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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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