By Dorri Mang and Marieke Scherjon
Chueca is a flourishing city developed by the gay community that is attracting tourists to Madrid from all over the globe. But gentrification is playing its part. While World Pride 2017 is in Madrid, will the neighborhood of Chueca still be able to boast of housing the community that built it?
What is Pride?
Since 2005 when gay marriage was legalized in Spain, the gay community developed fast, creating a place that was welcoming to people from all different backgrounds and gender identities. Because it developed so quickly, Spain was the home to Europe’s first all inclusive gay celebration: Euro Pride, which succeeded in placing Madrid on the map as the capital of Europe’s LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, and queer) community. This year the world has decided to gather in Madrid for World Pride 2017. The fact that Madrid has become the destination for World Pride this year in June can largely be contributed to a part of the city which is bursting in popularity: Chueca.
Chueca up close
Bright colors splash across the walls on the streets; small alleyways are covered in stickers and graffiti. Small stores catering to vegetarianism, organic, and gluten-free individuals are everywhere you look. The sidewalks swarm with people heading to work or one of the many trade schools in the area. It’s hard to imagine a more artsy, colorful and lively neighborhood. It is quite often that you will run into people like Alejandro Santana (23), he wears all black and a statement scarf with a trendy coat. He is on his way to grab breakfast with his boyfriend. He explains, “Chueca is the place to go if you want originality, personality, and a unique experience. Everyone who comes here loves it.”
Chueca is one of Madrid’s trendiest and most lively neighborhoods, located right in the heart of the city, just off the infamous Gran Vía. The charming neighborhood, or barrio, is mainly known for its open-minded and accepting vibe, and is especially characterized by the large LGBTIQ community that is situated in the area. One could say that the LGBTIQ subculture has had a big part in defining and building the neighborhood into the buzzing area it is today, because Chueca hasn’t always been this free and trendy.
A little background
The history of Chueca is somewhat of a Cinderella story. Spain was living in a fascist society; free expression was a thing people only dreamed of, Spaniards were forced to live in a cookie cutter way. However, after Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco died in the mid-70s, Madrid’s youth was suddenly able to leap into ‘free’ society, as if they had been living under strict parenting for all those years. As this was obviously a big change, it also caused new problems in the lives of young Madrilleños such as drug use, crime and prostitution. Chueca, where a lot of young people lived, became one of the grittiest neighborhoods, completely filled with poverty and crime. The barrio quickly became notoriously known as one of the most ‘dangerous’ neighborhoods in Madrid, a place commonly referred to as ‘populated by scum’.
At the same time, the Spanish LGBTIQ community began to emerge. Under the dictatorship of Francesco Franco, which had strong ties with the Catholic clergy, homosexuality had been highly illegal. The country carried several laws against homosexual activity, which enforced the imprisonment of gay people in large numbers. Better yet, there were special prisons for gay people, called ‘galerias de invertidos’ – galleries of deviants. It was not until 1979 that Spain decriminalized homosexuality. Fast forward a few years and same sex marriage was legalized in 2005. When Franco died, after years of suppression, there was finally room for individual expression and sexual freedom. As the LGBTIQ community grew larger and started to flourish, the community assembled their community in a substantial area that was affordable enough for the predominantly young community; they had found just the right place, Chueca.
In the 80s, the LGBTIQ community started to gradually move into the area, shifting the barrio from a dark, gritty place to the epitome of love, freedom and acceptance. In fact, Madrid’s whole youth scene changed from a relatively conservative ideology towards a more left-wing, free and artistic one, which culminated right in Chueca. Eventually, it became the official center of all social, cultural and political activities and movements of the LGBTIQ community, making it the best-known gay area in Spain.
Chueca has hundreds of LGBTIQ oriented businesses and bars, and most of the locals are part of the LGBTIQ community, which forms Chueca into a tight-knit mini-society. Ana de Jesus (46) is a local to Chueca. Her girlfriend owns a liberty and equality LGBTIQ merchandise shop filled with rainbow flags, bracelets, equality pins and magnets. She comments, “everyone here knows each other; and we have for many years. People come and go, sure. But many of the shop owners have been neighbors for years, and many of the people who go out at night are regulars in the same bars.” Yet, the barrio is not strictly limited to the LGBTIQ community: tourists, straight or gay, old or young, Spanish or foreign, everyone intermingles into a vibrant mixture. Chueca welcomes diversity like no other neighborhood in Madrid.
