Friday, May 31, 2019

Original Villages | Fiestas in Pueblo Iztacalco, Part I: Commemorating the Past, Enjoying the Present

Challenge of Finding Fiestas in Pueblo Iztacalco

Delegación/Alcaldía (mayoralty, borough) Iztacalco, the smallest delegación/alcaldía in the city, is no more than fifteen minutes north from our home base in Delegacion/Alcaldía Coyoacán. Immediately southeast of Delegación Cuauhtémoc (Centro Histórico's location)it has major highways and avenues surrounding and crossing it, so it is easy to access. San Matías church, from the 16th century, is the central church of the original pueblo, while each of its seven barrios, Santa Cruz, La Asunción, San Miguel, Los Reyes, San Sebastián Zapotla, San Francisco Xicaltongo and Santiago Atoyac, has its own chapel, so there should be plenty of fiestas.

Yet, we have found it difficult to find fiestas that its barrios are celebrating individually or together as a pueblo in the plaza in front of San Matías. A couple of barrio fiestas we have attended have been so small in attendance and limited in their activities that we haven't been able to find a narrative to present them. We did present the Barrio Santiago Atoyac's Honoring of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It, too, was a small affair, but full of ánimo (spirit, liveliness) and color, providing the elements of a good post. Perhaps, we thought, we just hadn't yet found the major fiesta.

Finally, recently, our luck changed. There were two fiestas in Iztacalco held close together. First, in mid-April was el Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Pain or Sorrows) the Friday before Palm Sunday, which venerates the Virgin Mary for all the sorrows and pain she experienced in the life of her son, Jesus the Christ, ending in His Passion, his torture and crucifixion during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

The second fiesta was in mid-May, the patron saint fiesta for San Matías. We will present that in part II of this series.

From Recalling with Sorrow the Sufferings of the Virgin to Recalling with Pride La Viga Canal

Arriving at the Viernes de Dolores, we do not find the expected focus on the Virgin Mary and her suffering. Normally, it is accompanied by an elaborate and specific set of symbols for her suffering, such as a heart pierced with seven daggers, representing the seven times in her life when she was made aware that her son would die as a sacrifice, or hanging glass globes filled with liquid, representing her tears. Instead, we encounter a celebration of the history of the Royal or (after Independence from Spain) the National Canal, popularly called La Viga (the Beam). The change of focus and the reversal of sentiments is, to say the least, striking, but we realize from past research about the history of Mexico City that there is an underlying connection.

Iztacalco's Transformation from an Island, to a Stop on a Canal

Iztacalco was originally an island or set of islands, among many in the midst of a bay in the southwest corner of Lake Texcoco, south of the great city of the Mexica/Azteca, Tenochtitlan. Its residents made their living by extracting salt from the waters of the lake and selling it in the famous market of Tlatelolco, just north of Tenochtitlan. (The lakes, being totally surrounded by mountains, had no outlet to the sea. Lake Texcoco was the lowest in altitude and therefore received the waters from the four other lakes in the system, thus becoming salty.) Iztacalco means House of Salt in Nahuatl.

The island of Iztacalco
lay near the southeast end 

of the west bay of Lake Texcoco,
about halfway between the Peninsula of Iztapalapa

(lower right corner) 
and the island city of Tenochtitlan.

Sculpture of the Nahuatl glyph for House of Salt
in the Plaza of Iztacalco

In the 17th century, the Spanish decided to drain Lake Texcoco to protect Mexico City (built atop the destroyed Tenochtitlan), from frequent flooding during the summer rainy season. As the lake dropped away, they built the Royal Canal to provide a water route for the transportation of agricultural products from the chinampas (man-made islands) in Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco, in the southern part of the Valley, to the City.

Iztacalco — now no longer an island, but part of the mainland, and no longer with a salt business —  became a major stop along the canal, with a pier for loading products for the city. (See our post: La Viga Canal: Pathway from a Land of Lakes to One of Roadways)

La Viga (former Royal, then National) Canal in 1850.
It is superimposed on a map of Mexico City from 1970.
Iztacalco lies somewhat more than halfway up the canal.

Heavy red line up the center is modern outer-ring expressway.
Thin red line up left side is Calzada de Tlalpan,
the former Mexica cuepotli, causeway,

between Tenochtitlan and the southern end of Lake Texcoco.

