Why has this Mexican LGBT bookstore soared while U.S. ones close?

*I originally published this piece on Unicorn Booty on February 25, 2015.

Voces en TintaVoces en Tinta is a bookstore, coffee shop, cultural forum and publishing house; all of that in the heart of Zona Rosa,Mexico City’s LGBT neighborhood. Bertha de la Maza, the store’s founder and owner, is clearly excited and proud that they’ve just celebrated their fifth anniversary. While that’s clearly a success, it’s also an anomaly — during that same period, other LGBT-oriented bookshops have closed in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York,Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Spain.

In 2013 alone, the number of independent bookstores in Britain lowered from 1028 to 987. And yet Voces en Tinta sells over a thousand books a month and has 18,000 more in stock with 600 clients every month from Mexico and around the world not to mention their online customers, and Twitter and Facebook followers.

In some ways, Mexico City is more liberal towards LGBT issues than the most U.S. states. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City — with marriages recognized nationwide — since 2009. Local law punishes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in work and public accommodations. And in November 13, 2014, lawmakers approved a bill allowing transgender people to legally change their identity without the need of a medical document.

Yet, as gay political scientist Genaro Lozano calls it, Mexico is still “macho land”: a country where most citizens identify as Catholic, gender roles are strict in familial and professional environments, and hate crimes continue to rank high: according to the organization Letra S, there were 887 homophobic and transphobic homicides between 1995 and 2013 (an average of almost one per week).

We talked to the owner of Voces en Tinta to get a better sense of the store and how it has survived when so many others are closing.

Voces en Tinta2Unicorn Booty: Why did you decide to open a specialized bookstore when the publishing industry seems to be having a rough time?

Bertha de la Maza: I’m 50 years old, and I’ve never heard talks about Mexico being at its economic best or that Mexicans are reading more. Since when I was a child until now, Mexicans haven’t gone beyond reading two or three books on average, per year, per person. So, anytime is good actually to start a business like this. Or anytime is bad.

We had the online store for nine years, people already knew us, looked for us, and started asking for an actual bookstore, a physical space. We anticipated that many people wouldn’t buy these books, because they didn’t even know they existed. The books were usually known only in academic and activism circles. That’s why we decided to start a cultural forum as well, as a way to present books, give exposure to the authors and have an exchange between readers and writers.

What has been the response from the editorial industry, the writers, big publishers and independent ones? Have they reached out to you to help sell their LGBT titles?

Publishing houses have not wanted to open up. They still think LGBT and gender-themed books don’t sell, and that nobody wants them. There’s a lot of prejudice. But the writers and researchers in Mexico have been great, and many of them have decided to invest in actually publishing their work locally.

Do you think Voces en Tinta has played a role in motivating those authors to get out and get published?

Yes. Those who had published before would end up with many of their books at home, using them as table legs or whatever. Now they know there is a place where, while we might not sell them out, they at least have a good chance of getting a return on their investment and using that money for their next work.

Voces en Tinta3

Do you notice people feel afraid to ask you something, or ashamed of coming into the store at all?

Many people walk in with a doubtful attitude. They look at the books we have on one of the main tables, which are mostly LGBT, gender and sexuality-themed, look past them and move on to the novels section. Then they look at them again and move on to another section. Then they become aware that they can ask anything they want.

What about the events you organize? What kind of audience do you have over?

We do a number of activities: book presentations, poetry readings every third Friday night of the month, small-format theatre, small-format concerts with sopranos, pop singers, trova, children music like Cri-Cri, workshops to make alebrijes [folk art sculptures of small and large scale of fantastical creatures], sexuality workshops for children and adults. We also have events to have people meet the writers, talk to them, like our “Have breakfast with your favorite author” series.

How has Voces en Tinta managed to stay in the market considering that books can be found easier and often cheaper on websites like Amazon, and that some readers aren’t buying print books at all but using digital platforms?

Mainly because of the service we provide. People actually want to come back. At Voces en Tinta we’re not saleswomen but bookwomen. We love books, we read, and in that sense we can recommend, advise, accompany the client, be empathic. Another reason is that, pricewise, we compete with big book retailers. Finally, because at Voces en Tinta you can find books that are not elsewhere.

Why is it important to have a space like yours in a rather conservative and machista country?

I am sure that art and culture are the most humane forms of making a revolution. This is our revolution. Voces en Tinta has contributed to the decrease of violence and the increase of harmony in society. How? We promote values of gender equality and respect for diversity. All of our actions and events send a message. Our clients become involved with our programming proposals through their support, opinions, and decisions and they take our events beyond Voces en Tinta to their everyday. I think that our values counter those promoted by a culture of drug traffic, uncertainty, fear, and individualism.

