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Puebla Barrio San Antonio

Fordham students (Alexandra Gaylord, Carolina Maestre, and Nicholas Eliades) and anthropology faculty, Prof. Hugo Benavides, were able to visit the Barrio San Antonio as part of a Study Abroad course in Puebla in summer 2014 (see photos below); special thanks to Miguel Diaz and Banda Urbana for their hospitality and warmth, as well as, to Prof. Eduardo Funes (Universidad Iberoamericana-Puebla) for making this visit possible.

Puebla’s Barrio of San Antonio was created during the viceroyalty period and expresses the depth of issues inherent in the European colonial process in Mesoamerica. In this manner two different Republics were instituted: A Spanish and an Indian one. Despite the fact that this binary political structure supposedly was instituted to “civilize” the Native American communities, it further imposed hierarchical, legal, and symbolic discrimination against the Indigenous populations.

The current barrio of San Antonio was created as part of this Indian Republic and was historically seen as lesser, both racially and politically, than the Spanish Republic, i.e., the city of Puebla, with which it bordered. This symbolic and racial separation from the city of Puebla proper continued for centuries, including making it a legal haven for brothels and bars, and thus a center for illegal criminal activities in the twentieth century.

This political function of the Barrio San Antonio was shifted in 1957 through Puebla’s General Urban Improvement Plan that imposed several changes within the urban area. Prime among these was the burial of the San Francisco River (which still runs under the city), the creation of the Boulevard 5 de mayo, and the deregulation of brothels; which caused an initial abandonment of the neighborhood.

In the period from the eighties until half a decade ago, the neighborhood gained notoriety through the development of gang warfare, which clearly reflected the poverty, lack of resources, and harsh conditions suffered by the barrio’s residents. However, this violent reality is slowly starting to change, and the neighborhood is steadily raising its identity and gaining respect from all areas of the country and abroad for its solid community work.

This positive change is effected through the leadership of some civil society organizations, the support of some local universities, and key social agents, but particularly the barrio’s own inhabitants. Key among them are those represented by Banda Urbana and its leader Miguel Díaz, who have taken important decisions to improve the quality of life for the neighborhood’s residents through the installation of a cultural center, library, training programs, and art and cultural workshops.

There is much work to be done, but there is now a vibrant community of residents that is making San Antonio a remarkable story of love and resistance.