things turned out…
And look what I'm drowning in! Look—it doesn't bother me; I enjoy it a lot. And well, I love to ride my bike, too. To ride here and there, even though it's a long way because I come from University City to Merced Market for things, then to the Jamaica Market for flowers for my hair. I love discovering the whole city, its streets. The city is made for that: To walk, to explore, to discover, and to be unafraid.
How's your day-to-day relationship with your parents now that you're Basket Taco Lady?
Believe it or not, they've dealt with it well. A lot of people think that—when they think of trans girls, they think of a girl who prostitutes herself. In that respect, my parents are chill, because they see that I have a different kind of job. Sometimes when I see those girls, I think, 'I'm going to give you a basket so you can get to work in something else!' But, hey, that's their job; they're doing that because they like it, I think, and so it's not my business to meddle.
What do you love most about your job selling basket tacos?
That I get to meet and interact with all kinds of people. I've had to learn about everything. My parents had this vulgar saying, 'You have to lick your clients' balls,' so you have to know about everything and be able to chitchat. I don't watch soap operas and I don't watch boxing, but I've had to learn about these things to keep up conversation, so that my customer feels taken care of and satisfied. Now I can talk about anything, whether it's a soap opera and makeup, or boxing or soccer.
What do you dream about?
My next dream is to have a storefront to sell basket tacos, and two or three franchises, why not? I've knocked on doors and they've opened, so I have to take advantage of that. It's incredible that I've had the good luck that people have been interested in me as a person, as a public figure, and I know that I have to take advantage of that because it doesn't happen to everyone. You have to know how to be grateful to the people who love you and follow you. To reach my dreams I have work, followers, my bike… I have to take care of myself!
Oh! I also dream of having a home in Oaxaca. My grandmother gave us a little land, so now we just have to build. I'm not in a rush; I think I have enough time and we'll work on it. And God willing, those are things that will happen.
Who do you admire?
Lila Downs, more than anyone. Because she's from the same place, because she's a fighter, and because she helps the indigenous communities of Oaxaca a lot. Because she's a voice to follow. She's a person who, in spite of being an artist, is the same person she has always been.
If Basket Taco Lady was governor or president, what would she do to change things?
Sweet Jesus! Nobody's ever asked me a question like that! But definitely I'd try to help everyone who's busting their ass every day, just like me. I've seen them, and so have you: Sometimes there are no sales. I go home with all my tacos. And politicians don't see that. Thank God I've got enough to eat today, but there are people who, if they don't work a day, they can't eat. I think we have to have more genuine concern about our people.
I hope Mexico keeps moving forward and that the unity we display now as brothers and sisters and as Mexicans, isn't just for today because of the earthquake or tomorrow because of a hurricane, or because a river flooded, but rather, that it's an everyday unity. If we treated each other every day the way we treat each other now in this moment of need, this country would be very, very different.
Just as she finishes saying these words, a young guy who looks like he lives on the street approaches us. "Do you want tacos? They're free! But you have to wash your hands or you won't be able to eat!" she says jokingly. It's not two minutes before the guy spreads the word and a group of people approaches curiously, to see if it's true that the chick on the bike is giving away food. Some even come back for seconds, but she doesn't mind: She doesn't stop sharing, joking, and smiling at them. In exchange, she receives dozens of blessings.
"May God shower blessings upon you," says a man who barely has enough teeth to chew his taco. We stay in front of the Soledad Church, but we're not alone; we feel embraced by a sense of unity that I hope never ends.
"My beloved Soledad, I'm going to fix a taco," Marven says, while she continues to give away tacos and the ribbons in her hair flutter with the breeze.
Follow Pável on Twitter @PaveloRockstar.