Friday, July 7, 2017

Original Villages | Tláhuac: Crossroads Between Two Lakes and Two Cultures

The Outer Boroughs

Since the spring of 2016, we have been ambling through several of Mexico City's sixteen delegaciones, or boroughs, seeking out the indigenous pueblos that existed around the lakes and on their islands in the Valley of Anahuac (now the Valley of Mexico) before the Spanish arrived and subjugated them. In doing so, we have discovered that there is a definite geographic difference in their distribution among the delegaciones and in the degree of their continuing vitality and conscious identity as original villages.

Delegaciónes (boroughs) of Mexico City
Cuauhtémoc, in north center, now Centro Histórico,
is the site of Mexico-Tenochtitlan

In the north of the City, Delegación Cuauhtémoc, site of  the Zócalo, the "Heart of the City" and the original Mexica city of Tenochtitlan, and adjacent delegaciones such as Benito Juárez and Miguel Hidalgo, are some such pueblos, or at least vestiges of them in the form of Catholic churches built by the Franciscans and other religious orders in the 16th century.

In Cuauhtémoc, around the Centro Histórico, which the Spanish took over for themselves, there were four indigenous barrios carried over by Cortés from Tenochtitlan, as the Republic de San Juan Tenochtitlan, whose original churches (or later replacements), plazas and mercados, markets, remain. Tacubaya and Tacuba in Miguel Hidalgo, are two examples of pueblos in adjacent delegaciones where churches, plazas and a few other vestiges of the transition from the indigenous to the Spanish Catholic world remain.

In the western, rural, mountainous delegaciones of Cuaujimalpa and Magdelena Contreras, vital original pueblos exist, but getting there is a challenge we still seek to overcome. However, the largest concentrations of original pueblos lie in the southern delegaciones. Our own Coyoacán contains at least a dozen. In neighboring Iztapalapa, Xochimilco and Tlalpan are many more. The far southeastern delegations of Tláhuac and Milpa Alta are, or have been until recently, rural areas consisting totally of traditional pueblos.

Traveling around Coyoacán is easy for us; however, traveling into the "outer boroughs" of Iztapalapa, Xochimilco, Tlalpan, Tláhuac and Milpa Alta is more of a challenge. They require longer rides on the Metro, if a line even exists, or extensive taxi trips. Tlalpan and Milpa Alta have no Metro; Tláhuac has only recently become reachable with Line 12. 

Probably more a factor is that most of their pueblos, barrios and newer post-WW II colonias (except for Tlalpan) are barrios populares, working-class neighborhoods with reputations for being unsafe. Many chilangos (Mexico City residents) from the central delegaciones consider them "dangerous"  and won't go there. Nevertheless, with the help of our friend and guide, Alejandro, who lived in Iztapalapa, we made initial forays into some of these outer boroughs. However, Alejandro recently moved to Guadalajara, far to the west, so we have been left on our own. 

As we have commented in other posts on these boroughs, we have found that it is perfectly safe to visit them when there is a fiesta being celebrated that brings el pueblo, the people as a community, into the streets, along with the community leaders who have organized the celebrations through their centuries-old system of mayordomos and their supporting committees. These committee members are almost always identifiable by their colorful shirts with the fiesta name written on them or by wearing ID tags.

Our consistent experience has been that members of el pueblo always warmly welcome us and our interest in their customs. Our visit to the old center of Iztapalapa for its Passion Play is, perhaps, the most outstanding example. But every Amble to these fiestas in the "outer boroughs" has been a wonderful experience of the ánimo, spirit, of el pueblo, expressing and celebrating its primary identity, and of its amabilidad, kindness to fuereños, outsiders who show respect for their traditions and treat them comfortably as prójimos, fellow human beings.

On to Tláhuac

We have made progress in fulfilling our goal of becoming acquainted with some pueblos in Iztapalapa and Xochimilco, but except for an initial, exploratory visit with Alejandro some months ago, we had not gotten to Tláhuac (the reddish-brown area on the lower east side of the City map above). A couple of weeks ago we learned, via our new "guide", the Facebook page of the Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de México (Magical Festivals of the Original Pueblos and Barrios of the Valley of Mexico) that the patron saint day of San Pedro, St. Peter, was going to be celebrated in Tláhuac for the entire last week of June. What appeared to be the high point of the fiesta, a procession, was scheduled for late afternoon on Wednesday.

