MEXICO CITY – The Xoco settlement on Mexico City’s south side has a legacy that goes back more than 1,700 years, an immersion in history now endangered by urban megaprojects that threaten to crowd it out.
Architectural remains, ceramics, stoneware and tombs have been found in Xoco, all signs of a populated area belonging to the Teotihuacan culture that flourished from the third through the sixth century.
The most visible historical legacy, however, comes from the colonial era, notably the intricate urban planning with its serpentine streets and the 17th-century chapel of St. Sebastian Martyr, along with rich traditions including the feast days of patron saints held annually on Jan. 20 and April 20.
These commemorations are carried out as a community with many activities to enjoy, beginning with dancing.
Locals also delight in the traditional gastronomy and a religious pilgrimage that for centuries has filed through the main streets of the ancient settlement, starting and ending at the Sanctuary of St. Sebastian Martyr.
“Taking part in this pilgrimage are dancers, musicians and local residents. People set up tables at the doors of their houses from which they give away edible jicama roots, fresh water and pulque (alcoholic agave drink),” Xoco resident Eva Lara Muñoz told EFE.
Thanks to these traditions, the Mexico City government has declared Xoco an “original settlement,” a description applied to communities whose social and political structures have remained unchanged over the centuries.
This recognition allows the ancient community of Xoco to possess certain institutions such as the “major-domo’s office,” whose chief – a rotating position – is in charge of preparing the festivities.
However, many of those customs “are being lost, because people are taking off for other parts of Mexico City,” Lara complained, “places that are cheaper” because gentrification is squeezing out this “original settlement.”
In fact, the new urban projects under development will force “many locals to sell their homes and leave, though they go broken-hearted,” another resident, Julia Torres Casas, told EFE.
“But there’s no other choice, because property taxes have become super expensive,” she said.
“They tell us the value of the land is increasing, but does that help me? I wouldn’t dream of selling,” Miguel Galicia Muñoz, head of the local assembly, told EFE.
Among the measures considered in one of these urbanization projects was a development – now paralyzed – on Real de Mayorazgo Street, the main access to the settlement, which would mean cutting down the 60 trees along the road.
“We see how our settlement is being transformed thanks to permits we believe were not legally awarded,” said Galicia, who is also an architect.
He recalled that works larger than 5,000 sq. meters (54,000 sq. ft.) were considered of “urban impact,” and required builders to “meet with us locals so we would know exactly what they planned to do.”
But that requirement was never complied with. “We only ever found out what they were going to do when they were on the point of doing it,” he said.
“Many more buildings are coming that will continue to change Xoco. It will be very hard to move around freely as we’ve done for 30 or 40 years,” Galicia said.
For that reason the locals are asking that “not one more building be allowed in the Xoco settlement,” he said.