From Tepito you will hear two sides of the coin: one which alludes to the thug life, violence and insecurity and another about romanticized versions of the neighborhood culture. Both cases are quite correct because it is a combination between isolation and identity which makes it a living myth of Mexico City.
And in this place, located on Downtown’s north in the Colonia Morelos, there has been a bit of everything. Its origin dates back from 1305. It was an indigenous hamlet, home of boxing legends, anthropologic lab experiments, cultural movement and markets full of piracy and counterfeit.
Without a doubt, Tepito has been linked to poverty and isolation since its origins, but also to the fierceness to which their inhabitants have regarding their traditions. It is a history of resistance.
August 13th 1521: Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec ruler, was captured by the Spanish conquistadores. In the place in which this event took place, in the heart of Tepito near the crossing from Tenochtitlan and Constancia, there is a plaque stating “Tequipeuhcan, the place where slavery started”. Every 13th of August, the locals commemorate this famous scene.
The poor’s wardrobe
In the Porfiriato (Porfírio Díaz 30 year-ruling in the late 19th century and early 20th), more specifically 1901, the city council decided that the street vendors should be relocated to the Tepito neighborhood. Then it began a sort of tradition between the “ayateros”, which consisted in trading cloth for glassware. This practice is still ongoing to this day.
The uncomfortable neighborhood
During the sixties, the family life in Tepito was portrayed by the New York anthropologist Oscar Lewis in The Children of Sánchez. This book was scandalous to say the least. Some of the quotes from the book revealed the conditions which the lives of the families in this neighborhood had to endure. These revelations hurt the Mexican psyche.
The outrage reached peak that the Geography and Statistics Society began a trial against the book, the author and the editors. The ruling president, Díaz Ordaz, order a seize warrant for the books because they “insulted the Mexican people”.
After 1968 ―the year of the student rising and eventual massacre done by the military police― a group of talented Tepito youngsters formed a cultural movement named Acá Art: this movement consisted in community art as well as the appropriation of the streets. The artists who stand out from this collective were painter Daniel Manríquez and writer Armando Ramírez, who alongside others, set out a series of cultural projects from wall painting to staging of written work by the Tepiteños.
Even though Acá Art produced quite a lot of noise within the cultural Mexican media at that moment, its members were marginalized by the elite ruling class that subdued its artistic endeavor to a curiosity popular creation.
The Mexican Version of the American Dream
In the boxing golden age, Tepito was the breeding ground of Mexico’s best boxers. There were several locals from the neighborhood who battled against poverty thanks to the opportunities this sport brought to them. Box represented a dream of grandeur for many youngsters of this place.
From Fayuca to piracy
In Tepito, the different transformations imposed by the economic world order from the last fifty years meant that the neighborhood must adapt itself to these practices.
Two are the cases that exemplify this: the first was during Luis Echeverría’s presidential term, when Mexico’s economy was driven by protectionism: this stopped the entry of legal merchandise from the outside. This situation was seized by the tepiteños who got tangled in the business of fayuca (smuggled goods).
The second one sprung when the NAFTA finished the power of the fayuqueros, giving rise to piracy.
Santa Fe is one of those “new, new, new” areas in the west of Mexico City. So new that lots of Mexico City residents have never been there, and many of them will never go. But Santa Fe is, like all of Mexico City, loaded with history and curious facts that make it always worth looking into a little deeper.
During the long colonial period, the area was devoted to grazing animals and mining the relatively poor soil. The regions was divided into the towns of Santa Fe, Santa Lucia, San Mateo and San Pedro Tlaltenango Cuajimalpa. The villages were intersected by the Royal Road, New Spain’s first toll road that ran all the way to Toluca (and still does). Today it’s still known as the Vasco de Quiroga highway and the toll booth is still located in the nearby Contadero neighborhood.
Named in honor of the first bishop of Michoacan’s “Hospital of Santa Fe,” Vasco de Quiroga was that famous friar who taught different skills to the various peoples of Michoacan. He also started numerous hospitals that provided not only for the sick but for pilgrims and travelers.
Upon arriving in New Spain, Vasco de Quiroga took a look at the sorrowful state of things and got to work. Sent as a sort of a judge of the “Second Audiencia of Mexico,” which ruled from 1530 – 1534, he ended up founding both the Hospital and the Pueblo Santa Fe with his own money. Vasco de Quiroga’s believed primarily that charity would be the only way he could really make a difference. His attempt to redeem the fallen landscape led him to undertake no less than the founding of Thomas More’s Utopia, right here on Earth.
Within a few years, the hospital was itself called Pueblo Santa Fe, literally the “people of Santa Fe.” And after 1532, the project essentially took on a life of its own and began to expand to other congregations and to form similar hospitals and social charity projects wherever it went. Quiroga maintained control over nearly all of them and enforced a set of rules he’d written down himself.
Some of the rules still carry Quiroga’s idea of exactly how this was to translate into a Utopia on Earth. According to notes in the collection of the Institute of Historical Research of the University of Michoacan, “Parents should ensure the marriages of their children with daughters from other families in the same Pueblo-Hospital. Failing that the daughters of the poor from the same neighborhood could also be married.” Men were considered marriageable at fourteen, and women at twelve. In the extended family, all members were required to obey the eldest grandfather. Wives were to obey husbands, and children were to serve and obey parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Any need for servants from outside the family was to be avoided.
Santa Fe is said to be the remnant of that famous Utopian village. The ostentatious city of today grew up from the ashes of that early attempt at a perfect society. And though many Chilangos will still find it hard to believe, something of that hope and vision is likely still evident in the towers and underpasses that stand there today.