So on that Wednesday afternoon, we head off east, first via taxi across eastern Coyoacán to Culhuacán in Iztapalapa, then southeast via the Metro's new Line 12 to its final stop, Tlálhuac, or more precisely, San Pedro Tlálhuac. Traveling above ground, we get a good,closeup view of la Sierra Santa Catarina, a row of ancient, extinct cinder cone volcanos that forms the border between Iztapalapa and Tláhuac.

Tecuauhtzin and Guadalupe,
the two easternmost volcanoes in the Santa Catarina chain
marking the boundary between Iztapalapa and Tláhuac.
Cerro de las Estrellas, Hill of the Star in Iztapalapa, is the most western volcano.

Ancient Roots in Lake Waters

Cuitláhuac (circled in blue), shortened by the Spanish to Tláhuac,
was situated on an island between Lake Xochimilco (to the west)
and Lake Chalco (to the east).

The area of what is now the Delegación of Tláhuac, in southeast Mexico City, shows signs of human occupation at least from the Preclassic period of Mesoamerica (1800 BCE–200 CE). The island of Cuitláhuac and the Tlaltenco riverbank (on the Iztapalapa peninsula, north of Lake Xochimilco) were occupied by agricultural villages at a time contemporaneous with the development of Cuicuilco (c. 700 BCE – 150 CE, west of Lake Xochimilco and buried when Xitle volcano erupted).

In the environs of Tlaltenco remains of ceramics have been found that date to the year 1500 BCE and correspond to a village located on land what is known as Terremote Tlaltenco. Equally old vestiges of human occupation have been found in San Juan Ixtayopan, located in the southeast of Tláhuac on the slope of the volcano Teuhtli. Both the Tlaltenco and Ixtayopan sites were abandoned by the end of the Late Preclassic period, when Teotihuacan became the main political and urban center of the Mexican basin.

In 1222 CE, a Nahua group founded Cuitláhuac—the present San Pedro Tláhuac—on a small island between lakes Xochimilco and Chalco. It is thought they came from nearby Xochimilco, founded three hundred years earlier. Around the island, they created chinampas—man-made islands like those first invented in Xochimilco for growing produce.

Models of chinampas at the San Pedro fiesta,
Created by a community group seeking to preserve this ancient form of horticulture
that is quite modern in its use of "all natural" techniques.

Cuitláhuac did not remain an independent altepetl, city-state, for long. In 1230, the altepetl of Chalco-Atenco (to the east, today in the State of Mexico) conquered Cuitláhuac, Míxquic and other lakeside pueblos that are now part of the borough. In 1393, Azcapotzalco (on the west shore of Lake Texcoco) subjugated the Cuitlahuacas, as it had most of the Valley.

In 1428, the Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Tlalcopan (now the Colonia Tacuba) and Texcoco (on the east side of Lake Texcoco) defeated the armies of Azcapotzalco. The Mexicas of Tenochtitlan, as the dominant power, took control of Cuitláhuac. As they did in Lake Texcoco, they built a causeway to connect Cuitláhuac to the north and south shores of the lake.

Goal from indigenous ball court
at the site of Church of St. Peter
on the former island of Cuitláhuac

Hernán Cortés and his soldiers passed through Cuitláhuac to reach the Iztapalapa peninsula and its causeway leading to Tenochtitlan. After the defeat of the Mexicas in 1521, as part of what has come to be called the Spiritual Conquest, the Franciscans built the church of St. Peter the Apostle on the site of an indigenous temple on the island of Cuitláhuac. At the end of 16th century, St. Peter's was transferred to Dominican control.

Tlálhuac, with St. Peters Church, on Cuitláhuac Island,
with causeways constructed by the Mexicas.

 Atlas eclesiástico de el Arzobispado de México, 1767
Templos y Capillas del México Viejo, Delegación Tláhuac.

From the colonial period through the 19th century, Tláhuac alternated being under the governance of either Xochimilco or Chalco. In 1928, it became a delegación (borough) of the Federal District, now Mexico City.

