Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Original Villages | Iztacalco's Barrio Santiago Atoyac Honors the Virgin of Guadalupe

One of our goals in our Ambles through the orginal indigenous villages now immersed in Mexico City is to get to every one of its sixteen delegaciónes (boroughs). In the nearly two years we have been on this peregrinación (pilgrimage), we have made it to pueblos or barrios in ten of the sixteen.

Delegación Iztacalco

One of the remaining six is Delegación Iztacalco, which happens to be the smallest of all (and easily confused by fuereños (outsiders, Mexican or otherwise) with its large southern neighbor, Iztapalapa). Unlike the rural delegaciones in the south, such as Tláhuac (which we reached in recent months) and Milpa Alta (which we haven't), and those in the western mountains, like Magdalena Contreras and Cuajimalpa (which we also haven't yet managed to reach), Iztacalco isn't difficult to get to. Immediately southeast of Delegación Cuauhtémoc (Centro Histórico's borough), it has major highways and avenues surrounding and crossing it. And it is no more than fifteen minutes from our apartment in Coyoacán. The challenge has been finding out when its barrios, neighborhoods, are holding fiestas.

Recently, our desire to find and attend a fiesta in one of Iztacalco's barrios was finally satisfied via our now indispensible source, 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. So it was time to begin to get to know Iztacalco.

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Iztacalco is the small, olive green delegación in the northeast.

Delegación Iztacalco
Its Pueblos, Barrios and Colonias

Island in an Urban Lake

When the Spanish arrived in the Valley in 1519, Iztacalco was an island or group of islands in the middle of Lake Texcoco. They were settled by Nahuatl speakers some time before the Mexica/Aztecas arrived in the Valley of Anahuac in 1225. A hundred years later, the Mexica, after working as mercenary soldiers for the powers in the Valley—first for Culhuacán, then for Azcapotzalco—began their search for a permanent place to found their own village. As a possible location, they tried to settle on Iztacalco, but were forced by the island's residents to move on. Iztacalcans made their living from the brackish waters of the lake (which has no outlet), drying salt that they traded with other settlements. Their activity gave rise to their name Iztacalco, House of Salt, in the Nahuatl language. 

(blue star)
was one of a group of islands in Lake Texcoco
just southeast of Tenochtitlan

The Spanish conquered the Mexica City of Tenochtitlan and took control of the Valley in 1521. In the next century, in an attempt to protect the City from flooding, they began to drain Lake Texcoco, leaving Iztacalco and other island villages both high and dry, and without their traditional sources of income. 

However, to provide a route for transport of food and other goods from Lake Xochimilco, in the south, to the Centro Histórico, the Spanish constructed the Royal Canal (after Independence it was renamed the National Canal, known popularly as La Viga, The Beam). It passed through Iztacalco, which became a major stopover for canoes coming and going from the City Center. The canal was used for nearly three hundred years, until the 1920s, when motor vehicles and roadways took its place. The route of the old Canal through Iztacalco is now the main avenue, Calzada de la Viga

The Viga (former Royal) Canal in 1850.
It is superimposed on a map of Mexico City of 1970.

Iztacalco lies about midway on the route.
Heavy red line up the center is modern outer-ring expressway.
Thin red line up the left side is Calzada de Tlalpan,
the former Mexica cuepotli, causeway across Lake Texcoco.

From the blog: Historia: Geografía y Rarezas

Paseo (trip) de Viceroy Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, duke of Albuquerque, 
and his wife, Doña Juana de la Cerda, up the Royal Canal. 
Their barge is in the foreground.

The church of San Matías Ixtacalco is in the left background. 
(The pueblo's name was spelled with an 'x' until the 20th century.)

Painted by Pedro Villegas in 1706, 
it is the oldest representation of the Canal de la Viga and chinampas (man-made island gardens, on the right). 
Wikipedia en español

The original village still retains its seven barrios: Santa Cruz, La Asunción, San Miguel, Los Reyes, San Sebastián Zapotla, San Francisco Xicaltongo and Santiago Atoyac, along with the adjacent Pueblo Santa Anita Zacatlalmanco Huéhuetl. These barrios lie near the western boundary of the modern delegación, mostly along the Calzada de la Viga.

