Tepito is a barrio located in the centre of Mexico City. Famous for its open air market (Tiangui), this neighbourhood is also home to many cultural activities and community initiatives.
Tepito has the reputation to be one of the most dangerous areas of the city. Our Mexican friends from middle-class parts of the city insisted I shouldn’t go there. But they hadn’t never been there and I was lucky to be a guest of Casa Barrio, a community-runned project founded with the aim of keeping alive local arts and craft. Their ultimate goal is to recover and run the school Vasco de Quiroga and continue the activities of teaching and promotion there. At the moment all activities are ran at the Espacio Cultural and at the Forito Martes de Artes. In these two places we saw classes to prepare pupils to access next level of education, classes to teach to build shoes or hairdressing. The activities of Casa Barrio are very popular in the district but the group is meeting some difficulties to use the school. Local authorities don’t like the idea of a bottom-up organised school. One of the main promoters, Luis Arévalo, is very popular in the barrio. You can see him depicted in some murales of the area.
Our friends Pablo and Jacobo walked me around the streets and buildings of this amazing Mexican gem. Our tour started in Azteca, an old chocolate factory that, after having seen a relatively long golden age with products known in all Mexican market, has been bought by Nestlé who decided to close it after few years, starting its decline. Today la Atzeca building has been converted into apartments.
After passing by la Fuente de Manuel Tolsá, we visited el Deportivo Las Águilas, a sport pitch nicknamed “Jardín de las Luciérnagas” (the garden of fireflies). People play a variation of fronton game using their hands instead of racquets to hit the ball. Apparently many people learn to play this version of the game in prison. As the game is often played in the dark, the only visible lights are cigarettes smoked by the people sitting in the stands, making the pitch look like a “garden of fireflies”.
Then, we went to the Mural de los Peregrinos, a big graffiti that pictures real people from the barrio passed away. The legend says that those people are Tepito victims of narcotraffic. In reality are just normal people from the barrio. Other graffiti of interest I recommend to visit are at Palomares (la “Tierra Santa” with the murales of Manrique).
One of the best part of the tour was the visit of the Altar of the Santa Muerte (the Death Goddess) where we met Enriqueta, a lady who takes care of the most famous public altar dedicated to the ’Niña’. I didn’t take any picture there for respect people praying but I found some on the Internet. When visiting the altar, it is common habit talking to the Death and tell or request something. Many people also leave an offer like money, food, cigarettes or whatever a person is able to offer. Our friends have seen people leaving bullets before starting a conversation with La Santa Muerte.
Last but not least, I absolutely loved the visit of the open air bazaar. The tiangui is one of the biggest of the city and its origin comes from Aztec times. In there I met new friends and interesting people: the legendary Pipiolo and the boxeador Balico.
I think this article doesn’t express enough my enthusiasm for Tepito. I was very lucky to know locals introducing me their friends. They were very happy to meet new people in an area which doesn’t see any tourist. I felt so welcome in an area which doesn’t deserve to be named the most dangerous neighbourhood of Mexico.