Paseo (trip) of Viceroy (1702-1710) Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, Duke of Albuquerque, 
and his wife, Doña Juana de la Cerda, up the Royal Canal in the early 18th century. 
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

Church of San Matías today,
little changed in over four hundred years.
How El Viernes de Dolores Became Connected with La Viga Canal: El Paseo de la Viga

In 1785, Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez ordered a promenade built alongside the Royal Canal. When de Galvez died unexpectedly, it was completed under the mandate of the new viceroy, the Second Count of Revillagigedo, who undertook a major renewal of the entire cityscape.

Called el Paseo de la Viga, it ran from south of the Church of San Pablo Nuevo, in what was then the southeast corner of the city, to the Garita (tollhouse) de la Viga (see map above), near Pueblo Santa Anita Zacatlamanco, north of Iztacalco (see island map above). It was approximately one kilometer, a little over half a mile in length, and thirty meters, or nearly a hundred feet, wide. On Sundays, families would take a paseo, stroll, along the western side of the Canal. They could also ride horses or in carriages or travel on the Canal on trajineras (flat-bottomed canoes), just as Mexicans and tourists do today on the canals of Xochimilco.

El Paseo y Garita de la Viga
Lithograph by Casimiro Castro
In the foreground is the embarcadero where people boarded flat-bottomed trajineras.

To the right is the Paseo, filled with pedestrians
and horse-drawn carriages.

From: El Paseo y la Garita de la Viga
By: Manuel Aguirre Botello

It became the tradition to hold a large tianguis (outdoor market) and festival during Semana Santa (Holy Week) at the end of the Paseo in Santa Anita Zacatlamanco. Such Semana Santa holiday markets are still held in various cities in Mexico. There are big ones in Pátzcuaro and Uruapan in Michoacán, where we used to live. We are grateful to Diego Rivera for a wonderful mural of this market/fiesta along the canal, still held in the 1920s.

Viernes de Dolores en el Canal de Santa Ana
Friday of Sorrows on the Santa Ana Canal

Diego Rivera, in the Secretariat of Public Education
Fiesta del Viernes de Dolores
Canal de la Viga
Pueblo Santa Anita.

From Facebook page
Iztacalco Barrio Mágico, Pueblo Bendecido por Dios
During the 1920s, trucks replaced the need for trajineras to bring produce into the center city, and paved roads eliminated the need for the canal. It fell into disuse but remained in existence until the 1950s. Then, as part of a government urban development plan to create many major avenues for automobiles in the city, the canal was filled in and paved over, becoming the avenue Calzada de la Viga. In place of the canal, it now runs through the center of the original Pueblo Iztacalco, directly in front of the Plaza and the Church of San Matías.

Street sign near the central plaza.

Plaza de Iztacalco, seen from la Calzada de la Viga.
The Church of San Matías sits to the rear, hidden by the 19th-century kiosk
and vendors' tarps.

What we witness today, on el Viernes de Dolores, is a remnant of that former holiday market, moved south from neighboring Santa Anita, and a commemoration of the important place la Viga Canal played in the history of Iztacalco after it was transformed from an island producing salt to a stopping point on that primary commercial pathway of the City. 

Images of La Viga

As we enter the plaza, we see along one side a display of photographs. They are turn
-of-the-19th to 20th-century images of la Viga:

La Viga
The arches structure is a garita, a toll booth

Because the exhibit is outside, the photos are covered with plastic wrap. Hence the wrinkles.

"La Flor Más Bella" de la Viga.
The Most Beautiful Flower" of la Viga.
Here is a link to a wonderful, three-minute slide show of more old photos and paintings of life on and around La Viga from the late 19th century into the early years of the 20th. It includes photos of the fair of Viernes de Dolores and "La Flor Más Bella", presented below in this post. Video thanks to the Facebook page Iztacalco Barrio Mágico.