Original barrios of Iztacalco
and Pueblo Santa Anita Zacatlalmanco Huéhuetl
(Santa Anita is the large, light green area on north side.)

Barrio Santiago Atoyac, the focus of this post, is marked by green/yellow star.
For some reason, it has been divided into North (dark green) and South (tan) sections.

The Church of Santiago (St. James) Atoyac sits on Avenida Santiago,
which is the boundary between the barrio's two sections.
The church is near the eastern end of the avenue, at about the star's right point.
The north-south road marking the barrio's eastern boundary is Calzada de la Viga.

Barrio Santiago Atoyac and the Virgin of Guadalupe

Recently, 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, posted an announcement of a fiesta in the Barrio Santiago (St. James) Atoyac, to be held the weekend of January 12. Curiously, it is to be a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose feast day was exactly a month prior, on December 12. We wonder why this fiesta is being held a month after the biggest saint's fiesta in Mexico, but we jump at the chance to visit a barrio in Iztacalco.

The posted schedule says a procession through the barrio will begin at noon on Saturday, the 13th. So half an hour before, we take a taxi north on the Calazada de Tlalpan, the main highway into Centro, which passes near Iztacalco. Our driver then takes us east to Calzada de la Viga, turns north and soon turns west into Avenida Santiago. Immediately, we see that the street is closed by juegos mechanicos, mechanical carnival rides, so we know we have found the fiesta and get out of the taxi. 

As we walk past the rides, empty and awaiting their evening customers, the steeple of the church comes into view. At the same time, we hear a banda playing, directly ahead of us in the street. 

Church of Santiago Apóstol Atoyac
Church of St. James the Apostle, Atoyac.

As we get to the church, we see the banda and a small group of people moving away from us along the avenue. It is ten minutes before noon, but obviously the procession has started early. We hurry to catch up. Fortunately, the procession turns at the first corner it reaches and then stops, so we are easily able to join it.

La Procesión

An image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
being carried through the streets of Barrio Santiago Atoyac;
a banda and some barrio residents follow behind

La banda Principes de Oaxaca
Princes of Oaxaca Band
(The phone numbers are for Mexico City; it is likely that
band members live in one of the City's Oaxaca neighborhoods.)

Papel picado, cut paper, announces the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The neighborhood appears to be a mixture of newer apartment buildings
and older, one- and two-story, single family homes.

"Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe"
"Long Live the Virgin of Guadalupe"
(At this point we still don't know why the Virgin is being honored
 a month after Her Feast Day)

Turning into a narrow callejon, alleyway, the procession enters the patio
of a modest cinderblock home, typical in working-class neighborhoods.

Waiting is a comparsa de caporales,
a group of cowboy and cowgirl-style dancers who accompany processions.
The procession will be much more colorful and lively with them. 

Passing the tradition from mother to daughter.

¡Belleza mexicana!
Mexican beauty!

Authentic (ones) of Ixtacalco
(The old spelling of the pueblo's name is used. )

preparing to join the procession.
Charros are fancy, Spanish-style
traditional to the western
state of Jalisco.
They have become a symbol of
traditional (rural, pre-20th century)

The residents of the house provide drinks of agua de jamaica (hah-MAE-kah),
Jamaica water,
a kind of cold tea made from red hibiscus flowers.
Delicious and full of vitamin C!

El patron y la patrona de la casa.
The owners of the house. 

The Virgin of the Day and Wax Virgins

We approach a family—the homeowners—standing in the patio. Introducing ourselves, we ask about today's celebration of the Virgin. They kindly explain that the barrio does participate in one of the many peregrinaciónes, pilgrimages, carried out by pueblos and barrios of Mexico City (as well as others coming from surrounding states) to the Basilica of the Virgin during the weeks leading up to December 12.

It is, however, the barrio's tradition that they carry with them Virgenes de cera, wax Virgins. The image displayed today always remains in the Church of Santiago Atoyac and is specially honored on this day as the barrio's Virgin.

El Señor 

We are puzzled by what a Virgin of wax is. We have never heard of such before. A young man accompanying the homeowners, apparently their grandson, is also a serious photographer and will be following the procession to photograph it. He has a portfolio of his photos with him and shows us a photo of a Virgen de cera. He explains that this is what is carried to the Basilica.

