Sunday, December 31, 2017

Original Villages | Coyoacán: San Mateo Churubusco's Christmas Posada

Celebrating the Birth of Jesus, the Son of God, Replaces an Indigenous Celebration of the Birth of the God Huitzilopochtli

The celebration of Christmas in Mexico is different from that of other festivals on the Catholic Christian calendar. It is focused within the privacy of the family rather than in the communal space of the parish church or the public space of the neighborhood streets. The central celebratory event is a family cena (dinner) held late on the evening of Noche Buena (literally, Good Night), Christmas Eve, before going to Mass. (Think Thanksgiving dinner in the United States.)

Posadas: Recreating Mary´s and Joseph´s Search for an Inn in Bethlehem

There is, however, a wonderful tradition that takes place in semi-public space, the individual streets of neighborhoods. It is the tradition of posadas (literally, "inns"). Las posadas were evidently created in the mid-16th century by Augustinian friars who came to Nueva España to instruct indigenous peoples in the Catholic Christian faith. Held each of the nine nights prior to Christmas, from December 16th thru the 24th (the nine nights representing the nine months of Mary's pregnancy), each night's posada is hosted by families living in a different street. And they are held outside, in the street (think block party).

They are called posada (inn) because the celebration centers on a re-creation of the arrival of the pregnant Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the town of Bethlehem in response to the census called by Caesar Augustus. They search for an inn in which to stay. In the re-enactment of their quest, children dressed as Mary and Joseph, or statues of the saints, with Mary riding a donkey, approach a series of three homes in the street holding the night's posada.

The pregnant Virgin Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.
Statues in Church of San Mateo Churubusco, Coyoacán.
St. Matthew stands behind them.

The members of the parish accompanying the Holy Couple sing a petition to the residents of each home on behalf of the Couple, pleading that they be given shelter. At the first two homes, from behind closed doors, the residents reject the plea and the procession has to move on. At the third home, in response to the request, the resident family opens its doors and receives the Couple and those with them. The rosary may be recited. Then, the party begins!

Replacing One Miraculous Birth of a God With Another

The Augustinians had a very clear purpose in creating las posadas. They were a specific tactic in the strategy of Spanish monks that has come to be called the Spiritual Conquest, the conversion of the indigenous peoples to Catholic Christianity. As it happened, in the Azteca/Mexica religion, in the month of Panquetzaliztli, the birthday of Huitzilopochtli, god of the sun and war and their primary god, was celebrated on the equivalent of December 18. (Panquetzaliztli possibly corresponded to December 6 to 25 on the Gregorian calendar; there are scholarly differences of opinion on the precise relation between the two calendars.)

Huitzilopochtli, like Jesus the Christ Child, was also begotten by a miraculous conception, via a ball of eagle feathers entering the womb of the Mother Goddess, Coatlicue. The eagle is both the messenger and symbol of the Sun god, Tonatiuh. The coincidence of the two sacred and miraculous birthdays is tied, of course, to the Winter Solstice, marking the beginning of the northward return of the sun from its southernmost position in the Northern Hemisphere.

A recent Facebook post, by Guardianes Del Patrimonio Xochimilco, on the significance of the winter solstice confirms this coincidence of the birthdays of the two gods:
"From the start of the ‘Spiritual Conquest’ of these lands, the Spanish Friars took note of the celebration of the birth of a ‘god’ at the end of December. The original peoples named this god Xiuhpiltontli, ‘niñito turquesa’ | Turquoise Baby Boy’ (in the Nahuatl language, turquoise is a symbol of preciousness).
Xiuhpiltontli is linked with the birth of Huitzilopochtli (hummingbird of the left/south), as both are a symbolic representation of the Sun. Between the 20th and 24th of December, (seen from Xochimilco) the Sun rises behind Popocatéptl ("Smoking Mountain" volcano)—seems to stand still, and appears much smaller than it does during the rest of the year. 
Image may contain: sky, nature and outdoor
Sun rising at winter solstice over volcano Popocatepetl
In Xochimilco, there are no coincidences. From time immemorial, there has been a search for answers, communal creativity, devotional dynamism and cultural resistance … there is cultural fusion." Translated from a recent Facebook post on Guardianes Del Patrimonio Xochimilco
So the Augustinians created Las Posadas to replace the celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli with that of the Birth of Jesus, the Son of God. (Wikipedia)

