The Category Is… Mexico City (2020) is a mini-docuseries by creators Ocean Vashti Jude and Lauren E. Zubia Casalda, who invite viewers into a beautiful, vibrant queer space to share the transformation of voguing from its ballroom origins in New York to… Mexico City!
Mother Mendoza and children of House of Mami talk about the late-arrival of ballroom culture to Mexico City, and the impact acclaimed 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning has on their aesthetic, dance, and community. The mini-docuseries also contains an original soundtrack from musician B11CE, delivering on new beats and ha-crashes.
The Category Is… Mexico City adds another layer to the endless popularity of ballroom culture, emphasizing the importance of narrative, art, and community acceptance within spaces created for queer people of color.
I invite you all to read my impressions on the docuseries that’s brought me so much joy in the last week, and of course, I invite people to share their own views as well.
The Category Is… Mexico City is available on revry.tv Hit me up for a virtual watch party!
EPISODE 1: WELCOME HOME
The establishing shot of The Category Is… Mexico City’s first episode “Welcome Home” is of Mother Mendoza putting on her eyelashes along with a voiceover from one of House of Mamis’s members, Alexis. We start in a personal setting as we watch Mother Mendoza dressing into drag for work. Throughout the docuseries, we see narratives edited between a style of confessionals and family members speaking freely, then being cut away into dance, music, and views of Mexico City.
My favorite scene from “Welcome Home” is of the cut away from Mother Mendoza explaining the inception of House of Mami from a stationary, carpet-like backdrop to watching Mendoza slowly vogue against a contrasting navy-blue backdrop. Bold, strong backgrounds are a common element throughout the docuseries, particularly those made of simple textiles as fabrics provide the same fluid movements of the dancers.
“Welcome Home” is an introduction to talent, to colorful settings from the Mamis’s living space, to the dance studio, and to the world of voguing. Paris Is Burning, the acclaimed 1990’s documentary about New York’s ballroom scene, is continually alluded to throughout The Category Is… Mexico City, which appears to be a methodology for creating a thriving and accepting queer community. The House of Mamis demonstrate how queer people come together to build a utopic bubble within Mexico City, a city still invalidating queer people. “Welcome Home” is not only an introduction, but an invitation to a series about the values of community building.
EPISODE 2: LET THE BEAT DROP
“Supongo que es la magia que todos tienen.”
Episode two “Let the Beat Drop” of The Category Is… Mexico City serves testimonials from Pony, Alexis, Overkill, and Mother Mendoza. House of Mamis members talk about the body’s exploration, potential, and reconstruction. Voguing is a creative dance style that opposes limitations.
For instance, voguer Alexis mentions his dance background and the rigid rules around gender that boxed his creativity into a forced idea of masculinity. Voguing tears boundaries, even to the point where voguers perform where they please: dance studios, houses, porches, clubs, and streets. Shots of voguers performing on a cement platform gives the perception of a stage because of the audience’s enthusiasm.
Stylistically, “Let the Beat Drop” stands out when the editors seamlessly repeat shots of dance moves to enhance the patterns of voguing. The dancers are impressive all on their own, and yet, the camera edits step further into the illusion of beauty and sexiness that each body movement creates.
One of my favorite scenes is watching House of Mamis members chant the “Ha Dance” to vogue for one another, emphasizing early ballroom influences into their own ball aesthetic.
“Let the Beat Drop” reiterates the magic of community and the ability to reach the highest potential of one’s creativity when support is consistently present.
EPISODE 3: DRAG ME
“Mi personaje Overkill nació como un juego. Para mostrarme. Para mostrar mi rebeldía, mi pasión por el arte, mi felicidad, mi deseo de superarme.”
Drag is transformation. Drag is an alchemical process that combines body, personality, and passion to create an artistic expression of one’s new or improved self.
Episode three “Drag Me” of The Category Is… Mexico City characterizes the value of drag and the personas born from the transformation of tearing gender into a re-definable, wearable art.
“Drag Me” opens with a shot of three House of Mamis members readying themselves using the same mirror. The soundtrack’s opening chord and blending of a shaker and snapping compliment the establishing shot, spotlighting the familial ties as each member works toward crafting themselves.
In an earlier episode, Mother Mendoza mentions the impact of seeing their dreams become reality. That dream, being able to make money from performing. From experience, I see a lot of artists feeling validation once their art becomes profitable, and Mother Mendoza seems to express the same sentiment when being able to perform in clubs as a drag queen and voguer. I see that a negative mindset of Capitalism is that if an art form is not profitable, then it is not valid or worth exploring.
My point in mentioning Capitalism’s negative impact on people’s art, is to consider drag’s history. Although drag is moving further into the mainstream, drag still arrives from queer nightlife, where performances are created out of opposition for society’s rigid understanding of gender. For someone to make a living from drag in a city where being a performer, who is opposing the structures of both gender and recognized forms of labor, is to undercut the understanding of what valid forms of work and labor are.
I won’t go as far as to say drag performance is a form of anti-work, but I will say, considering the marginalization and the elimination of options for financial stability for queer people, it is beautiful to see House of Mamis members make a living off performing in Mexico City, a city that does not fully welcome the queer community.
