Mexico City's "megacorte" (mega shutoff) of water begins today. I haven't seen or heard much news coverage in English, but it is truly a mind-boggling event. One of the major water provision systems in Mexico City, which supplies water to around 8 million residents in the metropolitan area, was shut off this morning and won't be turned back on until November 4, or possibly as late as November 8. The shutoff will allow for critical repairs. Imagine 8 million people not having running water to bathe, wash dishes, flush toilets, etc. for a week. For those who are fortunate to have never lived without household running water (like me, until living in Mexico City), you really don't realize how much of daily life relies on easy access until you no longer have it.
Mexico City has a major water problem and residents are used to having to endure days or weeks without water. Obviously, some neighborhoods deal with this more frequently than others and, not surprisingly, this unequal access to water maps onto socio-economic class in the city. Even in my upper-middle class neighborhood in Mexico City, Narvarte, we would usually experience 2-3 shutoffs per year that could last a few days or even over a week. This shutoff, however, is the largest in Mexico City's history and is being described by residents in apocalyptic terms.
Interestingly, this megacorte has coincided with the escalation of a heated debate over infrastructure in the city that culminated with a national vote over whether or not to continue with plans for a new airport in Mexico City. The vote, which took place over the weekend, decided against the airport and the President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced his plans yesterday to cancel the project once he enters office in December. The planned airport would have been constructed on the mostly drained bed of Lake Texcoco on the eastern edge of the metropolitan area (not far from the current airport). Activists opposing the airport framed their fight as one in defense of water/nature and indigenous rights. The hash tag #YoPrefieroElLago ("I prefer the lake") was widely used to mobilize the vote against the airport.
Sarah // Madison, WI
I began my project intending to realize a micro-history of el Pedregal de Santo Domingo, a paracaidistaneighborhood in Mexico City, relying mostly on oral histories with residents, and supplemented by archival research. I wanted to understand how residents had constructed and organized their neighborhood from scratch, both by petitioning local governing authorities and by working autonomously in neighborhood associations. After involving myself in Santo Domingo and beginning my exploration of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and other archives, I realized that by limiting the project to study only the internal organization of a single community I would be missing much of what is interesting about the paracaidista phenomenon that engulfed the city during the 1960s and 1970s. I also realized that my knowledge of Santo Domingo’s history was far too limited to immediately begin oral histories with original residents.
The result is that my project has changed in two important ways. First, the scope of my project has broadened to include several questions about the paracaidismo of the city’s metropolitan area. How did citizens and urban governance (elected officials, organizations, programs) participate in the physical and social organization of Mexico City’s growth? How did economic and social policy (changes in government structure, creation of new laws and programs, etc.) reflect the vision held by urban governance for the city’s growth? How did these policies contribute to the demographic explosion and the organizational and social crisis of the city? By adding these questions, I will expand the results of my research to include conclusions about the nature of the urban process, namely the extent to which different actors control its direction, and with which mechanisms, tools, and tactics.
Second, archival research now makes up much more of my source material than I had originally planned. Oral histories are still indispensible for achieving the goals I originally outlined, but in order to understand the whole story of the organizational upheaval that the city underwent during this period, and in order to ask the right questions in my oral histories, other varieties of source material now constitute a much larger portion of my source base. Since my project aims to gauge the nature and influence of citizen participation, the histories and perspectives of individual residents are still an integral component of my research.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
I am currently reading Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century by Diane Davis, and was impressed by the data table she developed to show the change in population of greater Mexico City during the twentieth century. Her table is especially interesting because it separates the census data into three geographical jurisdictions: Mexico City, the Federal District, and the Metropolitan area. This allows for a more thorough look at the demographic patterns of the region, since demographic change was not uniform. I simply plugged her data into an excel sheet and created this visual representation. (Click on the graph to more easily read the definitions for the three geographic jurisdictions.)
While the region’s population growth is generally impressive, the growth of the Metropolitan Area from 1960-1980 is staggering: during the 1960s and 1970s, the Metropolitan Area grew from 5.4 million to 14.4 million. The four centraldelegaciones that comprise Mexico City proper (the original city center) actually saw a slight decrease in population during the period in question, which means all of the 9 million new residents settled in the greater Federal District and in the urban periphery. Less than half (around 4 million) settled in the 12 great greater delegaciones of the Federal District, and around 5 million arrived in the surrounding municipalities, mostly in the state of Mexico. Also note that the populations for the Federal District and the Metropolitan area are nearly identical until the 1960s, meaning that the population spilling beyond the borders of the Federal District before this period was negligible.
This means that the city’s urban footprint grew enormously during this period. New residents, mostly coming from Mexico’s rural and economically depressed regions, were forced to the city’s periphery. The explosive demographic growth meant that urban government was unable to supply basic services (utilities, housing, transport, etc.) to these new, often poor, populations located far from the city center. With government unable to meet their basic needs, residents took matters into their own hands. The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of colonias paracaidistas and other forms of irregular settlements, which were often hotbeds for political activity and engagement, usually around questions of urban services.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
A friend of mine recently shared this with me and I thought it was a very fascinating way to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution. On November 20th, 1910, prominent Mexican anti-reelectionist politician Francisco I. Madero escaped from prison where he had been imprisoned by ruling dictator Porfirio Díaz and called for national revolution. Fighting broke out first in the city of Puebla and then spread throughout the country.
The NYT had this take on those events and the possibility of revolution in the Republic of Mexico. Published November 21, 1910.
Over the next 10 to 20 years (depending on how you define the end of the Revolution), Mexico freed itself from dictatorship, went through a staggering number of rulers, and found itself with a new constitution guaranteeing, among other things, all Mexicans new labor and land rights. Francisco Villa led an army in the north and Emiliano Zapata organized the campesinado in the country’s central region.
The revolution was anything but organized–some say it is better described as a civil war–but it was also anything but “a petty political uprising.” Perhaps the “more potent, hidden influence” that was “working behind the movement” was the discontent of the millions of Mexicans for whom the (so-called) progress of Díaz’s regime had never arrived.
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:
The other night a couple of my friends and I decided to explore the Cineteca Nacional located in Coyoacán. The Cineteca is a movie theatre and cinematic center funded by the Public Education Secretary within the Federal Government of Mexico. According to its website:
Founded in 1974, as Mexico’s National Film Archive, the Cineteca Nacional is the governmental agency entrusted with rescuing, classifying, preserving, restoring, and exhibiting the most important cinematographic works from both Mexico and the world.
The theatre has eight screening rooms which show both Mexican and foreign films at a cost of 40 pesos ($3.10) for the general public and 25 pesos ($1.95) for students.
My friends and I braved the remnants of Hurricane Karl as it drenched Mexico City, and headed up north of the Viveros de Coyoacán to the theatre. We had investigated the night’s screenings and tentatively decided on Hunger(2008) about an IRA political prisoner’s hunger strike in 1981. Upon arriving, however, we found that the show was sold-out and so we somewhat hurriedly chose to see El Infierno (2010) instead.
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.