“We wanted to create a space where everyone is welcomed independent of their sexual orientation, gender, race, or socioeconomic situation,” says Diana Torres, co-founder of Mexico City queer hangout La Cañita Marisquería. “And we have achieved that, in many senses.”
That’s a big statement, and she’s not wrong. La Cañita is a sweaty, exuberant, queer-run corner of a vast city. But its small paradise is currently threatened. In the wake of a homophobic physical attack that left some of its employees injured, its property damaged, and many sales lost, La Cañita needs to bounce back financially. The team is holding a block party fundraiser on June 9 for its Mexico City community, and a crowdfunding campaign for those in other parts in the world who think it’s important that CDMX queers have a place to gather, eat a shrimp tostada, drink a mezcal, and dance.
The house specialty of La Cañita is the cevichela. It’s a two-beer michelada in a big plastic cup, topped by a perfectly shaped track filled with ceviche modeled on the recipes of Veracruz, the home state of its other co-founder Ali Gua Gua. The fish juice drips into the beer through the hole for your straw – culinary engineering at its finest.
Powered only partly by the reliably delicious menu, La Cañita has become an institution in a relatively short amount of time. In December of 2017, Torres and her partner Ali Gua Gua opened the doors of the small restaurant and bar in Colonia Doctores, a down-to-earth, central neighborhood where Ali had lived for years. Doctores is not known as destination restaurant territory, and it’s far from your standard queer tourist foot traffic. “What we always wanted was a place where we could be comfortable without excluding or judging anyone,” Torres says.
Perhaps it’s due to the queer-heavy staff, but the place has an inclusive vibe that’s unlike many spaces in Mexico City — or even the world, given the rapidly disappearing oasis that is the global lesbian bar. At any rate; “It’s lovely that the few machos who come in figure out quickly that inside this space, they don’t have the power,” Torres continues.
Here, the sense of community is tangible, colorful, literally stuck to the striped walls around your table. La Cañita makes sticker flyers for its events, so on seemingly every surface hangs evidence of past good times. Like the nights the tiny DJ booth featured ’90s club star DJ Chedraui, cumbia crew Sonido Apokalitzin, or some of the city’s current DJ meat who play here on a regular basis; DJ Bruja Prieta (f.k.a. La Travieza) and La Mendoza of the House of Mamis, NAAFI’s Tayhana and Mexican Jihad, Aries Hand Model, and the Cyberwitches’ Baby Bruise, for example, all spun at the space’s one year anniversary party in December.
Gua Gua and Torres are uniquely qualified to create a magical point of encounter. Ali has been a member of bands like the Ultrasónicas and the Kumbia Queers and founded the Mexico City all-women hip-hop event series All The Ladies. Torres is best-known for her work as post-pornography author and performance artist La Pornoterrorista, and the two have been seminal members of the infamous DF queer house and venue Casa Gomorra. Between them, it sometimes seem like they know every artist and indie musician in Latin America — a definite plus for La Cañita’s programming breadth.
But on May 3, that sense that everyone at La Cañita was in it together was shattered. After a group of men who live nearby became visibly intoxicated, one of them got upset over being refused another free beer. According to Torres, the man told her she could have sex with him, or that they’d damage the restaurant. She declined both options. The men got physical; glassware and liquor bottles were smashed, members of the staff had to get stitches for deep cuts they incurred, and one had their nose broken. Later that night, the aggressors returned and set fire to the store’s awning, which thankfully did not spread past the ruined palm frond shade and the restaurant’s facade.
The experience left the La Cañita team shaken. They had to shut down for weeks, a serious financial burden on a staff who had already suffered a lot.
But the truth is, they have few other options but to keep on going. “We’ve invested much more than money in this project,” says Torres. “La Cañita is really important, not just to us and the people who economically depend on the business, but for many people who simply do not feel comfortable going out to other places.”
And so, they’ve hatched a plan. The GoFundMe page, where they’ve laid out all the triumphs and heartache of recent events, and a block party in front of La Cañita on Sunday — Cañita Fest, it’s called. The open air lineup is stacked; Oaxacan rapper Mare Advertencia Lirika, psychedelic marimba and salsa groups, and a screening of the Mexico City sonidero documentary Yo No Soy Guapo, all hosted by drag queen Dolores Black.
The day promises to be a touching showing of the importance La Cañita has to a broad swatch of chilangos. “The support people have shown has been incredibly supportive,” says Gua Gua. “We know that we are not alone and that we’re going to make it happen — that’s what’s motivating us to keep going.”