Francisco Sosa street is quiet; aside from the occasional passing car, it’s quiet enough to hear my thoughts. On either side, trees loom above me, their roots wrestling the sidewalks for domination. The homes are splashed with colors of creams and peaches, royal blues paired with tangerine and brick with tan, trimmed with heavy wooden doors and wrought iron street lamps.
Midway down, the Plaza de Santa Catarina opens up on my left, featuring a small cluster of restaurants and a bright yellow church. The trees and foliage here are protected with short metal gates and stacks of gray bricks. It’s not hard to imagine what this plaza would look like a couple hundred years ago, when it was a village in its own right and not just another neighborhood.
A few blocks towards the center of Coyoacán, it gets busier. I arrive at the main cross street of Centenario, across which sits the park of the same name. An old portico archway with a cross on top provides entry into the park.
It’s Monday, and the public space is packed with people for the Day of the Dead celebration. Children totter by in vampire costumes and black polyester dresses, clutching plastic pumpkins in one hand and a parent’s hand in the other. A group of long-haired students perches on a bench near a small fountain, discussing governmental policies.
I continue walking to the adjoining Plaza Hidalgo, passing balloon sellers and street organists holding out their hat for tips.
The buildings surrounding this park look false. I feel like I have wandered into an expertly designed tourist trap or Hollywood set, not an actual park where people sit and visit daily.
To the right of the San Juan Bautista church, signs in an Old West font advertise crepes, baguettes, handicrafts, tarot readings, and exquisite tamales. A sidewalk leads to a row of cafes and restaurants, each with outdoor patios outfitted with wooden tables and framed by black iron gates and potted plants.
The bushes inside of the park have been planted and trimmed in circular and spiral designs, just another finishing touch that expresses the artistic roots of Coyoacán.
I pick out an unoccupied bench on the outskirts of the plaza to sit and observe. Two skateboarders practice their tricks on the sidewalk in front of me, their boards occasionally escaping their control and accosting passersby. An old lady plops onto the bench next to me, watching the boys with a look of interested mixed with concern. Couples occupy three of the benches in front of me, each in various stages of passionate embraces, limbs intertwined in a way normally reserved for private occasions.
Behind me, a group called Acampada Sur has occupied a pavilion in the middle of Plaza Hidalgo with tents and signs and a recycling station, part of Mexico’s support of Occupy Wall Street. Older folks wander through their setup, a few snap photos and some just stand around reading the signs. The participants play chess, twirl batons, and peer at their laptops to pass the time.
What strikes me most about Coyoacán, aside from its aesthetic charm and small town feel, is the non-clash of ideas and expressions. It seems to welcome all manifestations of the Mexican citizen, from rebellious university students to the wealthy to grandparents to rambunctious toddlers. They all appear to be coexisting in harmony.
Is Coyoacán just a microcosm of the greater Mexico City area, a city that has seen everything already and is surprised by nothing? Is it a city so large, so metropolitan, so populated, and so diverse that everyone and anyone can and does belong here?