A Budding Turf War

April 17, 2023

For generations, there has been a market in the centre of Tepoztlan. The main town square, its zocalo, is occupied by a dozen taco stands, an equal number of fruit vendors, and people selling meat, fresh or barbecued chicken, fresh-squeezed juices, embroidery thread and buttons, and any number of foodstuffs and basic household goods. I shop there myself at least once a week, and just this morning had coffee with a friend at one of the two regular restaurants that sit at the sides of it.

A few hundred yards to the east, there has long been a drop-off point for bags of garbage. Two years ago, the town announced that it planned to close this site and move the market there.  No doubt the people living near the place are glad to see it closed. But the people in the market don’t want to move, and a showdown is coming.

Some weeks ago, construction crews moved to the former drop-off locale, and began scraping earth and digging foundations. Ten days past, steel beams were set into concrete on the site, and the new structure’s construction began in earnest. Since the architecture is hardly ground-breaking, it could be finished later this year.

The central market in Tepoztlan on a quiet Monday afternnon.

What is it like? Judging by the illustrations that were posted in front of the town hall in 2022, it bears a resemblance to a 1950s parking garage. That is, it’s devoid of character, and generally dismal. (Sorry, but I couldn’t find a copy online). The current market is chaotic and hardly beautiful, but it is a community in which almost everyone knows everyone else. And it has structures along its sides that were selling beans and chilis back in the 1890s. The new place might replace some of that ambience in time, but it will move the main commercial core of the town further out, and lack the convenient location of the present layout, which is close to the main bus station and parking lots.

Tepoztlan, like other communities in central Mexico, has a tradition of getting the whole town out to oppose developments it doesn’t like. Presumably the market vendors can be forced to move, but I can only see it becoming ugly. People still tell the story of how, 25 years ago, the town fought the idea of developers taking over farmland to build a golf course. There was violence, and eventually, the developers backed off. 

Workmen raise the steel beams for the new structure. The odd thing to the right is a cellphone tower.

Tepoztlan has changed, for sure. I recall the sleepy town I first visited in 2005, and can only compare it unfavourably to the overcrowded and overwhelmed place it now becomes on weekends. I had to take one of my dogs into the vet last Saturday, and thought if I went early enough I could avoid the traffic. But by 10.30 am the intersections were clogged with outsiders trying to get around corners and grab the available parking before going to get drunk. Articles in lifestyle magazines in other countries have promoted Tepoz, and at certain times outsiders flood in. It’s popular with German tourists in particular these days.

But while any town needs cashflow, in principle I support the market vendors, who suspect their incomes might actually go down, not up, at the new character-free site. I like the market because it is crowded and disorderly, and I don’t want something sterile and devoid of atmosphere to replace it. A lot of the vendors now know me by sight, and the new set-up will work against the informality and friendliness of what we’ve had until now.

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