Vigen de cera,
Virgin of wax. 
Created by an aunt of the family.

The Procession Moves On

With everyone refreshed and las caporales and el charro ready to go, the procession once again gets underway.

(Literally, foreman of cattle herders,
i.e. another name for cowboys),
dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots,
leads the procession to direct its route
through the streets.

As the procession moves back into the streets,
more charros are waiting at a corner
to join it.

The procession, now with several charro and caporal dancers,
moves through the barrio.

Charro del muerte,
Charro of death.
(Our term. We have yet to uncover
an explanation for these.)


Spanish-style charro mask

This joven (young man)
has all the moves!

As does this one!

Beautiful mother!

Beautiful daughter!

This girl spreads petals of mums
in the path of the Virgin.

People of the barrio
watch as the procession goes by.

(The woman, upper right, had a teenage granddaughter with her who was shy
and didn't want to be photographed.
But la abuela was most happy to greet us and our camera.

Church of Santiago

Eventually, the procession returns to Avenida Santiago and arrives back at the Church. While we expect it to enter the atrio and end there, it moves on. We do not. Tired, the shaded atrio, with benches, beckons us as a most welcome and tranquil place to rest. We find we are not the only ones attracted to the oasis of peace in the midst of urban bullicio (boo-YEE-ceeoh, hubbub).

Fiesta portada (archway) portrays and honors
the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Legend says, "You are the light that illumines my way."

Carved doors portray the church's and barrio's patron saint,
Santiago Matamoros,
St. James, the Moorslayer.

Santiago Matamoros,
St. James the Moorslayer

The Apostle St. James is believed to have come to
the Roman province of Hispania after the Ascension of Christ,
to preach the Gospel
(Good News of Christ' victory over sin and death),
and convert the residents,
thus founding the Catholic Church in Spain
(separate from Sts. Peter and Paul, and Rome).
He then returned to Judea and was martyred.

According to Spanish Christian legend, in the mid 800s,
St. James reappeared 
at the Battle of Clavijo. Riding a white
horse, he helped the outnumbered Christian forces defeat the Moors,
(Muslims from North Africa),
in the early stages of the Reconquista of the land.

He was then called Santiago Matamoros
and became the patron saint of Spain.

The Reconquest was not completed until 1492.
The victorious King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella,
first rulers of a united Spain, celebrated by
commissioning Christopher Columbus to sail west to reach Asia.
He happened upon the "New World".

Nearly thirty years later, Hernán Cortés undertook the Conquest of Mexico
(the Aztec Empire).
The Spanish conquistadores prayed to Santiago
to help them defeat the Mexicas and their allies.

So Santiago Matamoros, 

representing this new Christian Conquest of a "pagan" people,
is the patron saint of many Mexican churches and their barrios.

While the church and parish of Santiago Atoyac date back to the 16th century,
the building was restored in 1953. 
The doors are quite new;
carved at the bottom right is the name,
Maximo Díaz, and the date, July 1986.

Atrio muy arboleado y sombreado
(Well-treed and shady atrium.)

Amigos descansando

Barrio Holding onto Tradition

Iztacalco, as we have said, is the smallest delegación in Mexico City, and not far from the Centro Histórico. Ixtacalco, once upon a time a village on an island in Lake Texcoco, is now surrounded by urban neighborhoods that have developed in the last century as the City expanded into the former lakebed. As our walk through Barrio Santiago revealed, even this original barrio has been invaded by modern apartment buildings. Generally inhabited by outsiders lacking roots in the neighborhood, the support for maintaining traditional fiestas is hence weakened. 

The fiesta for the Virgin of Guadalupe was a modest one, with the procession attended by fewer than two dozen people. It was not, of course, the barrio's primary fiesta. Held in July, the fiesta for the barrio's patron saint Santiago, St. James, would likely better represent the barrio's support for tradition. 

Nevertheless, we did get to witness and experience the animo (spirit, vitality) and beauty of the comparsa Autenticos de Ixtacalco. We got to meet a traditional family, learn about Virgenes de cera and walk some of the callejas (narrow side streets) of Barrio Santiago. And we have finally taken our first steps in the original barrios of Iztacalco

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