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
MexicoMaxico

It became the tradition to hold a large tianguis (outdoor market) and festival during Semana Santa 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
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.

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