Nov 29, 2007, 8:50 AM
Post #1 of 8
We bought into the El Cerrillo Barrio in San Cristóbal de Las Casas because it was near the indigenous market, the Santo Domingo convent and the town´s historic center. A wonderful and ancient barrio if rather poor and ratty in a charming way. Someone I know was telling a tale about life in the also charming if poverty stricken village of El Chante* on Lake Chapala and you may read it on the Lake Chapala Forum if you wish but basically her story was that the property adjacent to her´s was plagued by raucous and boracho squatters who were stealing her electricity and making a general nuisance of themslves with loud music and disorderly conduct. Eventually, a "neighborhood committee" helped resolve the issue as is common in many parts of Mexico where local law enforcement is not dependable. There is something appealing about communities that take care of themselves but at the same time there is something scary about that process as well since this sort of phenomenon can lead to summary justice and lynchings.
Her re-telling of that story reminded me of an occurence in San Cristóbal when we were remodeling this old house we had purchased in El Cerrillo. Often, especiallly in "financially disadvantaged" areas, local authorities are not particularly responsive to community needs and, frankly, the barrios don´t really wish to call attention to themselves among often corrupt local authorities anyway. So, what happens is, eventually, local citizens take control of unpleasant situations themselves. You folks realize that that is the way things were accomplished in the U.S. wild west as well.
Unbeknownst to us when we purchased this ruin in San Cristóbal, the nearby corner one house from our new property was a red light district utilized by prostitutes from the hillside favelas that surround San Cristóbal. These favelas are populated by very poor outcasts from surrounding Mayan municipalities who were expelled from their communities because they converted to protestantism and refused to obey traditional village elders whose dogma was grounded in pagan/catholic tradition. That´s another story destined for another time but for now let´s just say these outcasts were deprived of their rights and property and expelled from their traditional indigenous communities. They surround San Cristóbal in extremely poor hillside ghettos and are a source of some civil discord.
These prostitutes had been working that corner for a long time and were kind of tolerated by the community but in reality they were not the problem but the source of the problem as their clients were somewhat undesirable borachos with typically uncivil bearing. What is interesting is that, while this barrio is poor and modest, it is becoming more and more precious as its location abutting the extraordinary historic heart of San Cristóbal and the beautiful Santo Domingo convent renders it a sort of diamond-in-the-rough. What traditionally happens in communities such as this in transition is that, as the barrios are renovated piece-by-piece, civic pride leaps from lethargy to commitment and suddenly this noxious enterprise is noticed and residents suddenly desire to move the store down the street. Notice that I said move it down the street. In the U.S. there would be this drive to put these women out of business (that wouldn´t work, by the way) but here in Chiapas there is simply a movement to relocate the rot. I like that.
When we get back there in January after an absence of a few months, we´ll see if the community has reclaimed this corner. Whether it has or has not won´t amount to a hill of beans anyway now will it? We may be certain that this business will not be gone but siimply relocated. As for me, I think these ladies add local color.
*El Chante is an outlying village near the municipality of Jocotepec on Lake Chapala and is an ancient if somewhat dilapidated place but with an outstanding location on the shores of the lake and containing a number of lakeside mansions many of which are in disrepair. The authors writing under the nom de plume "Dane Chandos" in their book House In The Sun published in the 1940s referred to El Chante, which was then on the main route between Chapala and Jocotepec, as a place largely inhabited by really bad people to be avoided if at all possible.
(This post was edited by beatricemor on Nov 29, 2007, 10:18 AM)