Culture

Mexico City Celebrates Its 500th Birthday Amid A Pandemic And Mounting Violence

Most of us are looking to 2021 with optimism, but for Mexico, this upcoming year won’t just be about saying goodbye to 2020. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) says 2021 will be the “year of independence and greatness” for Mexico, celebrating not only 500 years since the founding of Mexico City, but also 200 years since Mexico achieved its independence from Spain.

As Mexico City turns 500, the city faces many challenges and reasons to celebrate.

Pretty much the entire world was waiting for 2021 to arrive, so that we could all say adiós to 2020. But few places were as eager to welcome 2021 as Mexico was.

You see, it was in 1321 that the ancient city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) was founded by the Aztecas, in 1521 the city was conquered and rebuilt by Spanish conquistadors, and in 1821 the nation gained independence from Spain. So you can see why 2021 is such a major year for Mexico.

President AMLO presented a plan to commemorate two centuries of Mexico’s Independence, the 700th anniversary of the founding of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and the 500th anniversary of the fall of the city that became the country’s capital city.

“Next year is the year of the Independence and the greatness of Mexico,” the president said, joined by Mexico City Head of Government Claudia Sheinbaum. In a detailed report on the year’s celebrations, IMSS head Zoé Robledo pointed out that the whole program includes 12 national events including tributes to national heroes, commemoration of relevant dates, exhibitions, parades and the traditional Independence celebration known as El Grito. Other events and celebrations are also expected in 65 cities across 32 states, starting on Feb. 14 in Oaxaca and ending on Sept. 30 in Michoacán.

The nation’s capital has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and faces other serious challenges.

Like many major cities, Mexico City has been severely impacted by the pandemic. It’s the epicenter of the health crisis in Mexico with more than 500,000 confirmed cases and nearly 25,000 deaths. In recent weeks, hospital occupancy has surpassed 90% meaning there’s little to no room for people to be treated. Meanwhile, the government has come under fire for a lack of any economic security to those who have been forced to go without work as the city of more than 20 million people was placed under lockdown. 

In addition to the health crisis, a growing issue of cartel violence has plagued parts of the capitol – a city once thought immune to the cartel wars that rage in other corners of the country. In 2020, violence in the capital broke records with brazen attacks on elected officials and bloody turf wars between long standing gangs and the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación.

But the city also has many reasons to be optimistic in 2021.

Mexico City remains the epicenter of progressivism in the country and that can be seen in the many policies put forward in recent months. With a focus on protecting women’s safety and health and empowering the LGBTQ community, Mexico City is emerging as a safe space for some of the country’s most maligned citizens. 

The city is also undergoing a rapid transformation to a greener society with bans on single-use plastics and a move towards greener policies. From the city’s southern districts to its historical center, the city is also seeing major beautification works to help increase its draw to international tourists – of whom the city has come to rely on for the much needed tourist dollar.

“2021 will be a remarkable year for the city — a city that welcomes all and provides a home for people of all ages and nationalities, which has resulted in a unique cultural hybrid,” says Paulina Feltrin, director of marketing and communications at The St. Regis Mexico City. “I hope this becomes another reason for international and domestic travelers to come celebrate with us.”

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

CESAR VON BANCELS/AFP via Getty Images

Peru is being ravaged by a deadly second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Few parts of the country are as badly affected as the remote Amazonian villages in the northeast of the country and cities like Iquitos.

The country has been one of the worst hit by the pandemic. For several months last year, it topped the per capita death charts. Officially, 1.2 million have been infected here while 43,880 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

One man’s effort to help those who have been most impacted, has nearly cost him his life.

As Peru now faces a daily oxygen shortage of 100 tons, Peruvians are becoming desperate for whatever oxygen they can get their hands on. Oxygen mafias are rising up to steal oxygen products and sell them on the black market for obscene prices.

Juan Torres Baldeón is a good samaritan who has, by his own estiamte, donated free oxygen to 8,000 desperate families in the jungle city of Iquitos. With his generosity, he’s likely saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in the process. But his generosity has also come with risks.

