Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl (pronounced more-or-less “net-sa-wal-KOY-yote”), or sometimes shortened to simply Ciudad Neza, is a city adjacent to Mexico City. Though someone unfamiliar with the political geography of the Valley of Mexico would probably not realize it, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is a separate political entity from Mexico City and located in a different state. Mexico City is housed within the Distrito Federal while Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl is located in the neighboring state, the Estado de México. Much of what encompasses the urban metropolitan area of Mexico City spills into the Estado de México, and this urban sprawl is what allows the population of the city to reach approximately 22 million.
Ciudad Neza, to which I have not traveled and most likely won’t ever visit during my time here, didn’t exist before the 1930s. In fact, until around 1932, the land on which it now sits was submerged beneath the surface of Lake Texcoco. Beginning in the 19th century, the Federal Government began a massive project to drain the lake which was finally completed in the 1930s. Once drained, the land was declared property of the Federal Government and by 1933 construction of the Mexico City-Puebla highway was completed in the area.
The first informal settlements in Ciudad Neza began in the 1940s and in the following decades the population quickly ballooned. By the 1950s, citizen groups had begun organizing and protesting the government for basic services like electricity, running water, road construction, and proper drainage systems to prevent flooding. By 1960, the population of Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl had reached 90,000. Citizen organizing to demand basic services, and later, regularization of land tenure continued into the 1980s.
Much of the Valley of Mexico, which includes Mexico City and Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl, suffers from frequent flooding. This, of course, is due to the fact that until the massive drainage projects of the past several centuries, most of the valley was submerged under lakes. The Mexican government is engaged in a constant battle to prevent the valley from returning to its natural state: filled with water. In its early years, Ciudad Netzahualcóyotl experienced frequent flooding, and occasionally these floods were quite severe. In 1967, the city experienced a period of especially heavy rains which brought devastating floods to the area.
I have been spending a fair amount of time at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), or the General National Archive. The AGN is housed in what used to be the Lecumberri prision, pretty much the most notorious prison in Mexico City. I first heard of the Lecumberri when taking a course at the University of Chicago about human rights in Mexico and we spent a couple weeks reviewing the events of the 1968 student movement. The movement culminated in what is widely considered a massacre of student and community protesters by the government of President Díaz Ordaz and Vice President Echeverría Alvarez. After the massacre, hundreds of students were arrested or otherwise sequestered to the Lecumberri prison where they were held for months or even years as political prisoners. Many were tortured and some never reappeared.
Needless to say, working inside a place where student activists were incarcerated and tortured is more than a little unsettling. But while the history of the place is disturbing, the physical structure itself is beautiful. (Though the surrounding neighborhood is a little sketchy, so I dread the three block walk to and from the metro station.) Recently refurbished, the AGN is a beautiful place to spend the day pawing through photos and documents. Each of the corridors constitutes a different galería, housing a different collection of documents. I have been working in galería 1, which houses the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), or the Federal Security Directorate.
I had been told that the Mexico City metro system was great, but I didn’t fully believe these statements until I actually moved here and became a user of “el metro.”
Some of the reasons why I love the metro system:
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.