Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood has for a millennia history offered resistance, rebellion, and hope. Tenochtitlan relegated dissidents to Tepito’s crooked alleys. The “brave neighborhood,” even hundreds of years later, is still marginalized and bent on survival. Somehow residents seem to bear that history in the very DNA.
With a reputation for violence, deprivation, and overcrowding, some of the great characters of Mexican history have come from Tepito. The cradle of Mexican boxing, in the 1970s an important literary movement emerged in Tepito, and the neighborhood has contributed as much to the culture of the city and country as have many, much wealthier places.
Among all the stories of people whose hard work is performed with an enviable dignity, there are thousands of women who carry out similar work for their families. Resident Mayra Valenzuela Rojas remarked, “In Tepito there’s a matriarchy (…) Every woman has her own story. Each of us is a spark, but together we are lighting a candle for Tepito.”
German photographer, Anja Jensen, is currently exhibiting her work in a show called “Ciudadanas-Caminamos a oscuras” (Citizens-We Walk in the Dark). Having spent months in Tepito, she’s documented the women challenging the stereotypes of the neighborhood.
Jensen was assaulted and threatened, but she was also clothed and cared for by the women who opened their stories and lives to her. The result is a series photographs, “Las Cabronas de Tepito,” (Bad Girls of Tepito) a collective portrait of the matriarchy whose fervor makes the neighborhood better and regularly improves the lives of the people living there.
The photographs will be exhibited through February 12, 2017, as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, at the German Pavilion on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, in Roma Norte.
There’s always something to be learned from 19th-Century Mexican Toys. In the 18th century, the very concept of childhood, as it’s understood today, didn’t exist. Children were raised with strict educations. And toys, as we understand them; dolls and dollhouses with miniature furnishing, were for the recreation of upper-class adults. Very few objects intended for children’s enjoyment were then even in existence. The very definition of childhood, and activities inherent to such a state of being, simply did not exist. Littles ones were still considered simply “adults in formation.”
With the rise of the Enlightenment and liberal ideas, this view of childhood began to change, little by little, and the needs of this new concept, childhood, were just beginning to be understood.
By the 19th century, finally, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when products were developed specifically for children. This represented something of a watershed in society’s perception of children. In reality, most children still had to start working from about the age of seven or eight in order to support their families, by delivering newspapers, selling lottery tickets, or as employees in factories.
Toys were intended to reinforce societal norms of the time. Boys received objects with which they could practice or enhance their physical strengths or skills and girls concentrated on mastering sewing, dressing dolls, serving tea, and so on.
Among the most popular toys were dolls of paper, cloth or porcelain, figures of lead or paper, spinning tops, marbles, trains, hoops, music boxes, teddy bears, wooden horses, table games and puzzles. Play in the Mexican streets, such as a game called “blind hen” were popular, but 19th-century Mexican toys also included ropes for jumping, and were still popular, even at the middle of the 20th century, a whole new range of toys revolutionized the reality that was childhood.
Among the best remember 19th-century Mexican toys, many were the products department stores dedicated exclusively to the exhibition (and sale) of toys. The press began then to advertise these products within their pages. The two most famous vendors were The European on Plateros Street, today’s Calle Madero, and El Globo on what is today’s Avenida 16 de Septiembre.
In the 19th century, the world of children’s toys burst abruptly into the reality of the day, and with the passage of time, that world has only become more rich and vivid.