Searching for a Posada in Mexico City

When we lived in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, we were invited every December to posadas in various neighborhoods. Our beloved Spanish teacher, Alejandra, always invited us to the one in her family's street. When we moved to Mexico City, as with other traditions, we wondered whether we would find posadas. In our modern Colonia Parque San Andrés, which has no Catholic parish church, there are no fiestas, let alone the more modest posadas

Now that Mexico City Ambles is focused on original indigenous villages in the City and their fiestas, we wondered whether this December we might find a posada to enjoy, photograph (a challenge since they take place after dark) and share. Our ever-informative Facebook page,  Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de MéxicoMagical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico, posted videos of multiple posadas that had happened in Xochimilco each previous night, or sometimes live, as they were happening. But there were no prior announcements of where and at what time they were being held, so, short of wandering around the center of Xochimilco in the twilight, there was no way we could find one. 

Then on the Thursday, December 23, the eighth day of posadas, there appeared on the Facebook page of our neighboring barrio of San Mateo Churubusco an announcement of a posada that very evening. Evidently, it was part of a series of nine held by the parish, but we had somehow missed announcements of the previous ones. We could easily attend, and next to the last day that it would be possible this year!

We are also struck by the coincidence ("In [the indigenous cosmovision], there are no coincidences"!) that San Mateo Churubusco and its sister barrio, San Diego Churubusco, were the indigenous village of Huitzilopochco, so named by the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan when they took control of the towns around Lake Texcoco from the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco in 1428.

The causeway the Mexicas built south, across the lake, had one terminus at this village and Huitzilopochtli is a god of the south (perhaps, because He was born with the newborn sun), so it seems likely they chose to dedicate this southern village to their chief god. The churches of San Mateo and Our Lady of the Angels in San Diego were built atop Mexica temples, one or both likely dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. So this posada will take place at a sacred site of the very god which such posadas were designed to replace!

Plaque on wall of a house on Calle Convento
recognizing the original name of the village, Huitzilopochco,

"The place of the hummingbirds of the south".
"Churubusco" was a Spanish replacement,
possibly to erase the name of the chief God of the Mexica.

Posada in la Calle Rafael Oliva, San Mateo Churubusco

The Facebook announcement gave the name of the street, la calle Rafael Oliva, where the posada would be held. It is a block west of the church, less than a ten-minute walk from our apartment. However, it did not give the time. So we posted a message on the page asking the time, and the administrator soon replied. It would begin at 5 PM, with a procession starting from the atrio (atrium) of the church. So shortly before the designated hour, we left our apartment and walked the five short blocks to the church.


Chapel of San Mateo, St. Matthew
Archeologist think that a Mexica temple to Huitzilopochtli
may have stood here previously.

We well know that "on Mexican time" is different from "on norteamericano (North American, i.e., U.S.) time". But nearly ten years of living in Mexico have not changed the habits of many decades of functioning as a norteamericano. So we arrive at the church a few minutes before 5 PM. The gate to the atrio is locked. No one is visible inside. So we sit down on a curb across the narrow back street that the church faces and wait. Within a few minutes a woman appears from the church, walks to the gate and opens it. We approach her and ask about the posada. "Sí", "Yes," it is going to happen. 

So we enter the atrio. The pavement is strewn with torn pieces of colored paper. It has the look of a party space the morning after the party. Apparently, a posada had been held in the atrio the night before. With nothing else to do while waiting, we enter the church, which we have visited several times before. 

Chancel of the sanctuary decorated for Christmas

A nacimiento (literally, "birth", i.e., a Nativity scene) is to the left.
A figure of the Infant Jesus is not placed in it until the Christmas Eve Mass.
To the right are Joseph and Mary, in front of St. Matthew.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they are called nochebuenas,
(literally "good nights", i.e.,  "Christmas Eves").

