Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, commonly known as Ciudad Neza is a city of Mexico State and a part of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area. Until 2006 it was part of the world’s largest mega-slum. Most of its population are poor and have migrated from other parts of Mexico. There is also a very high crime rate, in part due to “cholos” – gangs formed since the 1990s and based on gang models in the US.
The city and municipality is named after the Aztec King Nezahualcóyotl. Today Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, or simply Ciudad Neza, is a sprawling city with over one inhabitants and includes entirely modern buildings. Since the 2000s, a significant number of natives of the city have immigrated to the United States, mostly settling in New York. This has led to a new Mexican subculture in the area.
Until the 20th century, the land on which Ciudad Neza sits was under Lake Texcoco and uninhabited. Successful draining of the lake in the early 20th century created new land. Public services, however, such as adequate potable water, electricity and sewerage were lacking until the area was made an independent municipality in 1963.
Drainage of the interconnected lakes of the Valley of Mexico began in the early colonial period. The first major drainage project was begun in 1590, with the aim of eliminating the chronic flooding that plagued Mexico City. By the time of the Mexican War of Independence, flooding was still a problem in the Mexico City area, and at that time a project was begun to drain Lake Texcoco. The lake area was declared federal property in 1912, after which efforts to completely drain the lake commenced and continued until the 1930s. Most of this land was declared federal property to be sold. The initial settlements were without infrastructure or public services, and efforts to procure these began in the 1940s. By 1949, the area had 2000 inhabitants. In the 1950s the population of the area grew quickly as people from various parts of Mexico immigrated to the Mexico City area in search of opportunities. The population grew to 40,000 by 1954, despite the lack of such services as electricity. In 1960, the idea emerged to separate this area from the municipality of Chimalhuacán in order to create a new municipality. By that time, the area had a population of 80,000. This idea culminated into the creation of the municipality of Nezahualcóyotl on 3 April 1963. Conversion of the area into a municipality helped greatly in getting water, pavement, sewers and streetlights in the 1960s and 1970s. The sale of land, however, was legally complicated due to problems in land title. This began to be regulated in the mid 1970s and would continue through the 1980s and into part of the 1990s. By the early 1980s, major public buildings such as hospitals, the municipal palace, schools and libraries had been built. The Xochiaca area had become a landfill with a sports facility built along its edge. The city grew quickly during the 1980s with new neighbourhoods, shopping centres and other urban areas. It became necessary to have a municipal committee dedicated to the control of urban growth.
The city is looked down upon by the residents of Mexico City proper, who call it “mi-Nezota” or “Neza York,” which refers to its sprawling size and urban atmosphere devoid of the colonial structures in the centre of town. Trash collection is still done by donkey carts in a number of areas. The city has one the highest crime rates in the State of Mexico.
All of its civil constructions such as the municipal palace, the Casa de Cultura, the Alfred del Mazo Vélez Auditorium and others are of modern design. In front of the municipal palace there are monuments to Nezahualcóyotl, Cuauhtémoc and Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla located on the Plaza Unión de Fuerzas.
The main cultural centre for the city is the Centro Cultural “Jaime Torres Bodet”. This centre provides historical, legal, cartographic, photographic and other types of information about the city and municipality. Other cultural centres include the José Martín Cultural Centre, which has the first contemporary art gallery in the city.
The “José López Portillo” stadium, better known as the Neza 86, was built in 1981. It seats 28,000 people and is officially part of the campus of the Universidad Tecnológica de Nezahualcóyotl (UTN). It has been the home of a number of soccer organisations such as the Coyotes Neza, the Osos Grises and the Toros Neza.
The Parque del Pueblo (People’s Park) is an 8.5-hectare area with an artificial lake, a zoo and a train that tours the area. The park was opened in 1975 and contains a natural history museum, spaces for educational workshops and an open-air theatre. The centre of the park is its zoo.
The zoo houses 260 animals of 57 different species, 31 of which are in danger of extinction. It has also successfully bred species such as white-tailed deer, Bengal tigers, llamas, bison and coyotes. The park receives about 20,000 visitors per year, with the zoo charging only five pesos for admission. The admission charge finances administration costs and also goes into a fund to treat drug addiction in the city.
To be a “cholo” is to be a part of a youth subculture associated with drugs and gangs, which is strongly connected with Ciudad Neza. The word cholo, as used in various Latin American countries, referred to a person of mixed race (mestizo) from the lower classes. The phenomenon of gangs came to Mexico from the US in the 1980s.
The origin of the cholo culture stems from the “pachuco” culture of the United States in the 1940s among the Hispanics there, which eventually morphed into the gangs that populate cities such as Los Angeles. The first Mexican cholo groups came about in the 1990s, and were called by various names, such as “barrios,” “clickas” and “gangas”. Many of these groups were formed by youths who had spent time in the United States and returned with a different identity. Most cholos are youths between 13 and 25 years old who generally do not finish school beyond the eighth grade. These groups mimic the organisation of gangs found in the United States, especially California. Cholos have their own style of dress and speech. They are known for hand signals, tattoos and graffiti. They are also involved in the use and sale of drugs, especially marijuana. Groups of cholos control various territories in the city. Most of the violence among these groups is over territory. Some of the better known cholo gangs in Neza are “41 Street”, “DK13”, “Cobras 13”, “Los Sur 13”, “Cobras 38”, “Los Mexican”, “Los de la 33”, “La 14” and the “Sur Kings.”
The Bordo de Xochiaca landfill was one of the largest landfills in the Valley of Mexico, covering 150 hectares. It was an open-pit landfill which operated from the 1970s until it was closed in 2006. At one time it was ranked as one of the dirtiest in the world. At the time of closure, it was estimated to contain about twelve million tonnes of trash.
Until the 2000s, most migrants to the United States were from poor rural areas. Since the turn of the century, however, another wave of immigrants is coming from poor urban areas such as Ciudad Neza. This is bringing into existence a new Mexican subculture in United states called “Neza York” distinguished by dress, speech and the likelihood of learning English.
The area was known for a bird species called the chichicuilote-atziztizuilotl, which inhabited the lakes and ponds of the Valley of Mexico. Today it is nearly extinct. The centre of the city had an area that specialised in the sale of the bird, both alive and cooked.