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.
We have entered the final stage of our program here in Mexico: The Independent Study Project, or the ISP. Each of us on the program has chosen a subject of interest, identified a research question we wish to answer, identified an grass-roots NGO that works on our topic, identified a person who works within our field of interest to be our Project Advisor (usually, but not always, from the NGO), and begun conducting a field-based research project to answer our question. Most of us opted to stay here in Oaxaca City, but three left for San Cristóbal de las Casas and one returned to Mexico City. Topics include micro-finance, community radio, migration, alternative and environmental education models, midwifery, the APPO movement from 2006, and transportation worker unions. For the most part, the projects are based largely on interviews we conduct in the field.
My topic has gone through many phases. As I have stated before, I was at first really excited to research the legacy of the student movement in Mexico City, but decided not to return to Mexico City. Once I had ruled out my first idea, I returned to a general subject that I have always found interesting: the agrarian question in Mexico, specifically looking at the changing role of the ejido in Mexico. When our group visited the Isthmus of Tehuantepéc we visited several groups working to preserve their ejidos in the face of privatization efforts by the government that I became very interested in working with (the community group in La Venta and UCIZONI). My academic director decided that working in La Venta was too dangerous as police forces maintain a large and often violent presence in the area..
How could I work from Oaxaca City on a topic that is largely related to the rural sector? I remembered that during our “Alternative Tour” with Oliver Froehling he had mentioned that ejido communities on the urban fringe have been encountering major problems and pressures in light of the city’s rapid urban expansion. Oliver Froehling became my advisor and, after a few conversations, I decided to focus my project on a case study of a community called Reyes Mantecón.
I spent my first days in Oaxaca orientating myself to this new city. Luckily, I had the guidance of several experts on local history and culture. Foremost among them was Oliver Froehling, a resident of Oaxaca originally from Germany, who took our student group on a tour of the city. We wound ourselves through the outlying areas of the city, passing through well-to-do suburbs, working class neighborhoods, government- and union-built housing communities, commercial zones peppered with WalMarts and Home Depots, and squatter villages.
Water scarcity and land distribution have been the most visible and critical problems we've seen during our time here. During the tour, we stopped several times to talk about these two issues. We still have a lot more to learn about both, but I’ll share with you what we have learned so far.
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.