Leaving the sanctuary, we sit down on a long concrete bench lining the north side of the atrio. It is still warm from the rays of the afternoon sun that is dropping behind the houses to the west. We wait.


Soon, a man and a woman, apparently husband and wife, and three youngsters enter from the gateway at the side of the atrio, on calle Heroes de 47, Heroes of 1847, the main street through the barrio (for an explanation of the name, see our post about San Mateo's sister barrio, San Diego Churubusco, Thrice Strategic Over 400 Years). Each carries a traditional Mexican broom made of long twigs, and they begin methodically sweeping up the torn paper into piles. This takes some time. 

When the gentleman is near us, we introduce ourselves as a neighbor from Parque San Andrés interested in traditional fiestas. He takes us by surprise when he says that he recognizes us from the fiesta for El Señor de los Milagros (the Lord of Miracles), in Coyoacán's Colonia Ajusco, held just last month, at which San Mateo was represented. We comment that we had shared our photo of San Mateo from that day on the parish Facebook page. Amiably, he says that he has seen it.   

While the family cleans the atrio, other families begin to arrive. While the adults sit on the long bench and wait, the kids engage in the inevitable running games around the large atrio.

This little boy delights in running the length of the concrete bench
 that starts against the wall of the church
and extends along the north side of the atrio


Seeing that we are taking pictures of him, the boy runs along the bench to us
and greets us. Asked his name, he says he is Isaac (EE-sahk). And he is three years old.
His parents are sitting not far away, watching the interchange.
He asks if we will play with him.
We have to say we would like to, but are now too old to run around.
We add that we are enjoying watching him have fun. 

Another friendly boy

Isaac´s sister (left) and a friend.

The Procession 

By 6 PM, the atrio is cleaned of all the previous night´s detritus. The sun has set and the light is fading. About then, the cohetero arrives and sets off a couple of cohetes (rocket-style firecrackers) to announce the coming procession. But there is no sign of a procession. The people sitting and standing around the atrio wait without any sign of impatience. 

Then, suddenly, about 6:20, a woman ringing a small bell comes out of the church. Behind her, two men carry the anda (platform) bearing the statues of Mary on the donkey and Joseph. Following them are a small group of women holding lighted candles and chanting a prayer they are reading from small booklets made of newsprint. One woman is carrying a statue or doll representing Niño Jesús, the Child Jesus.

The procession gets underway.
The woman at the right is holding a Niño Jesús, Child Jesus

The procession leaves the atrio of the church,
exiting into calle Heroes de 47, and turns west.
It is now dark.

A short block farther on,
the procession turns north into
la calle Rafael Oliva, the site of tonight's posada

As per tradition, the procession stops at a house to petition room
for Mary and Joseph to stay.
From behind closed doors, the family rejects the request.

Mary and Joseph, and the procession
move on toward a second home.

In front of the second house, the request for hospitality is made again,
Again, the family inside rejects the petition.

Finally, the procession arrives at a third home
and repeats its plea on behalf of the Holy Couple.

This time the doors of the home are opened, and Mary and Joseph are invited to enter,
along with participants in the procession.

Mary and Joseph find a place to rest.

The Child Jesus is also given a place of honor.
in the family's nacimiento.

In the street, the cohetero announces the success of the search.

The Party

Quickly, tables are set up in the street
and hot ponche, fruit punch, is served.  

A gas grill is also set up and small tortillas are fried. 

The fried mini-tortillas are covered with a bean paste, shredded cheese and lettuce.
In this form, they are called sopes.


While the ponche and sopes are being served, a small group of men prepare to hang a piñata above the street. 

A rope, one end already tied to the second story of the host house,
is tossed to a young man in the second story of the house across the street.
He will manipulate the height and movement of the piñata.

A piñata is hung from the suspended rope.

Traditional seven-pointed star pinata

The attack on the piñata is seen as representing the struggle of humans against temptation. The seven points of the tradtional star-shaped pinata represent the Seven Deadly Sins. The pot represents the devil, and the fruit and candy inside are the temptations of evil. The person with the stick is usually blindfolded to represent faith and spun around in order to recreate the disorientation that temptation creates, but that is not done here in San Mateo.