Until the 1980s, Tláhuac was a rural borough of original indigenous villages, surrounded by chinampas in the former Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco. Together with neighboring Xochimilco, it was part of the area declared Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO in 1987. During the last thirty years, as with Xochimilco, Iztapalapa, Tlalpan and other peripheral boroughs, the demographic pressure from Mexico City has resulted in the borough's rapid urbanization, such that the urban areas now cover approximately a third of it (see delegacion map below). Wikipedia

Seven Pueblos

In Tláhuac are seven native pueblos from pre-Conquest times, each having a dual Spanish saint and indigenous name:
  • Santiago (St. James) Zapotitlán, 
  • San Francisco (St. Francis of Assisi) Tlaltenco, 
  • Santa Catarina (St. Catherine) Yecahuitzotl, 
  • San Pedro (St. Peter) Tláhuac; 
  • San Juan (St. John the Baptist) Ixtayopan;
  • San Nicolás (St. Nicholas) Tetelco; and 
  • San Andrés (St. Andrew) Mixquic.

Seven Original Pueblos of Delegación Tláhuac
(Each pueblo is divided into various barrios)

Green/yellow star in the center marks site of Delegación offices
and Church of St. Peter in the original Pueblo of Cuitláhuac,

now San Pedro Tláhuac.

(Just to the east of San Pedro is a remnant of Lake Chalco. 
Gray-green areas marked by rectangles are chinampa fields.
Other gray green areas to the north and south are volcanic mountains)

Northwest of San Pedro Tláhuac (on the former north shore of Lake Xochimilco) are:
 Pueblos Santiago Zapotitlán (red/orange star) and 
San Francisco Tlaltenco (red/yellow star)

Northeast is Pueblo Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl (purple/orange star)
(on the former north shore of Lake Chalco), 

Southeast (on the former south shore of Lake Chalco) are:
San Juan Ixtayopan (orange/red star),
San Nicolás Tetelco (mustard/yellow star), and
San Andrés Mixquic (navy blue/red star)

Pueblo San Pedro Tláhuac

The Tláhuac Metro station is a half-mile or so from the center of Pueblo San Pedro Tláhuac, so, upon leaving the station, when we see no taxis, we take one of the ominpresent gray and green jitney buses for the short ride south. 

On the left side of the two-lane road are the simple, concrete block buildings typical of a Mexican village. In contrast, on the right are fields, some growing corn or other crops; cows and horses graze in others. Narrow canals crisscross the fields, irrigating them. These are the chinampas, the man-made islands built up centuries ago in what were once Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco, surrounding what was once the island of Cuitláhuac, now the Pueblo of San Pedro Tláhuac.

In a few minutes we come to a plaza with a bright orange mercado, indoor market, on the far side, and what looks like an old ayuntamiento, "town hall" on our right, which we recognize from our earlier visit with Alejandro, so we know this is where to get off the bus.

Traditional ayuntamiento, "town hall", with its Spanish-style portico.

filled with many puestos, for the fiesta or fair,

as signs tell us it is called here.

Across the street, to one side of the plaza and behind the ever-present street puestos, commercial stalls, and some juegos mechanicos, fair rides, we can see the entrance to the atrio, atrium, of the Church of San Pedro. Certainly, we have here all the physical ingredients of a pueblo: a plaza surrounded by a market, a government office and a church, the trinity of Commerce, the State and God.

Fiesta Preparations

The doorway to the atrio is decorated with a portada,
unusual in that it is made of reeds that grow in the canals,
instead of the usual flowers.

St. Peter's Atrio
It is also unusual in that it is filled with several huge royal palm trees,
which, strangely, aren't that common in Mexico City.

"Long live St. Peter, the Apostle"
Papel picada, cut paper (now plastic),
announces the celebration of the patron saint's day.

Church of St. Peter the Apostle,
built by Franciscans sometime after 1529,
handed over to Dominicans in 1554.

The design on the facade is mudéjar, Moorish, i.e. Muslim.

Typical of patron saint fiestas, the sanctuary is filled with fresh flowers,
likely grown in Tláhuac's own chinampas.
St. Peter sits at the center of the Baroque retablo, reredos,

probably added in the 18th century.

Going through a side door and down a few steps
we enter the cloister of the convent or monastery,
built by the Dominicans in 1586.

The Celebration Gets Underway

Outside, a band is playing 1950s show tunes
and songs from the U.S.
The band is that of
the Mexico City Police Department.

This, too, is a first in our fiesta visits.

Soon, St. Peter is brought out of the church.
As Christ´s chosen leader
and first Pope of the Catholic Church,
he holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The banda, an essential component of a procession, arrives and begins to play.

Acolytes appear

A Queen and two Princesses of the Fiesta arrive.
They pose for us, as beauty queens are supposed to do.
The addition of a beauty pageant to a saint's day is

also something new in our experience.

