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Exuberant art and the cable car can lift a poor, violent place only so high

MEXICO CITY — Viewed from a soaring cable car, the city is a sea of ​​concrete stretching to the skyline, broken only by clusters of skyscrapers and the remains of ancient volcanoes. About 60 feet below is the town of Iztapalapa, a warren of winding cobbled streets and alleyways, its cinder block houses enveloping the neighboring hills in a dappled gray.

But then, on a terrace, a sudden burst of color: a giant monarch butterfly perched atop a purple flower. Also along the route of Mexico City’s newest cableway, a toucan and a scarlet macaw stare at passengers. Later, on a canary yellow wall, is a young girl in a red dress, her eyes closed in an expression of ultimate bliss.

6.5 mile line, opening in augustIt is, according to the city government, the longest public cableway in the world. In addition to halving the commute times for many workers in the capital’s most populous borough, the cable car has an added attraction: the massive murals painted by an army of local artists, many of whom can only be seen from above. can go.

“There are paintings and murals all over the way,” said music teacher Cesar Enrique Sánchez del Valle, who was taking the cable car home on a recent Tuesday afternoon. “It’s cool, something unexpected.”

The rooftop painting is the latest step in a beautification project from the government of Iztapalapa, which has hired 140 artists over the past three years to blanket the neighborhood with nearly 7,000 public art, creating bursts of color in one of the Huh. Most crime-hit areas of Mexico City.

“People want to save their history, the history of the neighborhood,” said city mayor Clara Brugada Molina. “Iztapalapa becomes a huge gallery.”

Stretching toward the outskirts of Mexico City, Iztapalapa is home to 1.8 million residents, some of whom are among the city’s poorest. Many work in wealthy neighborhoods, and before the cable car, this often meant an after-hours commute.

As with many poor urban areas in Mexico, Iztapalapa has long suffered from a lack of basic services, such as running water, as well as high levels of violence, often associated with organized crime.

The mayor’s arts initiative is part of a broader plan to make Iztapalapa safer, including street lamps that now light up main streets that were once shrouded in darkness.

The murals feature national symbols such as Aztec deities, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata and Frida Kahlo, with a dash of turquoise in their eyes.

But there is nod for more local heroes as well.

Against a red background with blue, yellow, teal and lime-green figures floating behind her, the image of a short-haired woman smiles at the audience: it is Lupita Bautista, an Iztapalapa native and a world champion boxer who Almost as colorful as real life.

On a recent morning, Ms. Bautista, 33, stepped into her gym wearing fluorescent green sneakers, a pink beanie, and an iridescent tie-dye sweatshirt with her name spread in fuchsia glitter across the front.

“I love that the colors are so strong,” she said of the government-funded project that, in addition to painting the murals, has transformed neighborhoods where she turns cinder block houses into a mosaic of color by coating them in bright colors. This gives, a paint job that will not be affordable for many residents. “It gives a lot of life to it.”

The childhood story of Ms. Bautista is well-known in the city. When she was young, her house in Iztapalapa had no electricity – at night it was lit only by the glow of candles. There were no footpaths or paved roads in its neighborhood.

“Everything was gray,” she recalled.

Crime was also an issue, with robberies and murders so common that Ms Bautista said her mother did not let her or her sister leave the house until she went to school.

“I was scared,” she said. “I felt like something was about to happen to me.”

Many of the trails are now lit up brightly, with Ms Bautista saying she feels safer jogging after dark.

“I was made running through the streets,” she said as her youth weaved through neighborhood avenues and alleyways long before becoming a champion fighter. “Now you can run with a lot more safety and attention – not thinking about when someone will sneak out and scare you.”

But despite the government’s efforts, most of the people in Iztapalapa are still living in fear: a. According to June survey From Mexico’s National Statistics Agency, nearly eight in 10 residents said they feel unsafe – among the highest rates for any city in the country.

Women in particular face widespread violence in Istpalpa, which ranks Top 25 Municipalities For homicide in the country, in which a woman is killed on the basis of her gender. From 2012 to 2017, the city’s security cameras recorded more sexual assault cases against women in Iztapalapa than in any other city in Mexico City, 2019 Report of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

According to the mayor, gender-based violence inspired the mural and lighting project in the first place: to create pathways where women could feel safe walking home. Many of the murals celebrate women, either residents like Ms. Bautista or famous figures from history, as well as feminist icons.

“We are trying to reclaim the streets for women,” Ms Brugada said.

But not everyone is convinced that the strategy is working.

Daniela Cerrone, 46, was born in Iztapalapa, when it was just a rugged community where farmers grew crops in open fields.

“It was like small town,” Ms Cerrone recalled. “You used to see beautiful hills.”

The region began to rapidly urbanize in the 1970s.

“From one minute to the next, you will see a little light here, a little light there,” said Ms. Cerrone. “By the time the boom came, it started filling up with people.”

Population growth, both from families leaving inner Mexico City and migrants arriving from rural areas, also fueled an influx of crime. For Ms Cerrone, who is transgender, this means facing not only widespread violence but also the prejudice of living in a conservative religious neighborhood – each year, Iztapalapa attracts millions of congregations A Massive Re-enactment of the Crucifixion of Christ.

“That religious stigma is against you,” Ms Cerrone said.

As for the murals, she says they look beautiful but have done little to make them feel safe.

“It’s nothing to me if there’s a really pretty painted street three blocks away, they’re robbing or killing people,” she said.

Alejandra Etrisco Amilpas, an artist who has painted some 300 murals in Iztapalapa, believes they can make residents proud of where they live, but she believes they can only go so far. can.

“Paint helps a lot, but sadly it can’t change the reality of social problems,” she said. “Painting a mural isn’t going to change whether you care about the woman banging on the corner.”

Ms Etrisco, who is gay, said she came up against conservative attitudes during the project, whether male artists cast doubt on her abilities or local authorities barred her from painting LGBTQ-themed murals.

“Violence against women, yes, but homosexuals, no,” she said with a smile.

Nevertheless, Ms Etrisco believes her work can influence the lives of residents by representing the characters of Iztapalapa in full colour.

“Every day you face a new challenge, every day a new wall and a new story,” she said. “You make dreams come true a little bit – you become a dreamer.”

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