The onlookers sing a chant about the effort. When the piñata breaks, the treats inside become the rewards for keeping the faith.

Canción de la piñata, Piñata Song

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino,
Porque si lo pierdes
Pierdes el camino.

Hit, hit, hit,
Don't lose your aim,
Because if you lose it,
You'll lose the way.

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino,
Mide la distancia
Que hay en el camino...

Hit, hit, hit,
Don't lose your aim,
Measure the distance
That's on the way...

...Ya le diste uno, 
Ya le diste dos,
Ya le diste tres 
Y tu tiempo se acabó.

...You've hit it once, 
You've hit it twice,
You've hit it thrice, 
Now your time is up.

(Canción de la piñata, Piñata Song. From Mama Lisa's World)

A lady of the parish
helps the younger kids
prepare their attack on the piñata.

One after another, multiple piñatas are hung and attacked.
The young man in the upstairs window manipulates their height
according to the height of each child.

Even very young children are introduced to the traditional action.

Our friend, Isaac,
goes at it.

When a piñata is broken,
everyone scrambles for the goodies that fall from inside.

Like other components of fiestas such as fireworks and papel picado (cut paper designs), piñatas apparently originated in China. They are part of the New Year celebration held in late January or early February. The tradition was brought by travelers returning to Europe in the 14th century where it became associated with the Christian celebration of Lent, the forty days of fasting before Easter. In Spain, the first Sunday of Lent is known as "Piñata Sunday". The piñata tradition was brought to Nueva España by Augustinian monks, where they adapted it to Christmastime.

As it happened, and conveniently so for the Augustinians, there was already a similar tradition in Mesoamerica. As part of the celebration of the birthday of Huitzilopochtli, priests would decorate a clay pot with colorful feathers and hang it before a statue of the god. The pot was then hit with a club until it broke, and the treasures inside would fall to the feet of the idol as an offering. The Maya also had a similar tradition, which included blindfolding the participant who was trying to hit a suspended clay pot. (Wikipedia)

So here in San Mateo Churubusco, the ancient village that the Mexica called Huitzilopochco, this fusion of traditions is repeated once again tonight, this Christmas Season.

Traditions That Mark Cycles of Time and Faith

There are still more piñatas to be hung and attacked when our old body tells us it is time to return home. It is about 8 PM. We thank the gentleman whose family was cleaning the atrio for being able to share in the posada of San Mateo Churubusco, wish him and his family "Feliz Navidad y Buen Año Nuevo", "Happy Christmas and a Good New Year", and head back down la calle Rafael Oliva. 

Church of San Mateo Churubusco
Night of the Eighth Posada,
December 23, 2017

We pass the Church of San Mateo, its simple white walls now lit like a beacon in the dark. Just down the street, we pass our beloved Mercado Churubusco (Market). We are surprised it is still open. A few remaining merchants are closing their stalls, which they opened at 7 AM and will open again at 7 AM tomorrow. We cross calle Martires Irlandeses (Irish Martyrs; for an explanation of this anomalous name, again, see our post on San Diego Churubusco) and re-enter modern Parque San Ándres.

Along the way, we reflect on what we have just experienced, as we always do after visiting a fiesta in one of the original indigenous pueblos or barrios of Mexico City. We are particularly struck, this time, by how a Catholic Christian custom was used (this time, evidently created) by the monks from Spain to replace an existing indigenous religious one, but thereby also creating continuity between the two.  

Both represent the birth of a god, and with them, the birth of a faith in the character of the power that rules the universe and is the sovereign of the human life cycle. Both births are tied to the natural phenomenon of the Winter Solstice, that ending and beginning of the ageless cyle of the sun (as seen from the Northern Hemisphere) which we also use to mark the succession of our earthly years.

Another such year is ending, another year is about to begin. The cycle of the Earth's voyage around the sun, the cycle of life and of being human goes on. And, as evidenced by the posada of San Mateo Churubusco, so does the renewing of the human faith that the future offers hope.

Some of la gente, the people, of Barrio San Mateo Churubusco

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Coyoacán is the purple delegación in the center.

