Wearing a long skirt, headdress and loose blouse embroidered with bright flowers, Mariana de la Noche road on a float in Mexico City's recent gay pride parade. The float was for "muxes," Zapotec indigenous men who dress and behave in ways associated with women.

The 33-year-old restaurant cook was picked as queen of the "muxes" (pronounced MOO-shays) living in Mexico City, where for the first time Saturday they celebrated a "vela," as community parties are known in their hometown of Juchitan, a city of Zapotecs in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Gay men, transvestites and transgender people are generally accepted in Juchitan and often work as home helpers, embroiderers, decorators, cooks and entertainers.

Like Mariana, most of the muxes at her crowning wore Tehuana dresses from the Juchitan area, popularized around the world by Mexican artist Friday Kahlo, along with the region's traditional large gold earrings and necklaces and "resplandor," headdresses made from a starched veil worn around the face like a halo.

It was a party to have fun but also an opportunity to reaffirm the muxes' presence in the capital and celebrate their traditions from back home, said David Kelvin, who organized the event.

"We want to bring the party here, but through the party we want to have a (message) about exercising our rights, of respect, of dignity, of culture," Kelvin said.

The contact between muxes and the gay men from Mexico City has led to the fusion of urban and indigenous cultures, said Kelvin. The gathering was important "to rescue our culture, to rescue who we are and show the rest of the people in this city how we live our sexuality, how we exercise our rights," he said.

According to anthropological studies, some women in Juchitan encourage sons' muxe leanings because they tend to stay home and care for their parents rather than get married.

"Muxes are a blessing from God because they look after you when you are sick more than a woman would," said Vicenta Toledo, who attended the party with her gay son. "They are a very important part of life."