"La Flor Más Bella", "The Most Beautiful Flower"

The last photo portrays "La Flor Más Bella", "The Most Beautiful Flower" of the canal system. It is a beauty contest sponsored by the flower growers in the chinampas and users of the canal and held each year at Easter time. The contest is still held every Eastertide on the canals of Xochimilco. It celebrates the chinampa-canal system which makes possible the year-round growing of flowers and produce, making it the major source for the flower and vegetable markets all over the Valley, from the major Jamaica indoor market to smaller local formal markets to informal street vendors. (See our post on the Markets of Mexico City)

Now, here in Pueblo Iztacalco, we are presented with its Flor Más Bella. A gentleman in traditional charro cowboy suit with a huge sombrero speaks to the small crowd about the history of la Viga and its importance in the heritage of Iztacalco

Then a pretty young woman and two other females, dressed in indigenous-style dress come forward. 

"La Flor Más Bella" is in the middle. 

La Flor Más Bella and the other two women wear variations of parts of female dress popular among urban women in central and southern Mexico, including Mexico City, Puebla and Cuernavaca, during the 19th and early 20th century known as China poblana (Puebla woman). It mixes elements of various indigenous dress components, such as the huipil, the square-cut blouse with embroidered flowers from Chiapas and Oaxaca, two highly indigenous states. Frida Kahlo, at the encouragement of her husband, Diego Rivera, is the most famous representative of China poblana attire, a modern, urban woman displaying a rural indigenous heritage. It is worn here for a ceremonial occasion. It is hardly ever seen on the streets of Mexico City. Upscale women in Cuernavaca dress in huipil blouses and blue jeans.  

A China poblano dress of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo House Museum.

La Flor Más Bella

Danzón: Dance that is Elegant, Formal and Sexual

After the commemoration of La Viga, the party really begins. Danzón music is played from loudspeakers and several couples of la tercera edad, the third age, i.e., senior citizens, get up from the plaza benches and begin its slow, stylized and sensuous movements. They are definitely "dressed-up" for the occasion, the women in cocktail-style dresses, the men mostly in suits or sports jackets and slacks. Danzón arose in the tropical heat of Cuba, a mixture of Spanish 2/4 contradance rhythm and African syncopation. Many danzón groups exist in towns and cities across Mexico.

Let´s dance!

Wouldn't we love to be able to wear
 an indigo suit?

Or a black fedora with an orange band and a white suit with an orange handkerchief?

We´ll dance until we can no more.

Love all around

Delegación Iztacalco
is the small, dark green area
in the northeast of the City,
just southeast of Delegación Cuauhtémoc,
site of Centro/Tenochtitlan.

Delegación/Alcaldía Iztacalco
with its barrios and colonias.
The center of the barrios forming the original Pueblo Iztacalco 
are marked by green/yellow star.

Blue line passing through the star was the Viga Canal,
now the avenue Calzada de la Viga.

Original Pueblo de Iztacalco
composed of seven original barrios
marked by black boundary line.
(Barrio Santiago has been divided into north [green] and south [yellow] sections.
Pueblo Santa Anita (green area at top) was a separate pueblo.
 Site of plaza and main Church of San Matías, in Barrio Asunción, 
is marked by 
green/blue star.

South to North line up the middle marks the original Canal de la Viga,
now the avenue Calzada de la Viga.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Original Villages: Carnaval in Santa María Aztahuacan

As we wrote in our recently published post, Discovering the Pueblos of Eastern Iztapalapa, we have been intrigued for the past year by a group of originally indigenous pueblos we virtually stumbled across in the eastern portion of that large delegación/alacldía (mayoralty, borough). There are five in the group:
Santa María Aztahuacan;
San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla;
Santa Martha Acatitla; 
Santa Cruz Meyehualco and
Santiago Acahualtepec.
In researching their history, we learned that Santa María Aztahuacan has been a village almost continuously for some 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest in the Valley of Mexico. San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla and Santa Martha Acatitla go back about 2,000 years. We made it first to Santa Martha Acatitla's Carnaval a year ago. It was so grand, colorful and full of ánimo (spirit) that it motivated us all the more to want to visit its sister pueblos. We got to San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla for its patron saint fiesta this past January and also saw a parade of charros, Spanish-style, fancy dressed cowboys. 

Then, this April, we hit the jackpot. We learned that three of the pueblos, Santa María Aztahuacan; San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla and Santa Martha Acatitla were joining together to hold un gran cierre, a grand closing or finale to the Carnaval season in April. We just had to attend. It was to start in Santa María Aztahuacan and march on to San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla and Santa Martha Acatitla. There was no way we could follow it that whole way, but we could witness its start. So on the appointed Sunday morning, we called a taxi and headed off along the Calzada Ermita-Iztapalapa boulevard to the far side of the delegación. Now somewhat familiar with these pueblos, we quite easily found the parade participants gathering on Avenida México in Santa María Aztahuacan. 

