Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Neighborhood & Delegation

We wanted to give you a little bit about where we live.  We live in neighborhood (colonia) Heroes de Churubusco and the delegation (delegación) Iztapalapa.  Our delegation is historical, famous, and infamous.

As residents of Iztapalapa, we can be known as iztapalapenses.  Iztapalapa is one of 16 delegations in the Distrito Federal.  It is 72 square miles and has a dense population approaching 2 million.  For comparison, the city of Los Angeles has twice the population, but ten times the area.  Iztapalap’s growth over the last 60 years has been extensive, up 1.85 million in the last 60 years.  Most of the population is working-class or poor with only small percentage of middle-class.  As such, factories and informal businesses (food, street vending or otherwise) make up the majority of the local economy.  With informal business comes a lack of stability and increasing insecurity.  Add to this the fact that, despite being one of the largest delegations, Iztapalapa has one of the worst urban infrastructures, including power and water in the city.  We have often mentioned that we live in Iztapalapa and had Mexicans tell us to be careful.In this way, Iztapalapa is more infamous. 

Yet, before thinking that we are ascetics, our particular colonia, Heroes de Churubusco is a nice, quiet (tranquilo) community, mostly of home owners.  Our colonia was developed around 30 years ago and housing costs at the time were cheap.  As such, while much of the colonia is working class, they have had these homes as single-home-owners for a few decades.  This residential nature, rather than a transient one, has made this area a nice place to live.  People take care of their homes and the local parks, and a strong local commerce has developed.  One of the best outside markets (tianguis) in the city is just a few blocks away from our house.  Our neighborhood is so tranquilo, that most of our neighbors leave their cars on the street overnight, which is relatively unheard of in the city.

Some of the things we love about our community are that there are lots of urban parks within walking distance, including one a stone’s throw away.  Anything we need to shop for is within walking distance as well.  We can count more than ten coffee shops within walking distance, and probably over one hundred eateries.  It seems like we have a large bakery (panadería) on almost every major corner.  One of the only major downfalls of our community is that people don’t spend a lot of time walking around our street, making it a bit more difficult to get to know our neighbors.  We have a great relationship with our downstairs neighbors, which is a huge blessing.

Iztapalapa has a rich history as a delegation.  The city has grown up around sixteen pueblos, or “towns” which attempt to retain their pueblo feel.  It is amazing to see such pueblos in the middle of the city.  They are their own little cloister, usually of poorer people, with their own culture and set of rules.  It would be inaccurate to say that they were unaffected by the city, but rather have kept the face of their pueblo despite the massive integration of everything surrounding them.

Iztapalapa is also known for its spectacular celebration during Holy Week (Semana Santa) on the Cerro de la Estrella.  This is a hill in the center of the delegation and looks out over the entire city.  Unbeknownst to many Mexicans, there is a small pyramid at the top of this hill, making it historically an important religious space.  The Holy Week celebrations compound this sacred space (and also make it syncretic).  They use the hill as a makeshift Golgotha in reenacting the crucifixion of Christ.  At one time they actually used to crucify people, nailing their hands and feet to crosses.  Thousands, if not millions, show up for this event.  Our church during our year in 2007-2008 is located on this hill and does a great work among local residents.  It is also were we lived when we moved back to Mexico.

There are many beautiful and not-so-beautiful places to Mexico City, and while we live in traditionally one of the more infamous delegations, we love our neighborhood.  We love that we are at the center of a variety of worlds – economically, spiritual, and sociological.  We don’t have to travel far to be in an artsy area of the city nor far to be in some of the poorest slums of the city.  We are close to Roman Catholic spiritual bastions as well as Aztec historically religious and sacred places.  We are very close to where the Roman Catholic and Aztec religions collide into syncretic beliefs and practices.  We have everything we need, including good mass transportation close, but other iztapalapenses frequently are without water or power.  Heroes de Churubusco provides a good basis and location to get the heartbeat of the city in a variety of factions.

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