Barrios Bravos: Iztapalapa

It has been three months since my first post about Mexico City’s “barrios bravos” (“tough” or “brave” neighborhoods). In that entry, I listed the “rules” that one should follow for a safe visit, and then blogged about my experiences in Tepito, the most notorious barrio bravo in the Mexican capital. During my time as an honorary Chilango, I also had the opportunity to explore – and fall in love with – another much-maligned neighborhood, this one a proper delegación (borough): Iztapalapa.

Iztapalapa is more than just a collection of barrios bravos – it is the most-populous borough in Mexico City. It is also the poorest, hence its reputation. My first visit to Iztapalapa occurred when I was assigned English classes in the district. I learned that my students worked for a laboratory in the industrial Canal de San Juan/Periférico Oriente section of Iztapalapa. I was nervous – doubly so, since my arrival would be at the pre-dawn time of 7 a.m. But Google Earth showed me the way, and, after three bus transfers, I arrived without incident. This section of Iztapalapa is on the east side of the city, directly across the road from the Federal Police headquarters. The area is a manufacturing hub for numerous firms, so it’s low on charm but high on security. I felt safe, and by my third week I was walking back from class and stopping off for tacos campechanos at the city’s best street taquería.

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Passion Runs High in Iztapalapa

I lead an English-language conversation club twice a week. Last Wednesday, I asked one of my students to bring in an article to read to the class. She selected an article about Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter Week) traditions in the Catholic community. Only half of the class was Catholic, so the article prompted a lively discussion to say the least.

I won’t politicize this blog entry; that’s a subject for another day. One of the topics that came up in our small group discussion was the importance of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, etc. observations among Catholics and Christians in general. As it happens, I’ve spent several of the past Semana Santa weeks in various Spanish-speaking, majority-Catholic countries, and it’s not uncommon to find daily (or nightly) processions through the streets, with locals dressed as Roman soldiers or paying penitence for their belief that Jesus died for their sins. Culturally, it is quite the spectacle.

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