It began with crooks infiltrating the long lines outside Baldeón’s warehouse. The problem became so severe that the police and the military had to be called in to maintain order.

“We only give oxygen to those with prescriptions,” Baldeón told VICE News. “Normally, just half a tank, unless the patient is really sick, because we have to ration what we have. But we kept finding people in the queue who didn’t have a prescription, and when you asked them the name of the patient, they didn’t know what to say.”

Then he began receiving threatening phone calls, demanding he surrender his entire lifesaving supply of oxygen or leave his city behind.

That was when the criminals, who Baldeón believes are a local cocaine cartel, made their move.

In late January, Baldeón had left his home to go to the gym but quickly had to return. When he got back home, his office/home and four others alongside it were on fire.

“They probably thought I was inside,” he told VICE. “There’s nothing left now, just ashes. I feel for my neighbors. They didn’t even have anything to do with the oxygen.”

Thanks to Covid-19, oxygen has become a necessity for so many.

From Lima to Mexico City, residents have been forced to stand in line for hours on end and search far-flung neighborhoods to refill their oxygen tanks.

Normally, refilling a 10,000 liter tank of oxygen would cost around 100 Sols ($27). But with Covid-19 forcing so many to seek care at home with supplemental oxygen, some are paying more than $1,000.

Baldeón isn’t the only person to be threatened over oxygen supplies.

In Peru’s capital city of Lima, a district mayor was forced to send his family abroad following death threats that he received after setting up a municipal oxygen plant and distributing the essential gas to needy families, including to those from outside his district.

Yet even outside of Peru, his family remain unsafe, and they have had to change hotels after their whereabouts were discovered by the criminals, who also threw a grenade at his house.

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

Nissan Mexico

Like students around the world, kids in Mexico have been forced to take school online or tune into programming on public TV in order to learn. But that’s just the kids who are lucky enough to have access to Internet or a TV. Many students live in rural areas and lack the adequate resources to continue their studies amid the global pandemic.

But thankfully, there are many good samaritans out there (aka compassionate teachers) who have invented their own ways to bring the classroom to kids wherever they are.

A Mexican teacher was gifted a decked out pickup truck by Nissan.

Since schools were forced to close last year in April, Aguascalientes special education teacher Nallely Esparza Flores, has been driving four hours a day to educate students one-on-one at their homes from her truck bed, outfitted with a small table and chairs.

News of her project spread across social media, eventually reaching the corporate offices of Nissan México. This week, the company surprised Esparza with the gift of a new pickup truck specially outfitted with a small open-air mobile classroom built into the truck’s bed.

“Today I feel like my labors and the help that we give each day to children and their families is unstoppable,” she said on Twitter Wednesday, sharing photos of her new vehicle. “My students no longer have to take classes in the full heat of the sun,” she said.

Nissan representatives said they decided to give Esparza the adapted NP300 model, 4-cylinder truck after hearing her story because she was “an example of perseverance and empathy.”

“When we learned about the incredible work of this teacher, we got together to discuss in what way we could contribute to this noble work,” said Armando Ávila, a vice president of manufacturing.

The mobile classroom is pretty legit and will allow Esparza to continue her good deed.

Esparza inside her new classroom.

The decked out Nissan pickup truck has three walls (the other is a retractable sheeting) and a ceiling made with translucent panels to protect teacher and student from the elements while letting in natural light.

It also has retractable steps for easy access to the classroom, electrical connections, a whiteboard and an easily disinfected acrylic table and benches that are foldable into the wall to provide space. The table also has a built-in plexiglass barrier to allow social distancing.

Access to education in Mexico is highly inequitable.

Esparza, like many teachers across the country, found that not all distance learning was equal. Many of her students in Cavillo were from poor families without internet access. So she used social media networks to keep in touch with such students via cell phones, but even that was not necessarily an available option for all — and not ideal. Finally, she decided to solve the problem by hitting the road in her pickup truck.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only 58% of students in Mexico had a home computer – the lowest percentage among all OECD countries. And only about one third (32%) of the school computers in rural schools in Mexico were connected to
the Internet, compared to more than 90% for schools located in urban areas.

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