San Mateo Churubusco is small, green area just to right (east) of star.
Parque San Andrés is Mexico City Ambles' home base.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Original Villages | Tlalpan: Chimalcoyotl, An Ancient Pueblo That Survives Being Run Over, Literally, by Modernity

The Challenge of Entering the Labyrinth of Delegación Tlalpan

For some time, we have been wanting to explore original villages within Delegación Tlalpan, the southernmost and geographically largest of Mexico City's boroughs. Through the good fortune of meeting a taxi driver who lives on the slopes of Mt. Ajusco, in the southern part of the delegacíon, we did get to Pueblo Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco for Carnaval. And through the continued good fortune of meeting la Comparsa de Chinelos (Moorish-style fiesta dancers) of San Lorenzo Huipulco at a fiesta in Coyoacán, we also got to that pueblo, which stands at the northeastern corner of Tlalpan, at the crossroads with Coyoacán and Xochimilco. But we had not made additional inroads into Tlalpan.

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Tlalpan is the large, mustard yellow delegación
in the southwest.

Except for a Metrobus line (double bus with dedicated lane and stations) down Ave. Insurgentes in the northwest, no public transportation line enters the borough, let alone crosses it. The light rail train from Coyoacán turns east at Huipulco and goes into Xochimilco. Instead of public transport, the delegación is crisscrossed by a labyrinth of major roads and expressways, including the Periférico (Ring Road) that circles Mexico City. Other roads originating in Mexico City's northern areas merge in north-central Tlalpan to form Route 95.

This highway travels south, climbing over a 10,000 ft. pass in the Sierra of Chichinautzin mountains at the delegación's southern border before dropping down 5,000 ft. to Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos. From there, called the Highway of the Sun, it proceeds to Acapulco on the Pacific Coast in the State of Guerrero. Most chilangos, Mexico City residents, know Tlalpan as simply the route to weekends in Cuernavaca or vacations on the beach.

Delegacion Tlalpan
Modern colonias, neighborhoods, hug the northern border,
surrounding original indigenous villages.
Other original villages are in the center, on the northeast slope of Mt. Ajusco.
The entire southern half is mountainous pine forest preserve.

Old Highway 95 and Expressway 95D cross from north to south.

The consequence for us is that it has been a challenge to figure out how to get to the original villages that exist immersed in the urban sprawl of northern Tlalpan or the still-rural villages in the sierra of central Tlalpan. The key had to be taxi drivers from the area who know their way around this Mexican labyrinth and the paths leading into the indigenous villages. Our regular drivers, based in Coyoacán, know how to get us to the central plaza in the Colonia Tlalpan, a most-pleasant, tranquil Spanish Colonial space, but other than major streets, they don't know their way around the delegación's pueblos.

Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, Village of the Shield of the Coyote

Our absolutely essential source of information on original villages is the Facebook page, Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de MéxicoMagical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico. This informational goldmine recently shared an announcement of the patron saint fiesta of Pueblo Chimalcoyotl (Nahuatl: Shield of the Coyote), in Tlalpan.

It is the Fiesta of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, on December 8, but as is typical, the fiesta is to be held the following Sunday. Our visit to the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Pueblo Santa María Tomatlán, in Delegación Iztapalapa on December 8, had led to our learning it did not hold a fiesta that weekend, so we were excited to find another opportunity to visit another pueblo, this time in Tlalpan.

Some online research led to our learning that Chimalcoyotl was originally a Tepanec village. The Tepaneca were a Nahuatl-speaking group that entered the Valley of Anahuac around 1000 C.E. and established settlements along the west side of Lake Texcoco at least two hundred years before the Mexica arrived in 1225. The Tepanec altepetl (city-state) of Azcapotzalco became the dominant power in the area until its rulers were defeated by the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and their allies in 1428. The Mexica then took control of all the Tepanec towns, including Chimalcoyotl, which lay strategically at the base of the mountains on the path to Cuauhnāhuac (later hispanicized into Cuernavaca).

After the Spanish defeat of the Mexicas in 1521, the Franciscans came to Chimalcoyotl in 1532 and erected their first chapel  as part of their evangelization and conversion of the indigenous people. During the Colonial period and up until the latter half of the 20th century, the pueblo was a rural one, dedicated to growing roses and maguey (agave).

