The "Magical Towns" Of Mexico, A Tourism Trap Paid By Marginalized Locals
The Patio de la Estrella neighborhood being hailed as a "magical" place in Córdoba, Mexico is a perfect example of "touristification," where the most vulnerable residents suffer the consequences.
CÓRDOBA — In this city in the central Mexican state of Veracruz stands the El Patio de la Estrella neighborhood, which has long been inhabited by a variety of marginalized populations, including people of African descent, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Since 2016, locals in Patio have been resisting forced eviction attempts as part of an ongoing gentrification process. But recently, the pressure has multiplied, after Mexico's Ministry of Tourism has named Córdoba as a “magical town.”
The resident of the neighborhood face harassment from both the police on the street, and the Córdoba City Council, which has been trying to get them to leave to build a shopping center.
“We know that with their gentrification policies they are going to destroy this space," says Lx Santx, a resident of Patio de la Estrella. "This is my home, my safe port, the place where a large part of my personal, family, and community identity has been built.”
Currently the Patio de la Estrella has mixed-use zoning. It is home to families and also functions as a community and self-managed cultural center; and as a refuge especially for women and LGBTQ+ people who are victims of violence and need a roof over their heads.
The Patio de la Estrella is also the only space in Córdoba that hosts community economic exchanges for producers from disadvantaged backgrounds, where meetings of women and sexual dissidents are held, organized by the anti-slavery, anti-racist and Afro-transfeminist collective, Ko'olelm.
Magic for tourists
The troubling news for the neighborhood is that the municipality of Córdoba has just received the designation of "magical town," a "mark of exclusivity and prestige" given by Mexico's Ministry of Tourism. The purpose, according to the Guide for the incorporation and permanence of Magical Towns, is "to achieve development objectives and that tourism contributes as an activity to raise levels of well-being."
Tourism is a priority, even over living beings.
Every year the governors of the states of Mexico enter a contest and nominate municipalities to be considered magical towns.
“The main problem with magical towns is "touristification." explains Carla Escoffié , a writer and housing activist. "It is a process very similar to gentrification, but it has some differences. Among them is precisely the fact that places are seen as a commodity, an industry. In itself, the concept of magical towns is based on the idea that there are areas that are going to be dedicated to tourism. Therefore, tourism is a priority, even over living beings.”
Mexico has given 177 territories of the country the title of "magical towns." Most recent additions were in June, with 46 more municipalities, including Córdoba added.
Escoffié explained that the magical towns policy does not include eviction mitigation or gentrification analysis. "There is only an analysis of space as a product," she said. "The design of the Magical Towns is a touristification policy and that can lead to forced evictions, displacement of communities, disintegration of neighborhoods.”
The Ministry of Tourism is increasingly expanding this type of program. Just in September 2022, it announced the expansion to "Magical Neighborhoods," focused on the parts of cities "with charm, tradition and mysticism."
Meetings of women and sexual dissidents are held, organized by the anti-slavery, anti-racist and Afro-transfeminist collective, Ko'olelm.
Evictions and police harassment
But the attack on the El Patio de la Estrella residents did not begin when Córdoba was named a “magical town”. In 2016, the Córdoba City Council told locals they had to leave their home because "portions" of that property had been purchased. An operation followed with three patrol cars and at least 25 police officers at dawn in order to evict 19 families that lived in the Patio de la Estrella. The forced eviction attempt was not successful because women resisted, and they were never presented with a document that endorsed the legality of such an act.
Since 2016, the City Council has maintained a policy of harassment of families. They have tried to bribe them with 50,000 pesos ($2,845) and have offered them a house in the periphery of Córdoba if they leave their current homes. Out of fear, at least 16 families left the Patio de la Estrella. Those that remain resist institutional and police harassment; and the constant uncertainty of experiencing yet another forced eviction attempt.
Lawyer Carla Escoffié said that in Mexico housing is seen as simply an issue of private property, not as a need and a right. "The right to housing is not guaranteed," she says. "In Mexico, we do not have a public housing policy but a real estate policy."
But then how to understand housing? For Escoffie, housing itself is the right to have a place to live. To have measures to avoid forced evictions that are arbitrary, illegal and unjustified; and even the right to non-discrimination in access to housing.”
People are removed for the 'improvement' of the place.
The City Council's harassment of the families that live in the Patio de la Estrella has generated stress that has made their health deteriorate.
Escoffié explains that the promised improvements are linked to the issue of profiling people. "Who are the accepted people; but also which practices are accepted. And precisely issues such as sex work, LGBTQ people, people of color, migrants. They are seen as people to be removed for the 'improvement' of the space. In other words, the improvement of the space implies not only a spatial modification but also a population one”.
“This is the only space openly for women and dissidents in Córdoba."
From slavery center to neighborhood yard
The Patio de la Estrella is considered historical heritage dating from 1857, originally a place where enslaved black people were bought and sold by slaveholders. Over time it has had different uses until it became what is known as a neighborhood yard.
“Since the 19th century, the poorest population groups have resorted to the so-called neighborhoods," explains María Teresa Esquivel Hernández, a researcher in urban studies. "This housing option located fundamentally in the central and deteriorated areas of the city is the result of the transformation of the large houses of bourgeois families.”
But these kinds of neighborhoods are also spaces that, due to their construction, have allowed forms of community coexistence and solidarity networks. This is much more than just an apartment building or low-income housing units.
“This is the only space openly for women and dissidents in Córdoba," says Lx Santx. "It is the only place that, through oral tradition with an anti-racist and decolonial perspective, seeks to crush and demystify the legends created by the Spanish colony. This must be built this through the community."
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