Previewing the Guides Past 2005: The New Jalisco & Queer Latinx Resilience

Thanks to the generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, "Mapping the Gay Guides" will eventually provide data from the Damron Guides spanning from 1965 through 2005, representing around forty years of LGBT American history. The Damron company, however, has continued to publish new editions of the guidebook for at least another fifteen years beyond this period. For this vignette, we thought it might be interesting to glance at a space in a later edition of the Damron guides not represented in the "Mapping the Gay Guides" dataset. Consider this a nod to how the guidebooks can also illuminate more recent LGBTQ history, especially documenting places not always well covered in the previous forty years, like those designed by and for queer people of color.

In Los Angeles, many types of queer spaces exist, but few specifically serve the Latinx/Chicanx queer community. Notably, the New Jalisco Bar in downtown Los Angeles stands out as one of these spaces. Owned and operated by Mexican immigrants Maria Rosa Garcia and her husband, Sergio Hernandez, since 2005, this queer Latinx space was not always queer. Before Garcia’s ownership, it was a billiard bar known under different names, including Jalisco Inn, where Garcia had worked as a bartender since her migration in 1992. After acquiring the bar following the previous owner’s death, she transformed New Jalisco Bar into an LGBTQ-dominated space to address the lack of venues for Latinx queer individuals in downtown Los Angeles. At that time, there were no other queer bars in downtown, and she wanted to create a space for queer folks like herself.

Despite the declining number of queer bars in the US since the late 1970s, as reflected in the Damron guides, New Jalisco Bar asserts itself as a queer Latinx space in an area devoid of other queer bars. It offers a venue where Latinx queers can enjoy drag performances in Spanish and English, go-go dancers, and socializing in a space intended for them, rather than being a racialized other. In a 2021 interview for the Los Angeles Times, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor in Chicana/o Studies Eddy Francisco Alvarez Jr. describes the bar as a place where “We can show up and be Latino, Chicano, immigrant, Afro-Latino, femme, and trans — all of those intersecting identities, and just be who we want to be.” This bar also provides employment opportunities to the marginalized queer community of color, which is disproportionately living in poverty.

Since at least the 1970s, Latinx queer folks have been seeking spaces in California where they are not marginalized or fetishized by white gay men. Many Latinx Americans and immigrants do not feel as comfortable in other popular queer spaces in Los Angeles, such as the gay bars of West Hollywood. By the 1990s, the Damron guides began to designate spaces as “MRC-L”, which signifies a queer Latinx space, reflecting this growing need among queer people of color to create more intersectional spaces. This decline is as high as 36% of gay bars according to a 2019 study by Oberlin College professor, Greg Mattson. Despite how diverse queer bars have become over time, they do so at a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep these businesses running.

Despite this decline, The New Jalisco Bar stands as a symbol of queer Latinx resilience. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the bar was struggling to keep its doors open. Many businesses across the board had to close their doors, and this was no different for LGBTQ businesses. Queer bars for people of color have been disproportionately closed at even higher rates, nearly 60% of gay bars listed in the Damron guides according to Mattson. New Jalisco has stayed open thanks to crowdfunding efforts that met the bar’s goal of $80,000 to pay overdue rent and other debts. Due to Maria’s undocumented status, she was ineligible to receive unemployment or other financial relief for businesses. As of this writing, the bar remains open and is a popular site of LGBTQ nightlife in downtown. Other gay bars such as Redline and Precinct have opened since, but New Jalisco remains as the sole queer Latinx space owned and run by an undocumented trans woman in downtown.

The Damron Guides have played a critical role in maintaining an important history of diverse gay and queer bars, despite their overall decline in numbers. Los Angeles is home to many of these queer Latinx bars, and the “Mapping the Gay Guides” project documents these sites that have been deeply valued by the patrons, past and present. Maria Rosa Garcia’s New Jalisco Bar is one of these sites, and it is actively making history by maintaining itself in spite of the odds stacked against it.

Originally Published: February 27, 2024 | Last modified: February 27, 2024