Rest Stop on the Royal Road

Until the arrival of automobiles and trucks—and the paved highways they required—Chimalcoyotl was also a main rest stop for travelers and pack trains that had just come over the mountains from the port of Acapulco. For 250 years, during the Colonial Period, the Manila Galleons arrived in Acapulco from the Philippines with luxury goods paid for with Mexican silver. These goods were then transported via mule trains climbing 10,000 ft. before descending into the Valley of Mexico to arrive at Mexico City. From there, the goods were carried to the port in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico to be shipped on to Spain. The road between Acapulco and Mexico City was called El Camino Real, the Royal Road.

Chimalcoyotl held official status from the Mexico City government as an indigenous pueblo until the mid-1970s, but then lost it (perhaps related to government siezure of communal land, via eminent domain, for construction of the 95D expressway). Its residents regained official recognition for their pueblo in 2012, which meant they could receive funding from the City government for projects related to maintaining the pueblo's heritage.

Pueblo Chimalcoyotl 
(green/yellow star)
in north-central Tlalpan.

Challenge of Getting Into the Pueblo

For us, the challenge was how to get into the pueblo. We could find Chimalcoyotl on the online map La Ciudad de México a través de sus colonias, The City of Mexico via Its Colonias, which provides colored overlays of Google Maps showing all the colonias, pueblos and barrios of each of the sixteen delegaciones. It is our essential resource in finding where we are going on our Ambles. We found that, in terms of access, Chimalcoyotl is the quintessential challenge in Tlalpan.

Just as throughout its post-Conquest history, when the pueblo was a major stopover between Mexico City and Cuernavaca and Acapulco, it now lies precisely where the labyrinth of modern highways coming from the north of the city merge into the autopista (expressway) heading south! So instead of being a stopping point on El Camino Real, the pueblo has been virtually run over and walled in by these highways. How could we ever get inside?

lies at the crossroads of the expressway Viaducto de Tlalpan,
coming from the northeast
and Avenida Insurgentes,
coming from the northwest.
They merge in a huge traffic circle in the northeast side of the pueblo
to form the expressway 95D to Cuernavaca and Acapulco.

Old Highway 95 divides as it enters the pueblo from the south.
The northbound lanes then form another large traffic circle, to the southeast of the first,
in order to merge with other highways going north. 

Finding a Way Into the Labyrinth

We share our desire and our distress with Jenny, our spouse and partner in all things. After some moments' thought, she proposes:
"Well, we know two taxi bases in Tlalpan, one in Centro and one at Médica Sur (the large private hospital complex where all our doctors have offices). A driver from Coyoacán could take you to one of them, and it's likely the drivers there would know how to get into Chimalcoyotl."
We admit, we are always skeptical when it comes to previously untried proposals, but obviously, it is our only hope. So on the Sunday morning of the fiesta, we call our usual taxi base and walk out the door. The driver who arrives for us is Andrés, our very favorite for his friendly chats and knowledgeable driving around Mexico City. We tell him our desired destination. He acknowleges that he does not know how to get there. We tell him our "Plan B", to have him take us to one of the taxi bases in Tlalpan. Mexicans always have a "Plan B" as a backup for any endeavor, so he chuckles and off we go down the Calzada de Tlalpan, the eight lane southbound highway that was once the Aztec/Mexica causeway across Lake Texcoco.

At Huipulco, we turn onto Avenida Renato Leduc (named after a 20th century Mexican poet). The avenue passes Médica Sur and leads to the Center of Tlalpan, hence to both taxi bases—doubling our chances of finding a driver who knows Chimalcoyotl. As it happens, just as we get to the street that leads into the hospital, the avenue is closed—for a bicycle race! So we turn toward the hospital and go the short block to the taxi stand. We wonder if there will be any cabs there on a Sunday morning and are relieved to find two cabs waiting—and the two drivers standing, talking, beside the front cab. Andrés pulls into a nearby driveway. We pay him, but ask him to wait until we find out if they know how to get to Chimalcoyotl.