The priest appears.

With the emergence of the priest from the church, all the components of a traditional saint's procession are present. However, while a number of people look on, more are listening to the police band or eating food purchased from a number of vendors lining the atrio walkway. This does not seem be one of those processions we have witnessed where more or less significant numbers of parroquianos, members of the parish, participate. Perhaps more will join along the way, which is often the case.

The procession starts off.

At this point, another representation of St. Peter is brought from the church.
Above him is the name Cuitláhuac, the original name of the pueblo.

The saint is accompanied by two more females, attired in traje traditional, 
traditional dress, who also readily strike beauty queen poses for our camera.

As with the "Queen" and two "Princesses",
we get the feeling this is as much a beauty pageant
as a saint's procession.

Procession into the Darkness

The procession starts off, but it is starting to get dark. Black clouds are gathering. It is the rainy season, so we decide not to follow, as we usually would.

We learn the next day, from the Magical Festivals Facebook page, that the procession takes an unusual path. 

A waterfall of light

St. Peter, in both his representations, is carried to an embarcadero, a pier on the canals, placed in trajineras, flat-bottomed boats, and poled out onto the waters. As darkness falls, they are honored with a pyrotechnic display, a waterfall of light. Quite special, clearly a meeting of the Catholic saint, the First Pope, with the ancient world of his indigenous pueblo. Another unique manifestation of the Spiritual Conquest, or better, of the reconciliation of two disparate worlds.

We are both moved by this hidden climax and saddened that we could not witness it. Quizá, otra vez. 
!Ójala! Perhaps, another time, God willing!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Original Villages | Coyoacán: Barrio San Mateo Receives the Lord of Compassion

Barrio San Mateo Announces a Visit by The Lord of Compassion

Last spring, in April of 2016, we had the remarkable good fortune to come upon el Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion, in his home pueblo, Tres Santos Reyes, Three Holy Kings, as he was being prepared for a series of visits to other original pueblos and barrios in Coyoacán and some neighboring delegaciones, boroughs. His visits are symbolic acts that maintain and renew the ancient ties between these villages that existed before the arrival of the Spanish and the Conquest. The visits are an action manifesting centuries-old communal identity and pride.

We spent the summer following el Señor from Tres Reyes to San Lucas (St. Lukes) and Niño Jesús (Child Jesus), on to Candelaria and beyond, and finally His return to Tres Reyes the first Sunday in September. Not included in his itinerary were the two original barrios closest to where we live in Coyoacán, San Mateo Churubusco (St. Matthew) and San Diego Churubusco.  At the time, we wondered why this was, but assumed there just wasn´t enough time in His schedule and/or these barrios chose not to participate (mounting a fiesta involves a lot of expenses).

So a few weeks ago, we were surprised and happy to see an announcement that this year el Señor was going to visit San Mateo, three blocks from our apartment. He would be coming from San Lucas, just across Division del Norte boulevard, but He would only be staying for an hour or two for a Mass on a Saturday morning, before returning to San Lucas. The next day, Sunday, He would move on, as He had last year, to Niño Jesús.

"The most cordial invitation
is made to you for the reception
of the Lord of Compassion
to be carried out Saturday, June 17,
at 10:00 AM
in the Church of San Mateo Churubusco.
Don't miss it!"

Hence, when that Saturday arrives, after breakfast, we walk the three blocks to the Parish Church of San Mateo and enter the atrio, atrium.


A traditional tapete de aserrín, sawdust carpet, is being prepared:

The hummingbird is the traditional symbol of Churubusco,
whose Mexica/Aztec name was Huitzilopochco ("Wee-tzee-lo-POCH-ko",
from the náhuatl huitzitzilin, "hummingbird"; and yopochtli, "left or southern direction"
—hence, "hummingbird from the south") after their primary god, Huitzilopochtli, god of war.
Hummingbirds were also symbols of blood sacrifice.

The church sits on the site of a former Mexica temple.

San Mateo, St. Matthew, writer of one of the Four Gospels,
waits on his anda, (from andar, walk ahead).
Curiously, it is bedecked, not with flowers, but vegetables:
ears of corn, Romaine lettuce, green onions, carrots,
bell peppers, radishes. Makings of a great salad!
We haven't seen this before at a fiesta.

A mariachi band plays as the priest and acolytes prepare for the procession.

We love the lyrical, ebullient music of mariachis

We are delighted by the mariachi band, which replaces the usual brass banda.