Drag is an alchemical process that combines body, personality, and passion to create a spell of rebellion and opposition against forces that seek to eliminate queer communities. Episode three “Drag Me” of The Category Is… Mexico City explores the passion individuals hold for their art, displaying the power of opposition that each person is capable of.
EPISODE 4: SAY HER NAME
“‘ok, esta es Negraconda y si se la van a comer porque Negraconda se lo está dando de comer en la boca, perras.’”
After watching tidbits of Danny Torres, the phenomenal Negraconda of House of Mamis, throughout the series of The Category Is… Mexico City, Episode 4 “Say Her Name” feeds us a full course of Negraconda. Personally, her testimonial is the most memorable to me; and after making you read her name nine times before arriving to this sentence, and feeling her name bounce off the roof of your mouth, I think you need to know what the hype is all about.
Episode 4 “Say Her Name” is a lesson on community. Negraconda explains past conflicts with her “peers,” which ranged from being bullied and assaulted, to facing backlash for being a trans womxn performing as a drag queen. Negraconda’s testimonial interrogates the definition of community.
Community is not a group of people we frequent. Community is the people we rely on when we need to fall back as well as the people we invite to change with us.
Negraconda’s punk alter ego transgresses the parameters set on trans womxn. She challenges the transmisogyny in drag culture by voguing and continuing to perform as a drag queen with House of Mamis. She makes a place for herself among a house that accepts her.
Negraconda reminds viewers, we can’t wait for others to change. We need to change our atmosphere and surround ourselves with people who are going to hold us accountable as well as accept accountability. Episode 4 “Say Her Name” is a lesson on offending those who resist to afford one their humanity. To put it plainly: set forth into this world and find people who say your name with pride.
EPISODE 5: BOIZ IN HEELS
In The Category Is… Mexico City episode five “Boiz in Heels,” the audience receives a testimonial from Overkill and Dalia Xiucoatl, who speak on behalf of their gender identity.
Gender—the phenomena that the majority of us still misunderstand.
Both Overkill and Dalia Xiucoatl share their exploration of gender through their performance, reminding me of Judith Butler’s “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Butler speaks of gender performance in both inside and outside a theatrical setting in which safety is afforded to drag performers but not trans people. Drag occurs in a dramatic setting where spectators are able to distinguish the gender transformation as a theatrical performance distinct from being “real,” whereas trans people existing in public face violent regulations and sanctions (Butler, 527).
House of Mamis members speak about voguing and ballroom as the facilitators of a safe transition between the binary genders, the exploration of “hyper-femininity,” as well as what lies in opposition of said binary. Performance in the theatrical sense becomes a liminal space where an individual can experience their truths without the violent backlash that occurs when that act or performativity is taken into a non-dramatic, public setting.
For House of Mamis members, and I’m certain for other queer folks, the empowerment of theatrical performance is what allows us to take gender expression away from the theatrical, and into a non-dramatic performance.
Furthermore, while the terms non-binary, gender-nonconforming, gender-fluid, and trans are helpful, the language is still restrained because it’s spoken from a standpoint existing within a heteronormative society. Judith Butler’s phenomenological perspective on gender assists in understanding that the constituting agent of gender exists prior to language. “Boiz in Heels” sparks a wider conversation about gender identity and expression, emphasizing that the point of Overkill’s and Dalia Xiucoatl’s testimonial is to recognize gender identity from the perspective of the individual being addressed.
Moreover, I also find myself connecting the phenomenological ideas of Gloria Anzaldua to “Boiz in Heels” because of Dalia Xiucoatl’s explication of her name. She identifies with Xiucoatl, the fire serpent, bringing up a short, empowering quote from Anzaldua’s Light in the Dark / Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality: “metaphors are gods” (55). Anzaldua studies the archetypal manifestations in our imaginings and stories, which produce an empowering effect. In appropriating, or recreating, rituals and myths, we can learn to utilize the metaphoric power into our own, personal lives.
Episode five “Boiz in Heels” from The Category Is… Mexico City is meaningful to me because of the conversation I draw from the episode. Today, I forget to talk about the series soundtrack and cinematography, but I hope my literary connections make up for the lack discussion surrounding those elements. Remember, “Boiz in Heels” is about awareness. The voice residing in us is mysterious. Listen to your intuition. Express the “self” cautiously hiding in your body.
Anzaldua, Gloria E. Light in the Dark / Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Ed. Analouise Keating. Duke University Press, 2015.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 1988, pp. 519–531. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3207893. Accessed 3 May 2020.
EPISODE 6: HOUSE MOTHER
“‘Uno existe porque alguien mas piensa en nostros’”
Wrapping up season one of The Category Is…Mexico City, episode six “House Mother” pays homage to Mother Mendoza. She is a mother in every sense of the word. She ensures her House children have food, clothes, money to pay rent, helping provide their basic necessities. Mother Mendoza makes a point to lift her House children up under the belief that everyone in the house can advance toward their goals without ever needing to drag another down.
I believe many know the phrase, “queer people get to choose their families,” and I find that phrase interesting because the idea holds true across the globe. Queer people form families that negate the status quo, reject the nuclear family, and find happiness through their chosen families. I don’t know anything more beautiful than queer joy.
Episode six “House Mother” exemplifies the meaning of family. A family is a group of people who form a community of love, healing, accountability, change, and materialize endless possibilities of joy.