Mexico on My Mind

Mother Nature has been angry lately. Flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and East India. Hurricanes Harvey, Katia, Irma, José, and Maria. Wildfires in California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest. And no fewer than three earthquakes – one as recent as this morning – to strike Mexico in just 16 days.

It is Mexico, my one-time home for almost two wonderful years, about which I am especially worried.

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Barrios Bravos: Santa María la Ribera

The barrio bravo, or “tough neighborhood,” of Santa María la Ribera is a place in transition. It is located far enough west of Greater Tepito, and close enough to prosperous Reforma, to be in the “safety zone,” but it also abuts Buenavista Train Station, which connects Mexico City’s Distrito Federal with a dozen cities and towns in adjacent, sprawling Estado de México.

Santa María la Ribera is most famous as being the new, permanent home of the Kiosco Morisco, or Moorish Kiosk. The reddish kiosk/pavilion was originally built by Mexican engineer José Ramón Ibarrola for the 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Post-exposition, it was moved to the Alameda Central (Central Park of Poplars) on the western fringe of the Centro Histórico. The kiosk was eventually relocated to Santa María’s own Alameda de Santa María during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, who ordered the building of a monument to Benito Juárez in its place at the Alameda Central. Residents of Santa María beamed with civic pride, and volunteered to look after the kiosk. At that time, their neighborhood was one of Mexico City’s wealthiest.

Alameda de Santa Maria la Ribera 4

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Barrios Bravos: Tlatelolco

I recently re-read my September post entitled “Barrios Bravos: Iztapalapa,” about the largest delegación (borough) in Mexico City and the dangerous reputations held by its various barrios (neighborhoods). I am especially proud of that entry, as I think it contains some of the best writing I’ve yet done for this blog. More than that, though, it reminded me that I still have more to say about Mexico City and its “tough neighborhoods.”

Tlatelolco (try saying that three times fast) is a hard word to pronounce and a hard barrio in which to live. Roughly speaking, it sits northwest of the Centro Histórico, between Tepito and Buenavista Train Station. During the heyday of the Aztec empire, Tlatelolco was a separate community from nearby Tenochtitlan, and it is said that Tlatelolco’s residents looked down on those from the larger Tenochtitlan. Vendors from Tepito, the market serving Tenochtitlan, were not allowed to trade with those from Tlatelolco. This segregation exists several centuries later, despite the fact that both “barrios bravos” are part of the same administrative district. The main street separating Tlatelolco from Greater Tepito, Paseo de la Reforma, can be like an invisible wall between two countries, although this divide isn’t necessarily visible to casual wanderers. (More on this rivalry later.)

Around Tlatelolco 2

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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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