The Procession

The procession prepares to start off 


Cohetero, shooting cohetes, rocket-style firecrackers,
leads the way, announcing to the community the coming of the procession.

Turning from the narrow side street on which the church is located, onto the barrio's main street, we are met with another delightful surprise.

Los Viejitos

A group of costumed, masked people, adults and some children, are waiting in the street to join the procession. They are another type of comparsa, fiesta dance group—one we haven't seen before in Mexico City, but very familiar to us from our time living in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. They are los viejitos, the little old men (and here, women, including men dressed as women).

In Michoacán they are the quintessential traditional dancers, indigenous Purhépechas, burlesquing Spanish colonists. There, they all wear a single style of traje traditional, traditional dress of white cotton shirts and pants embroidered with indigenous designs. They also wear the traditional Purhépecha flat-topped sombrero with ribbons. Their masks portray güeros, pale-faced, blue-eyed Spanish.  

Purhépecha viejito dancer;
wooden sandals, split across the arch,
make a unique, forcefull clacking sound on hard pavement.

Comparsa de los Viejitos de Santa Cruz Xochitepec, Xochimilco

Los Viejitos are lead by a drummer.
His rhythm, and their movements
are much like the Aztec dancers
often seen in Mexico City.

Walking, and dancing, the two or three short blocks to Division del Norte, the procession stops and waits. We are awaiting the arrival of el Señor de la Misericordia from Barrio San Lucas, just across the wide, busy boulevard.

The couple in the center top identify themselves as the parents of one of the Viejito dancers
from the Pueblo of Santa Cruz Xochitepec in Xochimilco.

El Señor Arrives

Soon cohetes can be heard from the other side of the avenue. Shortly after, the procession from San Lucas comes into sight, with the flower-bedecked anda bearing el Señor prominent. In a few moments, traffic is stopped and the parishioners of San Lucas cross, bearing their venerated representation of Jesus during His Passion of Holy Week.

The Lord of Compassion,
accompanied by His host of the week, San Lucas.

San Mateo and His parishioners welcome el Señor and San Lucas. There are many cohetes to mark the meeting. The merged processions return to the Church of San Mateo.

San Mateo greets the Lord of Compassion

As the guest of honor, el Señor leads the way.

Los Viejitos enter the sanctuary first, with a Carnaval-like energy.
El Señor follows in a much more somber mood.

El Señor (far left) and San Mateo (far right) in their places of honor.

Parishioners follow and Mass begins. 

The party continues ...

The mariachis play.

A banda follows them,
playing U.S. dance tunes from the 

People relax in the shade of the atrio's large trees.

The quieter time gives us a chance to take some retratos, portraits,
including some faces behind the viejito masks.

Despedidas, Farewells, and Bienvenidas, Welcomes

When Mass is over, el Señor departs for San Lucas.

While watching the departure of el Señor and the ending of the fiesta—savoring all that we have been privileged to experience in one short morning, just three blocks from our home—a man about the same "senior" age as we approaches and asks if we are "press". We say that no, we are a neighbor from Colonia San Andrés who is encantado, enchanted by the original barrios and pueblos of the city. We add that we have a blog where we post our photos and stories of fiestas such as this one that we attend. We tell him that last summer we followed el Señor de la Misericordia in His visits around Coyoacán and wondered why He didn't come to San Mateo.

He says this is the first time el Señor has visited this parish in some forty years. The parish feels very honored and happy that he has come, if just for a couple of hours. He introduces himself. He is Sr. Sergio Garcia. He has lived in San Mateo all of his seventy-four years, a true oriundo, native. He is on the committee responsible for the fiestas. As he is a printer, he is in charge of all the advertising. We exchange cards and emails, and I tell him I will send a link to all the photos when I have edited them. We agree to stay in touch, including telling him that we would like to have professional quality business cards made for Mexico City Ambles, which he happily says he can do. 

So the day has led, not just to another delightful experience of the ánimo, spirit, of the people of a traditional city barrio and the proud display of their communal identityright in our own backyardbut also to meeting another muy amable, very considerate, native of a barrio who opens the door to our further getting to know him and his community. Saying mucho gusto en conocerlo, very pleased to make your acquaintance, and hasta luego, until the next time, to Sr. Garcia, we head back the three short blocks but long historical and cultural distance from San Mateo to "modern" Parque San Andrés.

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.