Carnaval, in general, is famous for being a grand parade, lavish, full of people in diverse costumes, an almost over-the-top extravaganza. This one fulfilled all such expectations. When we arrive, we find huge carros alegóricos, motorized floats, decorated with all kinds of themes ready to carry elegantly dressed princesses representing the various pueblos and their comparsas (parade marching troupes). 

Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent,
a major indigenous god.

The comparsas consist of two types. Several are composed of Spanish charro cowboys in their elegantly embroidered suits. 

The others are comparsas de disfraces, people in disguises of all kinds (think Halloween).  

A carro de disfraz, Alice in Wonderland,
with the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and Alice!

And, of course, for each comparsa there is a brass banda to set the tempo and rhythm. 

Una banda

While all the comparsas parade in an orderly manner, each in its place in the line (while there is some beer drinking among spectators, there is no drunken revelry), the sheer number and variety are almost overwhelming to our senses. But then, that's what Carnaval is supposed to be — taking us to the limits of stimulation. We hope the photos that follow convey that. 

The "Pheasant" charros of Santa Martha Acatitla


The designs, embroidered in gold thread on the backs of the charro suits,
are a virtual art gallery, here mostly of mythical themes.
From top left, clockwise: a pheasant, Hercules slaying the Nemean lion (the first of his twelve labors), a royal crest with griffins, a cobra, a fairy creature, a nymph, a geisha, two centaurs battle.


A float....
...and its princess, Vanessa.

Another float...

...and its princess.

Disfraces, disguises
Los Morenos, the dark-skinned ones.

We particularly like this one
for its ingenuity of theme and execution,
and its timeliness:
The Donald carries a Mexican on his back.
A classic of Mexican political cartooning.

Dragon float
Yaneli ("the 1st) is the name of the princess.

Princess Yaneli
with a Chinese theme.

The Sparrow Hawks,
another comparsa of charros

Life and Death together
is a common theme in the Mexican imaginario, world view.
Charro masks are often of skulls (top, second from left), or half skull-half flesh.
Death brings even los de arriba (those above) down;
making them equal to los de abajo (those below).

Another Mexican joining of opposites is portrayed in bottom row, second photo from right:
The left half of the face is a blue-eyed Spanish conquistador;
the right half is that of an Azteca warrior.
Here a hooked chain has been run through the nose and mouth,
sealing the lips of both. 

Float with its princess

Charros, The Eagles

Azteca Sun Stone,
Portraying the Five Suns or Worlds created by the gods.
Four attempts 
(symbols in rectangles around the center)
to create a world that worshiped them failed.

The Fifth Sun, whose Sun God, Tonatiuh is at the center,
was the world of the Mexica/Azteca.

Matador and Bull Float
(We think this is the most amazingly executed float, with thousands of mirrors and

the dynamically sculptured charging bull.)

Karime is the name of the princess.


Disguises of the Barrio

A rather more gruesome group

An American Bald Eagle?
The Mexican Eagle is the Golden Eagle.

Princess Daniela
What "SGM" stands for we don't know.
Our guess is,
"Señorita de la Gran Marcha"

More charros

Even the underside of this sombrero is elaborately embroidered.

More dragons, a popular theme.
(The man with the pole is there to raise overhead electrical wires that could catch on the float.)


The float is a stunner!
So is Princess Thayli!
Although it is a bit anomalous: a Conestoga wagon pulled by a buffalo,
with a Native North American (not an Azteca) at the rear.

And, of course, some onlookers.
The bib on the baby (far right, below) says,
"I am a reduced and authentic copy of papa."

So that´s Carnaval in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. Hope you enjoyed it. 

Iztapalapa is the large, medium green delegación on the mid-east side of the city.

Pueblos and Colonias of Delegación/Alcaldía Iztapalapa

Pueblo Santa Maria Aztahuacan is orange area to upper right of green/yellow star.
Pueblo Santa Martha Acatitla is large, dark blue area to the northeast.
Pueblo San Sebastián Tecoloxtitla is bright green area west of Santa Martha.

Black line is the Calzada Ermita-Iztapalapa