“Who does the corner belong to?” Rebecca Alejandra Lopez yelled to a crowd of a few hundred women marching down a busy commercial street in Mexico City during a May Day demonstration.
“Those who work it!” they replied in unison. Many of them wore cabaret masks over their eyes and surgical masks over their mouths.
The call-and-response — adapted from an old campesino phrase about land reclamation popularized by the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata — was meant to highlight the rights of sex workers who make a living on the corners of some of Mexico’s grittiest neighborhoods.
Lopez was born in Tampa, Florida, to a Mexican mother and a Honduran father. She moved to Mexico City as a child, and started her career in sex work when she was 11 years old. She eventually found her way to La Merced, home of the city’s largest public market as well as its largest red light district.
One day, members of la Brigada Callejera (“the Streetwalkers Brigade”) approached her to offer STD exams and gynecological and dental services for free. When she learned that la Brigada Callejera didn’t just offer medical services but also fought for the rights of sex workers, she joined.
VICE News asked Lopez why she and the others were marching.
“I just want them to stop fucking with us,” she replied bluntly.
She was referring to Mexico’s government, which has an abysmal record combating human trafficking. The country’s National Human Rights Commission recently created a special program to address the problem, which affects unspecified thousands of victims every year.
Lopez emphasized that, contrary to popular belief, she and the other marchers were in the sex trade of their own free will.
Inflation has caused Mexico’s minimum wage to decrease over the years, and many of the country’s citizens have turned to the streetwalking sector to make ends meet.