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A Community on Volcanic Rock: Pedregal de Santo Domingo

Published December 20, 2021 in Mexico - 0 Comments

In Latin America, you have an interesting development that occurs in large cities in which poorer folks from outside the city move in large numbers to some corner of the city on the edge of it.

Where these same folks choose to basically set up shop on the periphery of the city with few resources and they build their own very basic homes with the limited material they have.

In English, these newly formed neighborhoods would often be called shantytowns for example.

In Spanish, I’m not sure what you call them exactly but can only mention that they do form overtime.

And while some of them continue to stay impoverished, others tend to seem some growth if the conditions on the grown allow it.

Let’s discuss an interesting example of this taking place by looking at the history of the neighborhood that I live in Mexico City: Pedregal de Santo Domingo.

Building a Community in Mexico City

As you can read here, the area that is now called Pedregal de Santo Domingo used to be area of lava. You had a nearby volcano known as Xitle that is one of the main volcanos of CDMX.

Around 1,700 years ago, the volcano used to be a lot more active.

Over the years though, various people have lived or tried to live in the area.

For example, from what I can understand reading this here, you have older settlers to the area that claim, with some archival documents from the Spanish times, that an altar in the area was made in honor of Santo Domingo and San Francisco. Consequently, many say that the name of this area was inspired by that.

Also, on August 28, 1948, you had folks who lived in a nearby area called Santo Domingo de los Reyes petition the “titling of their assets” in the area.

In 1968, you also had a local activist known as Juan Ramos who often fought for the rights of the homeless that tried to get people to move into the area.

Similarly, because the area is very close to University City of CDMX, you always had some interest of moving people into the area.

Soon enough, you actually then had a large migration of people into the area looking for work primarily.

In 1971, you had the influence of Mexican President Luis Echeverría in helping encourage migration to the area.

It’s said, according to the previously cited source, that he was motivated to do so in part because of his increasing unpopularity after the massacres that occurred Tlatelolco in 1968 and the Corpus Christi Massacre of student demonstrators in 1971.

Therefore, Luis Echeverría approved the creation of 63 new colonies in the city.

As a result, Pedregal de Santo Domingo was born.

Pedregal de Santo Domingo (or Santo Domingo for short) is a relatively new neighborhood in Mexico City that was started on September 15, 1971.

The area saw numerous families from various Mexican states move in around the same, including those from Puebla, Michoacán and Guerrero.

It also brought in new habitants from nearby neighborhoods like Ajusco and Los Reyes.

In short, at least 4,000 to 5,000 people came to form the neighborhood initially.

Many of them were poor that either were expelled from their homes from wherever they came from in the countryside or found the high rent in other parts of CDMX to be a bit high.

Still, as people moved in, they found the area to be a bit rough for living. The land itself was very arid, sterile and rough. There was also little development in the area with not many houses previously built and the land had a lot of rocky slopes. Meanwhile, you had lots of scorpions, tarantulas and rats in the area.

Each person also had to pay a fee to activist leaders for their specific settlement to be recognized and for services to arrive with the heads of the family being given a credential afterwards.

Afterwards, people began forming their settlements by trying to level the terrain through breaking or blowing up any volcanic stones with dynamite on the land and then building houses on top with materials like wood or black cardboard sheet.

However, as you can read here, some of the material like the sheets of black cardboard, was highly inflammable and accidents did occur from that.

There were some other issues though that came as people tried to form their community here.

For example, you had the previously mentioned activist Juan Ramos who took donations from people on the promise that he’d build a social center but only took the money and left the community to build a house with it.

Also, you had corruption from the police in which they would burn people’s houses leaving some settlers dead.

You also had significant water issues in which many of the folks would have to walk to nearby Ajusco to get their water or wait for water pipes to arrive and then pay that to fill the containers.

You also had efforts to limit continued migration of people into the area eventually.

Finally, there were often conflicts between community members, leaders and neighbors that would leave people dead.

Either way, the community marched forward.

As they began planning it out, streets were formed and given relevant names depending on the history of them.

For example, as this article points out here, you have Oaxaca street where a lot of the initial inhabitants happened to be from Oaxaca.

Soon enough, you had more commerce in the area with the establishment of pharmacies, markets, lumberyards and more.

However, you soon had issues between the community and government regulators.

On December 4, 1971, an expropriation decree was issued and the land became the property of the National Institute for the Development of the Community and Housing (Indeco).

In the words of the authorities, they wanted to “regularize” the property but really they wanted to get a piece of the land that could be used to build housing for the middle and upper class. Soon enough, it became obvious what they were trying to do and they got expelled from the area by the local inhabitants in 1972.

Consequently, the local activist leaders who were working with the government of Luis Echeverría lost their credibility in the community.

In the years that followed, you had efforts anyway to regularize the land and who owned it but that also came with tensions between folks in the area over who owned what land from my understanding.

Eventually, sanctions were threatened against anyone else trying to “invade” the land and the issue ultimately reached the Supreme Court in Mexico.

As that issue was ultimately handled, the community marched forward and kept developing as it could.

As you can read here, there were always developmental challenges in building streets and aligning houses properly in the area due to the volcanic rocks. The streets began to get paved in the 80s and pipes and sewers were more commonly incorporated in the 90s by using special equipment to break the pavement.

While the volcanic rocks did pose developmental challenges to building the neighborhood, one benefit to them is that it leaves the neighborhood less affected from earthquakes compared to the rest of the city.

Let's move onto life in Santo Domingo today.

Pedregal de Santo Domingo Today

Today, schools don’t have literal rocks for seats and actually have roofs over them.

There has been more development as the buildings are more properly built than before.

And, as I said, you have more commerce in the area with endless amounts of small shops, barber shops, taxis, a few gyms, open air markets and more.

Also, due to how close the main university of UNAM is to this area, you have a lot of people offering rooms to young folks to live in the area.

Without question, the area generally has a younger looking population compared to the rest of CDMX.

On top of that, you’ve had the arrival of more foreigners into the area also from mostly other Latin countries and also some North Americans and Europeans. Almost all of whom are just wishing to study in the nearby university and find themselves moving into the area.

While the community isn’t perfect nowadays as it is well-known for having lots of crime, it still has plenty to offer in my opinion.

Personally, I like this area because, for some odd reason, I vibe well with the area.

The people are very nice overall and don’t have a touch of arrogance or “higher than thou” mentality.

I find it very easy to get along with folks down here overall.

On top of that, there’s a lot of activity in the streets and, to a degree, it feels fairly lively to me.

Among other benefits I find to living here.

Including the history of the neighborhood that, while I don’t understand all of it perfectly, I do find interesting.

With 50 years of history, it serves well as an example of community development with both all of the challenges that come with that and also the benefits that it can bring to people looking for a better life.

And, as I started in this article, shows a solid example of a type of community you will find in the periphery of various Latin American cities where you have some “informality” in how they are formed.

Either way, there is obviously a lot more that could be said about the history of Pedregal de Santo Domingo.

Obviously, 1,000 words alone can’t do the area true justice as to all of the nuances that come with its history.

Here’s a video anyway on the history of Pedregal de Santo Domingo and a video on what the area looks like today.

It’s an area worth visiting in my opinion as, despite the problems it carries, does have plenty to offer in my opinion.

At any rate, leave any comments below in the comment section

Enjoy this music here that I was listening to as I wrote this.

Kumbias del barrio

And follow my Twitter here.

Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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