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.


Crossing Over: el documental que necesita tu ayuda

Brenda del Río es una mujer transgénero de Michoacán que trabaja en la organización Bienestar en East Los Angeles. En septiembre fuimos compañeros de un encuentro de GLAAD. Es una de las personas más fuertes y honestas que he conocido. Supongo que es el resultado de sobrevivir cirugías, discriminación y el duro proceso de migrar a un país donde no la tienes más fácil necesariamente.

Crossing Over es un documental de Isabel Castro que cuenta las historias de Brenda y otras mujeres como ella. Es un proyecto padrísimo que necesita apoyo para completar su posproducción.

Si estás en Nueva York este viernes 15 de febrero en la noche, acude a la fiesta de lanzamiento de su nueva campaña para reunir fondos en Rabbithole Studios (33 Washington Street, Brooklyn). Parte del dinero de esa noche servirá también para apoyar el trabajo de Immigration Equality, organización que defiende y promueve igualdad para migrantes LGBT en Estados Unidos.

Si no, puedes donar en línea.

crossing over fundraiser invite

Gracias a Donna D’Angelo por la información.


Reflexiones amateur sobre racismo y clasismo en comunidades LGBT

*Este texto se publicó originalmente en The Huffington Post.

El mes pasado estuve en Los Ángeles por primera vez. Fui a la segunda edición del National People of Color Media Institute de GLAAD, un proyecto que la organización lanzó para reunir a personas lesbianas, gays, bisexuales y transgénero de color que trabajan en diferentes temas y comunidades, permitir que compartan sus experiencias, e impulsar su potencial como defensores y voceros de esas comunidades. El objetivo de GLAAD con este instituto y con su programa Voices of Color, a cargo de Daryl Hannah, es que haya más rostros negros, latinos y asiáticos en nuestros diarios, revistas, blogs, programas de radio y televisión. Tuve el honor de ser el primer participante extranjero.

brenda monica enrique

Brenda del Río (Bienestar), Monica Trasandes (GLAAD) y Enrique Torre Molina.

El trabajo que GLAAD ha hecho durante casi 30 años para que los medios sean un espacio más inclusivo con personas LGBT (en Estados Unidos y cada vez más en otros lugares), y para que las historias LGBT tengan más presencia y poder en esos medios, no debe subestimarse. Sin embargo, las personas LGBT de color no tienen suficiente visibilidad en medios tradicionales. Yo diría que ni siquiera en medios LGBT. Veamos, por ejemplo, algunos personajes gays en series de televisión actuales: Louis en Partners, Kurt en Glee, Bryan en The New Normal, Cam y Mitch en Modern Family. Todos hombres blancos.

De acuerdo con el reporte de 2012 Opinión y Discurso Público sobre las Intersecciones de Asuntos LGBT y Raza, publicado por The Opportunity Agenda, los asuntos LGBT tienen pocas menciones en medios latinos en Estados Unidos, aunque la Proposición 8 de California en 2008 detonó una cobertura más amplia de asuntos LGBT en dichos medios. No sorprende, considerando la gran población de latinos en el estado. El reporte también señala que mucha de “la retórica, los insultos y el lenguaje despectivo anti-LGBT encontrados en este monitoreo de medios viene de comentarios de usuarios en línea, no de los medios como tales.” Cuando blogueaba para VivirMexico.com, era común recibir comentarios absurdos y homofóbicos como “Los jotos son una mierda de personas. Los jotos mismos tienen la culpa de que se les discrimine. Su forma de actuar es cagante y llega a ser en ocasiones irrespetuosa. Si son putos me vale madres, que se cojan entre ellos y punto, pero los amanerados me dan asco.”

Me cuesta trabajo traducir a nuestra experiencia en México el concepto de “personas de color” (“people of color“) con el peso y el significado que tiene. Raza y racismo no son temas presentes en los medios, mucho menos en conversaciones diarias fuera de la pantalla. Con frecuencia pensamos en México como una sociedad libre de racismo. Pero la discriminación más fuerte contra personas negras, por ejemplo, no es ignorar esa exclusión sino asumir que no existen aquí, excepto por uno que otro modelo en pasarelas de semanas de la moda. El Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (Conapred) ha investigado y difundido información sobre discriminación contra afrodescendientes. Fuera de eso, son prácticamente invisibles. De acuerdo con Jonathan Orozco, del área de comunicación de Conapred, no hay números oficiales sobre la comunidad afrodescendiente en México. Lo mismo que las personas LGBT, por cierto: no sabemos exactamente cuántos hay, en qué trabajan, dónde viven, etc.

Excepto por un par de piezas periodísticas o documentales sobre los muxes de Oaxaca, no recuerdo haber visto a nadie que sea LGBT e indígena en pantalla. Y no pronostico que suceda pronto, si incluso los cadeneros de algunos bares y antros gays son responsables de dejar fuera a personas con “apariencia indígena”.

