Tlatelolco is an ancient site, as old as Tenochtitlan. Its people became traders, their islands on the lake a meeting place for different tribes, products and ideas. Perhaps for this reason some historians refer to the Tlatelolcans as the first negotiatiors; or maybe that's just an easy justification for locating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the site. Either way, this is where I'm interning for the month, learning the ropes of this career I've chosen.
Right in front of my building was the old MFA tower, now converted into a cultural center and classrooms buildings. Both belong to the National University and are open to the general public. Behind these white and glass spaces lies the archeological site, which is still being worked on, mostly for preservation purposes. There is also a 16th Century convent, which, after serving as convent, prison, and garrison for long years, now houses the Diplomatic Archives. Its central patio is an oasis of peace and quiet, much needed in this busy city.
The rest of Tlatelolco, at least of this particular block, is taken up by the huge Plaza de las Tres Culturas (the Square of the Three Cultures, where the indigenous, Spanish and Mexican races converge). This is dominated by an urban housing project dating back to the early 60s.
Tlatelolco is, I'm sure you've gathered by what I've just written, fraught with history. The last Aztec emperor fell to the Spanish conquistadors in this place, ushering the Colonial era. About four centuries later, the newly built Square and apartment buildings, along with the convent and ruined pyramids, saw the massacre of students that overshadowed the 1968 Mexican Olympic Games. To this day, most visitors find the area to be filled with sadness.
And they (we) are right. One cannot step foot in the Square without thinking of all that happened there. The memorial is in charge of reminding us, but even if it weren't, the buildings are stark witnesses to the passing of the years. Yes, they have seen battles fought with bows and arrows, with gunpowder, with tanks. But more than that, they continue to watch upon the ordinary lives of ordinary people: children coming back from school, teenagers playing a game of soccer, old men meeting to watch the news in their local cafe. And, occasionally, a wandering visitor trying to understand the weight of all that has happened, the significance, the relevance of everyday life.
Because nowhere else in this city, perhaps even in any of the places I've ever travelled to, do I get the feeling that life goes on; no matter what has happened in the past, we are resilient. We move on, yet we do not forget. Tlatelolco, in my mind, stands for all that.
Other facts about Tlatelolco:
- the first (and only) regional treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons was signed here, also in 1968;
- right next to the largest apartment building is a turn-of-the-century garden that looks as if it was tansported all the way from Europe;
- the street art is great;
- entrance is free to the ruins and the convent, which also houses a Siqueiros mural;
- it's only 10 minutes from Bellas Artes and the Zócalo, so if you're visiting Mexico City it's really easy to come visit.