Aleatorio 105: 28 de agosto (audio)

Aquí el audio del programa de radio Aleatorio 105 del 28 de agosto en Reactor 105 con Itzel Aguilar y yo. Hablamos de representación LGBT en medios de comunicación y reinas de belleza lesbianas (Miss España y Miss Irlanda que salieron del clóset). Clic en la imagen para escuchar:

audio 28ago2014

Gracias a John Collalba por grabarlo y subirlo a internet.

#EnContexto: 28 de julio

EnContexto 28jul2014Esta semana ponemos #EnContexto un caso de homofobia en Cuernavaca, el International AIDS Conference en Melbourne, la más reciente orden ejecutiva de Barack Obama y una buena noticia de Facebook en España. Esto en Servicio de Agencia.

Cada lunes pongo #EnContexto información sobre personas LGBT en México y el mundo, noticias y entrevistas. Los invito a hacernos comentarios, críticas, sugerencias de temas o personajes por acá, por Twitter o e@enriquetorremolina.com. ¡Y suscríbanse a nuestro canal de YouTube!

#EnContexto: 14 de julio

Hoy en #EnContexto por Servicio de Agencia tenemos buenas noticias en la ONU y en México, malas en Kiev y Madrid, y una invitación a seguirme en Twitter esta semana con la información que compartiré desde Netroots Nation en Detroit:

Cada lunes en #EnContexto presento información sobre personas LGBT en México y el mundo, noticias y entrevistas. Los invito a hacernos comentarios, críticas, sugerencias de temas o personajes por acá, por TwitterYouTube o a e@enriquetorremolina.com.

Charla Ignasi Millet con el activista Enrique Torre Molina en la Cineteca Nacional

*Conaculta publicó este texto como comunicado no. 506/2014 el 29 de marzo de 2014.

Ignasi aquí y ahoraMás que un documental se trata de un grito de libertad y de verdad; es una muestra de la urgente necesidad de comunicación de la sociedad y la familia; es una enseñanza sobre la vida, sus vueltas y empezar de nuevo; así se refirió sobre el filme el museógrafo y activista Ignasi Millet, protagonista de Ignasi M., durante la charla que sostuvo la noche del viernes 28 de marzo con Enrique Torre Molina, en la Sala 4 Arcady Boytler de la Cineteca Nacional.

Luego de que se presentara en función única y especial el documental del director catalán Ventura Pons, ambos activistas charlaron con el público presente sobre el filme que narra la vida de Millet, quien es seropositivo y se vio obligado a cerrar su empresa debido a la crisis económica española, además de que está a punto de perder su casa hipotecada para tratar de salvar su negocio.

Durante la conversación, el protagonista explicó que si bien el largometraje no aborda como tema principal la homosexualidad y su enfermedad de transmisión sexual, sí es un proyecto activista en favor de la comunidad lésbico gay, frente a la injusticia y desigualdad en torno de ese tema.

“Dejaré de ser activista y luchador hasta que dejen de existir políticas públicas, actitudes humanas y expresiones sociales de rechazo en contra de mi comunidad”, precisó.

Explicó que el documental que compite por el Premio Maguey durante el Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara, se ha presentado en 26 festivales de cine a nivel internacional; por lo que el propio director ha asegurado que se trata de uno de sus trabajos más exitosos y mejor recibidos por los medios y la crítica.

El protagonista, quien es amigo de Pons desde hace 28 años, dijo que el recibimiento positivo por parte del público se debe a que es un collage de historias sobre la lucha y superación de la gente que le rodea, a quien admira por su intento por enfrentar las adversidades que podrían ocurrirle a cualquier persona, sin importar sus preferencias sexuales.

El material aborda distintos temas, desde los que tienen que ver con salud pública, diversidad sexual, religión, la crisis económica española y sus efectos en la cultura del país; de la solidaridad de la gente, de los amigos, de la familia y la sociedad en general.

Millet aseguró que el material surgió con el objeto de motivar a muchas familias al diálogo, a la confianza y el apoyo mutuo, por lo que considera que ha cumplido con el objetivo ya que los espectadores descubren a una familia integrada por un hombre gay y una mujer lesbiana; dos hijos heterosexuales, un abuelo egocéntrico y una abuela que se siente fracasada; todos se comunican y funcionan mejor que muchas otras familias consideradas “normales”.

“Es una familia que se rige por la confianza y la verdad; por el diálogo y la libertad de ser tú mismo, lo que ha hecho que entre nosotros haya una gran amistad, además de los lazos sanguíneos”, exaltó.

Ignasi reconoció que este trabajo le permitió consolidar de manera personal temas como el apoyo familiar y social, pero sobre todo le enseñó que la vida da la oportunidad de volver a empezar, aunque sea de cero para resurgir y reencontrarse consigo mismo.