He crecido en un contexto privilegiado, tuve un proceso de salir del clóset prácticamente libre de drama, tengo familiares gays y lesbianas, vivo en la única ciudad del país donde puedo casarme con mi novio, y aun así he experimentado una sociedad homofóbica. Apenas puedo imaginarme cómo son las cosas para alguien en el otro extremo del México racista y clasista.

¿Dónde están todas esas caras en las páginas de revistas, en anuncios de sitios de ligue por internet, en programas de televisión? Para un grupo que es blanco de tanta intolerancia, los medios LGBT podemos hacer un mejor trabajo abordando esos otros tipos de discriminación que existen al interior de nuestra comunidad.


An amateur’s reflection on racism, classism within LGBT communities

*This post was originally published on The Huffington Post‘s Gay Voices and Latino Voices.

Last month I was in Los Angeles for the first time. I attended GLAAD’s second edition of the National People of Color Media Institute, an awesome project GLAAD launched to bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people of color working on different issues and in different communities, have them share their experiences, and enhance their potential as advocates and spokespeople for those communities. The aim of GLAAD through this institute and their Voices of Color program, led by Daryl Hannah, is to bring more Black, Latino, and Asian faces to our newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio and television shows. I was honored to be the first non-U.S. resident who participated.

2012-10-10-brendamonicaenrique.jpg

Brenda del Rio from Bienestar, GLAAD’s Monica Trasandes, and Enrique Torre Molina.

The work GLAAD has done to make media a more inclusive space for LGBT people (in the U.S. and increasingly elsewhere), and to make LGBT stories more present and powerful in that media for almost 30 years, cannot be understated. However, LGBT people of color are not visible enough on mainstream media. And I would say not even on LGBT media. Look at, for example, gay characters who are on TV shows right now: Louis on Partners, Kurt on Glee, Bryan on The New Normal, Cam and Mitch on Modern Family. All white guys.

According to The Opportunity Agenda’s Public Opinion and Discourse on the Intersections of LGBT Issues and Race 2012 report, LGBT issues are under-reported in Latino media in the U.S., although California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 drove those media to have a wider coverage of LGBT issues. Not surprising, considering the large population of Latinos in the state. The report also points out that much “of the anti-LGBT rhetoric, slurs, and derogatory language found in this media scan come from users’ online comments, not from the media themselves.” When I blogged for VivirMexico.com, I would often get very homophobic, moronic comments from readers, such as “Fags are shitty people. Fags themselves are to be blamed of being discriminated against. Their attitude is annoying and some times disrespectful. If they’re fags I don’t care. Fuck with each other and that’s it, but the sissy ones are disgusting.”

I have a hard time translating the concept of “people of color” with all its heavy, powerful meaning to our experience in Mexico. Race and racism are not topics present on the media, much less on off-screen daily conversations. We often think of Mexico as a racism-free society. But the strongest form of discrimination against black people, for example, is not ignoring their exclusion but actually thinking there aren’t any here, except for the occasional model on a Mexico City fashion week runway. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred) has done research and spread information on discrimination against people of African descent. Other than that, they are practically invisible. According to Jonathan Orozco, a communication staffer at Conapred, there are no official numbers on the African descent community living in Mexico. Same goes for LGBTs, by the way: we don’t know exactly how many of us are there, working as what, living where, etc.

Except for a couple of pieces or documentaries on the muxes living in Oaxaca, I can’t recall seeing anyone who was LGBT and indigenous on screen. And I don’t foresee it happening any time soon, if even bouncers at some gay bars and clubs are responsible for leaving “indigenous-looking” people out.

Growing up in a privileged background, having a mostly harmless coming-out process, being surrounded by other gays and lesbians in my family, and living in the only city in the country where I can marry my boyfriend has let me experience a homophobic society. I can only imagine what things are like for someone on the other end of racist, classist Mexico.

Where are all those faces in the pages of gay magazines, on the ads of hookup websites, on TV shows? For a group that is such a target of bigotry, we as LGBT media could do a lot better to address those other types of exclusion happening within our community.


Gays latinos de L.A. en DF

Alejandro Aldana, Brian Pacheco y Carlos Gomez son tres chavos latinos gays de Los Ángeles que cuentan su historia en el docudrama Gay Latino L.A.: Coming of age, de Jonathan Menendez.

El Festival Mix de cine LGBT en la Ciudad de México lo incluyó en su programación y será el estreno mundial: lunes 2 de julio a las 18:00 horas en Cine Lido del Centro Cultural Bella Época (también conocido como Librería Rosario Castellanos del FCE), en Tamaulipas 202, colonia Condesa. Al final habrá espacio para preguntas y respuestas con Brian y Jonathan.

Aquí un mensaje de Jonathan:

Y aquí el trailer:

Más información en Twitter, Facebook y el sitio web oficial. Y si quieren ayudar a Brian a cubrir los gastos de su viaje, pueden hacer un donativo en este enlace.


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