Dispatches From Mexico City: Printing Presses and Pozole
Many of my ‘dispatch’ pieces have been about my experiences in Mexico City, but I’d like to take some time to highlight some of the unique and vibrant neighborhoods around the capital. After all, in a city as big as this it can be easy to miss some interesting sights.
This was the case when a friend told me he had to go pick up silk screening supplies and asked if I’d like to go with him. The provisions were located in a neighborhood I’d never been to and so we decided to meet at a nearby metro stop. Unfortunately, he was delayed and I got bored so I decided to walk to our ultimate destination.
This is how I first experienced the combined colonias of Obrera and Algarín. The two communities were founded about 20 years apart, but now jointly represent an area of the city known for their printing businesses. Indeed, every store in the few blocks that I walked seemed to be occupied by some sort of equipment used for promotions, be it laser printers, silk screen machines, blank shirts, caps, uniforms, or bottle openers.
A little research taught me that, when Algarín was first founded in 1910, land there sold for 25 to 30 cents per square meter. Now the area is also known for its pozole, a type of meat and corn soup/stew.
In the 1980s, Colonia Obrera was home to many sewing factories. Many of which were destroyed in the 1985 earthquake. One now-infamous one was called Topeka. According to reports, by the time rescue crews arrived at the scene, owners of the factory were already trying to demolish it without trying to rescue any of the seamstresses trapped inside.
The incident exposed the conditions that many seamstresses worked in with Topeka and many of the other collapsed buildings found to be decrepit. Along with unsafe conditions, it also became apparent that many of the women were forced to work longer hours with little or no extra compensation and very few labor laws were being adhered to. To commemorate the building and event, a bronze statue of a woman sewing now sits in an empty lot where the factory once stood.
These days, the area has become known for a higher crime rate than the rest of the city, with Obrera in the city’s top 10 regions for crimes reported — though that does include everything from drug trafficking to vagrancy. But there have been recent efforts to revitalize the region. A project proposed by young architects from the city will see industrial and warehouse spaces converted into 5,000 new living quarters in the neighborhood. The project has the backing of the Mexican Secretary of Culture and the National Institute of Fine Arts.
It will be interesting to see how things change in this working class neighborhood over the next few years. While it certainly isn’t a place to walk around at night, if you need customized pins, shirts, or a good pozole, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.