Why you should care
Because La Mera Obrera provides safe-space employment to everyone from single mothers to older women.
The best way for larger women to avoid getting kidnapped in Mexico City? Throw yourself down on your back, like a panda, and challenge the kidnapper to drag you off. That’s according to comedian Gloria Rodriguez, whose self-proclaimed “fatness” is a proud part of the act she performed on a recent Thursday night in downtown Mexico City.
Rodriguez was last in a lineup of three female comedians performing that night at La Mera Obrera, a new space staffed only by women — from the bar and food counters to the music and stand-up acts — that recently opened in this traditionally working-class barrio. The joke gets applause from the audience seated at long tables and benches in the center of the space, which is two-thirds women. But it belies a serious issue: violence and insecurity in Mexico.
La Mera Obrera is a play on words: It is a reference to the name of the barrio where it’s located, la Obrera, which is known for being real (mera) working-class Mexico. But it also means the “real female worker,” a nod to the idea behind its birth.
It was an act of rebellion.
Florencia Beati, manager of La Mera Obrera
Florencia Beati manages the space and works with a collective of partners who own a number of similar-looking concepts for eating and drinking out around the city. But none of the others are quite like this. “It was an act of rebellion,” says Beati, who stresses that she’s not a feminist. The idea, she says, is to provide employment to women in a secure environment, favoring those who are single mothers, getting older or excluded from what is a predominantly male field: the restaurant industry. And the project, which opened in February, appears to be hitting the spot. The first of its kind in the city, it currently employs 25 women of varying ages who (wo)man the various counters that offer seafood and ceviche dishes, a steakhouse and a pizzeria.
“We’re not against men — of course not — but we think there is a lot of female talent out there and we want to give a chance to all women,” says Beati, in reference to the comedians and all-girl bands who perform in the space on a weekly basis, as well as the cooks and bartenders.
Jessica Castillo, who works in the pizza section of La Mera Obrera, is just 21 years old and yet she’s the main earner in her family. “They always say that women’s place is in the kitchen, but I want to be a chef!” she says as she kneads dough alongside her compañera, Erika Valencia. Valencia, 24, worked in a hotel restaurant in Los Cabos, in the state of Baja California in northern Mexico, before taking a job at La Mera Obrera. She says that in restaurant kitchens, chefs are overwhelmingly men. “I have never seen a female head chef working in Mexico — restaurants tend to look for men for all levels of work in the kitchen because it is hard work and long hours.”
Mexico is at the top of a region famed for macho attitudes that can (at best) dismiss or (at worst) seriously harm, if not kill, women. Femicide — the deliberate killing of women and girls because of their gender — is common in Mexico. The country ranks as one of the most violent countries for women, according to the United Nations, with nearly half of females having experienced some form of sexual violence.
Spaces like La Mera Obrera, which house a selection of eateries around a common space, exist in other parts of Mexico City, but so far are mainly restricted to trendy neighborhoods and none have the women-only concept.
The entrance to the space opens up to the street, and customers eating and drinking at the sidewalk tables mix with those eating at a taco street stall just outside. Working class barrios like la Obrera (which has plenty of spaces for men such as cantinas) provide a welcome environment for women. Female artists designed the graffiti-adorned walls, which are also decorated with paintings depicting strong women.
But it’s not exclusive — men and even dogs are welcome here. Social media videos of other events show whole families — couples with young children and their dogs — enjoying the space. La Mera Obrera was born out of a sense of rebellion, something that can often force people to choose sides. But the project shows that such acts can also bring people together.
Go There: La Mera Obrera
- Location: Manuel Payno 49, Obrera, 06800 Mexico City, CDMX. Map.
- Hours: Sunday to Wednesday 10 am-11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 10 am-2 am.
- Cost: Meals average about 100 pesos (around $5), so for $10 you can have a decent meal and one or two beers.
- Pro Tip: Check out the stand-up comedy every Thursday night. If you’re a man, be sure to go with a good sense of humor, as some jokes may be at your expense.