Getting out, feeling slightly anxious, we approach the men and ask the big question. They look at each other, chatting for a minute about where the pueblo is. Finally, one says, "Oh, it's where the kiosk is on the old highway to Cuernavaca." The other nods in recognition and tells us he will take us. We signal thumbs up to Andrés, who drives off, and get into the local taxi. We tell the driver of our anxiety that we wouldn't be able to find a driver who knew the way. In typical Mexican fashion, he reassures us, "No se preocupe. Está en buenos manos" | "Don't worry yourself; you're in good hands." We head south on a narrow street.

Soon we are on a wider, one-way road with considerable traffic. It begins to climb up the southern mountains. Shortly, the driver makes a kind of U-turn into a one-way road going in the opposite direction. This is the old divided Route 95. In a moment, he points out the kiosk ahead, sitting a bit uphill from the road. "This is Chimalcoytl," he advises us as he turns left into a narrow, cobblestone side street that drops downhill. We know immediately that we are in an old barrio. The driver stops to ask a man on the street the way to the church, as we have told him we are going to its fiesta. The man points back up the hill and says it is across the highway.

But at that moment, one block farther on, we see strings of papel picado, colored paper cut in designs that mark a fiesta, strung across the street. And at the corner, a small group of chinelo fiesta dancers are standing in their long velvet robes, but without their masks and headdresses. "The fiesta is here!" we tell the driver. So we pay him, thank him for being able to get us to our desired destination, and get out.

The Fiesta

Comparsas (fiesta dance group) of Chinelos and banda members fill the narrow, cobblestone street.
Blue and white of the papel picado are the Virgin Mary's colors.

We approach a couple of chinelos at the corner and confirm that they are preparing for the procession. Often for fiestas, the chinelos come from other pueblos, but they proudly tell us that they are Chimalcoyotle's own comparsa.

We had read on the fiesta announcement that at noon there was going to be a "reception" of other communities at a street corner in the pueblo. We weren't sure what that meant, but evidently, out of sheer buena fortuna, good fortune, we have happened on the designated street corner. Elated by our success, we take out our camera and begin photgraphing the action and the actors.

The procession heads off.
There are no statues of the Virgin or other saints carried on andas, platforms,
just two standards, banners of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
and of the Comparsa de Chinelos de Chimalcoyotl
It is a simple procession.

The comparsa of chinelos includes a number of young children.
The boy in white has totally mastered the rhythm of the dance moves. 

The images on their headdresses include:
the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (patron saint of the pueblo),
the Virgin of Guadalupe (whose fiesta is two days later),
and indigenous "Aztec" warriors.

We are always fascinated by the colorfulness and inventiveness of the masks and headdresses.
We also always find the expressions of the staring eyes to be poignant.

As always, the cohetero goes in front,
announcing the approaching procession.

(Of all our photos of coheteros
this is the first time we actually captured the rocket taking off!)

The all-important banda follows behind.
This one is big on drums!

Reception of Neighboring Pueblos

The procession travels several blocks, with cohetes going off, the banda playing and the chinelos jumping and twirling. Then it comes to a halt and everyone seems to be taking a break. We sit down on a curb, warming ourselves in the sun, waiting to see what is next.

A young man and a middle-aged woman approach us. He asks if he may speak English with us. "Of course," we respond. He tells us his name is Isaac (EE-sahk), but that we can call him Isaac, English pronunciation. We stick with the Spanish pronunciation. The woman is his mother; she indicates that she understands English, but doesn't speak. He asks about our reason for being here, and we tell him of our passion for getting to know the area's original pueblos and the posts of our visits to them published on Mexico City Ambles.

We ask Isaac what we are waiting for. He replies that we are at the boundary of the pueblo, and they are expecting the arrival of representatives from other pueblos bearing the standards of their respective saints. They will join the procession for its return to the church. This is a simple variation on statues of saints from other pueblos joining a procession.

After some minutes, the guests arrive and the procession starts back into Chimalcoyotl. Isaac and I exchange Facebook addresses, and I promise to send him a link to our Google photo album of the fiesta and to this post, when it is published. 

With standards of additional saints, the procession returns toward the church.