The overhaul of success
It’s easy to feel at home in Chueca. The streets are populated with a diverse community of individuals; looking around one sees long hair, short hair, piercings, tattoos, trendy clothing, young, old, small dogs, and much more.
Since it hasn’t always been that way, it is easy to assume this success and inflated popularity is automatically a positive thing. However, this is not always true. A place that used to be burgeoning with success, has begun to be overtaken by gentrification. While it’s true, Chueca started as a harsh, dirty neighborhood that was transformed by the gay community, it is now being pried out of their fabulous grasp.
“It’s true, now that Chueca has become popular, it’s getting more expensive.” Cira Rodrigo (27) was born in Ecuador, and took a summer trip to Madrid seven years ago, completely fell in love with Chueca and never left. Cira works for a bag shop named Bibi in the heart of Chueca. “My heart is here, but it is hard to see parts of the city that was developed and created into something so beautiful be turned into something so touristic.”
However, around the corner at the MCNY Beauty Institute of Chueca, Luis Ramirez (32) believes the contrary. “In the last ten years this area has become a hub for attracting younger, wealthier and more attractive people. They have become our primary client base. Now with all the tourism, we have also seen an influx of trendy international gay couples as well as people interested in moving to a more creative and accepting neighborhood. With the economy in Spain the way it is, Chueca is trying to bring people in that will spend money and circulate money through the area.” The beauty institute has been a standout part of the community since 1991 when it was established. Since then, it has represented one of the best parts of Chueca: a community developed and run business that caters to its residents, but doesn’t hate to welcome in newcomers.
Unfortunately, which such excessive expedited growth often comes one singular issue that Ana Rodriguez (50) from a specialty store called ‘Aunty B’ blatantly reveals; “Because of the increased demand for living and store space here in the heart of Chueca, rent has nearly doubled in the last two years. I can barely afford to pay the rent for my store anymore.”
Rent is high, but the stores have sales
Many of the places that were a complete dump and then renovated by the gay community have now been usurped by the wealthy, who have taken an interest to the newly developed Chueca. In this way, the community that the gay community has developed is now being ripped away from them. It is clear when walking around certain sections of Chueca that gentrification is everywhere. “I wish that it had not turned out this way,” Ana says. “It seems like people don’t want to do the work to develop an area, but they want to take advantage of the hard work that we have done. I had my store in one area of Chueca and I had to move it because the rent skyrocketed, and now I’m looking at having to move again.”
If you look around, you can see that there are signs that say “rebajas” (sale) in 90% of the store windows. Carlos Espinosa (56), who owns The Blonde Store has had to put up a liquidation sign. “The amount of competition to be able to keep doors open when stores are being taken over by concept stores catering to the wealthier individuals who come to Chueca is continuously increasing. It’s discouraging to try and live when your livelihood is being challenged with every new store owner opening their doors. However, the good news is that World Pride is here in Madrid this coming summer, so this area will be completely full of people. Business will boom. I am just hoping to be able to keep my door open until then.”
Whether or not gentrification is a threat or success for the area, the various business owners of Chueca agree to disagree. And there are many pros and cons: an increase of tourism means more circulation of money, but a higher number of people coming into the region also translates to a higher demand for living and store space. Rent may be the first of many things to increase in price and drive out the very people who created it in the first place. Blanca Pelayo, a 24-year-old Chueca native argues that “another area given over to the needs of tourists is not what Spain needs. Spain needs more places that are driven by the creativity, the desires and the needs of its locals. That is what will be good for Madrid. We don’t want Chueca to have a big Zara for example. That should stay on Gran Vía.”
World Pride 2017
World Pride is a huge international event, expecting over 3.000.000 attendees gathering to celebrate love and diversity. When the people flood onto the streets of Chueca from June 23rd until July 2nd, the area can expect an even greater influx of people drooling over the fabulously designed free thinking sector that is Chueca, but it will also tell the story of a community which took a place that was written off and created something beautiful out of it. Gentrification or not, Chueca is a beacon of opportunity. It is just one small example of what the LGBTIQ community is capable of. After World Pride 2017, it can be expected that in the future, LGBTIQ communities all over the world will take up the challenge of transforming ghettos into places that will draw large crowds from around the world . Chueca has shown that one small area can attract such attention that brought the biggest diversity celebration in the world to a country that desperately needs it. Chueca not only is changing the future of LGBTIQ persons and communities across the globe, but also inspiring tourism dollars to help bring economic growth back to Madrid and to Spain as a whole. Buy your ticket early!