The young men and women you’ll see on these pages are a mile and a half high. Members of the English-speaking branch in Mexico City, they live at an altitude of 7,347 feet in the capital of the Aztec empire, the capital of New Spain, and the capital of modern Mexico. It is a most beautiful and exciting city, and they make the most of it.
Many of them are only temporary residents whose parents work for governmental agencies or represent foreign businesses, but there is plenty for them to do while they’re here.
The temperature is mild year round (if you don’t mind getting wet just about every day during the rainy season from March to November). It is a city of numerous historical sites, ancient, colonial, and modern; colossal monuments; impressive avenues. It is the city of Montezuma and Cortes, the Olympics, the bullfights, mariachis, and magnificent traffic jams.
Mexico City is not the land of mañana of popular legend. It’s a bustling giant flexing its economic and cultural muscles today, and these young men and women are a part of it.
They have found time in their busy lives to take part in service projects, and Saturdays often find them working cement at the construction site of a chapel for another ward. They themselves meet in a beautiful stake center with three Spanish-speaking wards. Their dedication to gospel ideals has not gone unnoticed. At least one young friend has decided to join the Church because of their example.
In the midst of it all they manage to have a lot of fun. They’ve climbed Popocatepétl, a 17,887-foot, snow-covered volcano, one of two that guard the valley of Mexico. They have visited the massive pyramids at San Juan de Teotihuacán, which, according to the Aztecs, were built by the gods. They have explored six miles of underground river, floating for two miles strapped to ten-gallon cans when there was no place to walk. The Aaronic Priesthood young men have gone camping in mountains so remote that the local Indians came into their camp “just to look” because they so seldom see anyone from outside their village. They have often visited Chapultepec Park, Mexico City’s central park, where they rent rowboats and usually manage to fall into the waters of the lake. In addition to playing on the athletic teams of their high school, they attend soccer matches and bullfights (when they can find a non-Sunday event), and some who were there got to see the Olympics. They often go swimming and get together at each others’ houses for impromptu parties; all this although they live many minutes apart in different areas of this huge city.
One day in September toward the end of the rainy season, they took a little tour of the city. The first couple of stops were by car, the rest by metro, the modern and efficient subway system that crisscrosses the city underground, carrying millions of people daily. Between stops they squeezed in a game of steal the flag, the Toltecs against the Aztecs. Here are some of the things they saw:
Pino Suarez Metro Station. When construction crews excavated for the metro line, they unearthed tons of Aztec artifacts. One of their most exciting finds was a little temple, which turned up right where they planned to construct Pino Suarez Station. Rather than destroy the monument, they simply built the station around it.
Palace of Fine Arts. This ornate structure is the nation’s opera house, where the finest in cultural attractions are presented. It is the home of the National Ballet Folklorico and the national philharmonic orchestra. It is so heavy that it has sunk 14 feet into the watery ground.
The Zocalo. Officially known as Plaza of the Constitution, the Zocalo is Mexico City’s central square and the political center of the nation. Second in size only to Moscow’s Red Square, it is the point from which distances to Mexico City are measured, the official terminal point of bus and rail lines. When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, the spot was the center of the Aztec empire and had been since 1325.
The Zocalo is bordered on its four sides by the National Palace, where the president of Mexico has his offices and the national archives are located; the Cathedral, built on the ruins of an Aztec temple; the municipal palaces; and the national pawnshop. The National Palace, which was constructed partly from the stones of Montezuma’s palace, houses the liberty bell that Father Miguel Hidalgo rang in 1810 to signal the beginning of the Mexican War for independence.
Xochimilco. The Aztecs founded Tenochtitlán, their capital city, on an island in Lake Texcoco, and grew crops on floating rafts filled with dirt. Later, when the lake was drained by the Spaniards, these floating gardens became rooted into solid ground, with canals running between them, the site of modern truck gardens. Each Sunday Mexicans flock to the floating gardens to be poled through the canals in flower-decked barges among drifting boats filled with mariachis, flower and refreshment vendors, and others on outings. Since it wasn’t Sunday, not much was going on when the group arrived, so they just took a look and moved on.
University City. The National Autonomous University of Mexico is the oldest institution of higher learning on the continent, but it is housed on a modern and beautiful campus that is famous for the murals covering the sides of its buildings. The library, which the group visited, is especially famous. A mosaic by Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman covers its four walls, representing the four periods of Mexican history. The mosaic is made from colored Mexican stones.
La Merced. La Merced is Mexico City’s largest marketplace. Here the group walked through endless tables hung and piled with produce, forests of bananas, fields of peppers, stockyards of meat, oceans of fresh and dried fish, plantations of spices, and every food imaginable in its unprocessed state—nothing bottled or canned in the whole place. The group even took time to smell the flowers in the flower market and to admire some piñatas. Mexico City has its modern supermarkets too, but for excitement, La Merced is the place.
Latin American Tower. This is one of the architectural wonders of the world. The tallest building in Latin America at 42 stories, its foundation actually floats on the watery subsoil of an ancient lake bed. While other buildings in the city have sunk into the ground, the floating tower has not, and as an added advantage it is earthquake-proof. From an observation deck on the top, the young people picked out landmarks all over the valley.
Alameda Park. This beautiful, tree-lined park dates from colonial times when those convicted by the inquisition were publicly burned here. It forms the subject matter for one of the most famous murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The park is rich in statues and monuments, including a famous monument to Benito Juarez, considered to be Mexico’s greatest president.
When the group boarded the metro to return home, they left much, much more unseen than they had visited. The famous Reforma Avenue was only a block away, and hundreds of other sites were within minutes by metro, but Mexico City could not be seen in a year, much less in a morning.
Still, it was a good morning that day in September, a mile and a half high, south of the border.