The Virgin of Guadalupe,
from the Colonia Volcanes y Miradores
The Virgin of Guadalupe,
from Pueblo Tlalcoligia


Resurrection of the Lord
Colonia Pedgregal de las Águilas (Eagles)

The procession passes through an evidently new concrete archway
identifying Pueblo Chimalcoyotl.
It stands alongside the southbound, old highway 95 to Cuernavaca.

(A later check via Google Maps street level view shows no arch, confirming it is recent.
Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, with its renewed status--and City government funding--

as an original indigenous pueblo,
is actively seeking to make its existence known to the outside world.)

Having climbed a hill and crossed northbound Route 95,
the procession approaches the church. 

Text on archway to atrio:
"Bless your pueblo, my Mother."

Arriving in the church atrio (atrium)
The symbol on the flag of the Comparsa is the nahuatl glyph for Chimalcoyotl.

The simple stone chapel
was built by Franciscan monks in the 17th century,

replacing an original 16th century chapel. 
Text on portada (festival arch):
"Thank you, my Mother, for protecting us."

Chapel interior.
A small statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is surrounded by a fiesta arch. 

The hummingbirds, because they draw nectar with their long beaks,
are an indigenous symbol of sacrifice.

Adjacent to the original chapel, constructed in the same stone and square style,
is a new, much larger chapel, in a purely modern aesthetic.
Obvious architectural thought has been given in blending the new with the old.
 Text: "Most Pure Conception, bless us."

Mass in progress in the new sanctuary.
Along the right-hand wall are the standards of the visiting pueblos.

Some members of the pueblo.

Bi-national Encounter, an Invitation to Dinner, and a Farewell

While Mass is underway, we take some photos of chinelos and other people resting in the atrio and sit in the still-warm December sun. We hear someone call to us as an extranjero (foreigner). Turning in the direction of the voice, we see a group of young men standing together, so we go to talk with them. They have been responsible for stopping traffic each time the procession crossed the two parts of Route 95. They ask us many serious questions about current and future relations between Mexico and the United States. Mexicans are acutely aware that the actions of their giant northern neighbor have powerful effects on their lives. We tell them that, unfortunately, their worries are very justified. 

At this point, Mass comes to an end and the chinelos and banda regroup, preparing to leave. The men tell us they have to go, as the group is going to walk several blocks to a place where they will be served comida, the afternoon meal (a tangible thank-you for their participation in the procession). They invite us to join them. We thank them for their muy amable (very kind) offer, but tell them our old body is quite tired, and we are not sure we can walk that far. 

We accompany them downhill as far as the kiosk on northbound Route 95 where our sore back tells us we need to sit and rest on one of the benches. After the procession has crossed the highway, one young man from the group returns to again invite us to comida. We tell him that en nuestro corazón, in our heart, we would love to come, but nuestro cuerpo viejo, our old body, isn't able to walk farther. He says he understands and adds "no se preocupe". We tell him muchísimas gracias, our biggest thanks, for his generous invitation, and he leaves to join his companions.

Taxis are going by on the busy highway. We hail one to head back to Coyoacán. Almost immediately, the cab swings around the huge traffic circle that takes up a good portion of Chimalcoyotl and puts us on the Viaducto Tlapan, the modern bypass that leads into the Calzada de Tlalpan, which is not only the most direct route to our home but the ancient route to the heart of Mexico City.

Kiosk of Chimalcoyotl,
Such ornate, French-style kiosks are from the late 19th century era of the Porfiriato
(reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz, 1876-1911, who was in love with all things French).
Kiosks are common in the plazas of Mexican villages and pueblos. 

A Pueblo That Survives Being Run Over by Modernity

As we leave Chimalcoyotl behind, we reflect on what we have encountered. We are especially satisfied that we were able to find our way into this ancient crossroads pueblo, enjoy its modest but heart-felt procession and meet and talk with several muy amable residents of this original village. Most of all, we are amazed that it has managed to survive and even restore its identity, despite the roads of modernity that have literally overrun it. 

Sign next to the kiosk.
Its fresh paint also shows the attention the pueblo is paying
 to make known its continuing existance.