On this date Mexico City police raided an affluent drag ball, arresting 42 cross-dressed men. But one was released, supposedly a close relative to President Porfirio Díaz. The resulting scandal, known as the DANCE OF THE 41 MARICONES, received massive press coverage. The press was keen to report the incident, in spite of the government’s efforts to hush it up, since the participants belonged to the upper echelons of society. The list of the detainees was never published.
On Sunday night, at a house on the fourth block of Calle la Paz, the police burst into a dance attended by 41 unaccompanied men wearing women’s clothes. Among those individuals were some of the dandies seen every day on Calle Plateros. They were wearing elegant ladies’ dresses, wigs, false breasts, earrings, embroidered slippers, and their faces were painted with highlighted eyes and rosy cheeks. When the news reached the street, all forms of comments were made and the behavior of those individuals was subjected to censure. We refrain from giving our readers further details because they are exceedingly disgusting. —Contemporary press report.
A rumor, neither confirmed nor denied, soon emerged, claiming that there were in reality 42 participants, with the forty-second being Ignacio de la Torre, Porfirio Díaz’s son-in-law, who was allowed to escape. Although the raid was illegal and completely arbitrary, the 41 were convicted and conscripted into the army and sent to Yucatán where the Caste War was still being fought:
The derelicts, petty thieves, and cross-dressers sent to Yucatán are not in the battalions of the Army fighting against the Maya Indians, but have been assigned to public works in the towns retaken from the common enemy of civilization. —El Popular, 25 November 1901
In 1901 there was a similar raid on a group of Lesbians in Santa María, but that incident received far less attention.
As a result of the scandal, the numbers 41 and 42 were adopted by Mexican popular parlance to refer to homosexuality, with 42 reserved for passive homosexuals. The incident and the numbers were spread through press reports, but also through engravings, satires, plays, literature, and paintings; in recent years, they have even appeared on television, in the historical telenovela El vuelo del águila, first broadcast by Televisa in 1994. In 1906 Eduardo A. Castrejón published a book titled Los cuarenta y uno. Novela crítico-social. José Guadalupe Posada’s engravings alluding to the affair are famous, and were frequently published alongside satirical verses.
Such was the impact of the affair that the number 41 became taboo, as described by the essayist Francisco L. Urquizo:
“In Mexico, the number 41 has no validity and is offensive… The influence of this tradition is so strong that even officialdom ignores the number 41. No division, regiment, or battalion of the army is given the number 41. From 40 they progress directly to 42. No payroll has a number 41. Municipal records show no houses with the number 41; if this cannot be avoided, 40 bis is used. No hotel or hospital has a room 41. Nobody celebrates their 41st birthday, going straight from 40 to 42. No vehicle is assigned a number plate with 41, and no police officer will accept a badge with that number.” —Francisco L. Urquizo