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AFTERWORD Christ and Cuauhtemoc BY BARBARA BELEJACK Its not every day you get to meet Jesus So when we read about the encounter with the five ex-Christs in Iztapalapa, we knew exactly what to do and headed out to the Barrio Santa Barbara, a gritty working class neighborhood on the eastern edge of Mexico City, where the sidewalk potholes are as big as Buick& There we encountered students of accounting and law, a manager of a Pepsi bottling plant, and a manager of a catering business. At one time or another each had carried a ninetyfive-kilo wooden cross through the streets of Iztapalapa and up the dusty, barren hillside known as El Cerro de la Estrella, where they were tied to a cross in the last act of the Passion Play that has been observed here for over 150 years. Iztapalapa is one of those places with a glorious past and less than glorious present. Before the Conquest, the Cerro de la Estrella was the site of an Aztec ceremony designed to ensure that at the end of the 52year calendar the world did not end. To many, the Semana Santa, or Easter Week, festivities fulfill the same role, with their old-fashioned synergya blend of the State, the Church, and the Media; tradition, pueblo and kitsch, past and present, sacred and profane, urban and rural, the ultimate Mexico City experience. The Passion Play dates to 1833, when grateful survivors of a cholera epidemic pledged to reenact the Crucifixion. Legend has it that during the Revolution, Emiliano Zapata lent his horses so the pageant could continue. At the time Iztapalapa was still a rural village, criss-crossed with canals and floating gardens, colored by the Nahuatl language and Nahuatl names. As migration from rural Mexico pushed into Mexico City, Iztapalapa grew even faster than the city as a whole, and provided an illusory buffer between the capital and Ciudad Neza, Chalco, and the Great Beyond. The canals were filled and turned into highways; farmers turned into industrial workers. “You would go into work and say your name was `Malinali’ or something,” says a friend who has painstakingly re searched the area’s history, “and you would come out a Sanchez or Hernandez.” Today the delegacion or borough of Iztapalapa is home to le gions of the city’s militant ac ;AV tivist organizations, an alphabet 474…fel.V:i soup of Frentes and Coordinado ras named for Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and El Pueblo. The village of canals and floating gardens is plagued by constant water shortages and by rampant crime. Although every newspaper in Mexico City features front-page photos of the Crucifixion, the rest of the year news of the Cerro de la Estrella is buried in the crime pages, as in, “Yesterday morning neighbors found an unidentified body at the Cerro de la Estrella.” When the general who presides over Mexico City’s police force decided to implement his dubious “temporary” experiment, sending local police units away for military training and replacing them with soldiers, he began in Iztapalapa, just in time for the annual Passion Play, in which an impressive array of blue shirts, brown shirts, gray shirts, black .*. shirts, all engage in the business of protecting Iztapalapa from itself. As Semana Santa approaches, local officials and local media duly report that two million people are expected to forego their Easter vacation in Acapulco or Cancun in favor of Iztapalapa. Immediately after, those same officials and media duly report that yes, indeed, two million people were there. While the accuracy of those figures is highly suspect, by some coincidence about two million people happen to live in Iztapalapa; a good many of them do not partake in Mexico City’s annual Easter exodus, but instead remain at home to participate in or gawk at the largest Passion Play in Latin America, second in the world to Oberammergau in Germany \(where the locals have ten years to do what the iztapalapenses Of course, they may not actually see the reenactment of the Last Supper or the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 MAY 9, 1997