“We are living through a change of era, for the first time there are more people in the city than in the countryside”: Emiliano Ruiz Parra | Video-interview

Located in the limits of Coacalco and Jaltenco, swallows It is a young neighborhood within the municipality of Ecatepec. Created in the nineties, it was formed by the need of dozens of families who tried to get a piece of land and a house.

Today, the area has become a marginal neighborhood where its inhabitants have to deal with extortion, patronage, insecurity, and rising prices for services.

In recent years, the journalist Emiliano Ruiz (1982) took on the task of talking with several of those who live there to tell their stories. Result of his investigation is swallows (Debate), a chronicle that is more than a postcard of a specific place, it is the postcard of the present and future of the planet, warns the author.

In the book you write that Swallows are past, present and future of the planet. Why?

Since 1999, a UAM academic, Priscilla Connolly, said that 60 percent of new homes in the Mexico City metropolitan area were self-built. The prospects for twenty or thirty years are of a planet that overheats and that causes people to leave the field. Many of the Honduran migrants are climatic, people who can no longer live off the land. In addition, the borders are closed, it is increasingly difficult to migrate. Cities are population magnets. In 2050, nine out of ten Mexicans will be urban. If things continue like this, we will have many Swallow-type slums with the human costs that this implies. And this is no longer just a Third World problem, it extends everywhere.

At what point do suburbs become slums?

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Middle-class suburbs still are. The Countess in Mexico City was at the time, a similar case was Santa María la Rivera although perhaps with a less wealthy middle class. Urbanists such as Manuel Castells place the break in the sixties or seventies. In Mexico, emigration from the countryside to the city began during the period of stabilizing development. In Ecatepec there was a boom in industry in the seventies and that caused the workers to colonize the surroundings. Uruchurtu, former regent of Mexico City, predicted that by 1980 there would be more than ten million inhabitants in the capital, which would be unmanageable. We’re already more than double. It is a worldwide phenomenon, it happens in Nigeria, Bolivia and Istanbul. These types of populations allow mafias to extract political and extractive rents. Another feature is that it is women who build these types of cities, they are the ones who stay, make community and politics. Many of these towns are built in dangerous places: next to canals or toxic landfills. With the book I try to draw attention to the fact that we are experiencing a change of era. Even in the 20th century there were more people in the countryside than in the city and in 2020 the trend was reversed for the first time.

Is this a consequence of the Anthropocene or Capitalocene?

I would say that of the Capitalocene while not all of us are equally responsible for global warming. The people of Swallows do not have the same responsibility as the billionaires who travel to outer space. Not all pollute the same. The Capitalocene sees the Earth as a resource and not as a part of our lives.

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Throughout the book you state that the right to decent housing has remained on the letterhead.

I live in a central, middle-class and privileged mayor’s office, Benito Juárez. The square meters built have grown, but not the population, this means that apartments are being built that are so expensive that they cannot be rented. However, they continue to generate the real estate bubble. In Ecatepec or Neza, people generate the right to housing on their own, it takes twenty or twenty-five years to build a house or make a room for the children. In addition, the services are more expensive than in the center. A water pipe in these municipalities can cost 1,500 or 2,000 pesos, while in the center we pay two hundred pesos every two months. It is an unbalanced relationship.

How are these problems related to violence?

Anthropologists call survival strategies when people resort to crime to survive. More importantly, vulnerability to organized crime. Municipal police forces are weak and prone to corruption. When the self-defense groups of Michoacán expelled members of the cartels in 2012, they moved to the State of Mexico and in particular to Ecatepec. In a multiparty setting and where campaigns cost so much money, it is easier for candidates to accept deals with organized crime.

Looking ahead to next year’s elections in the State of Mexico, what perspective do you have for Ecatepec?

People have become very smart to negotiate with political actors. In Ecatepec there have been several alternations, now it is governed by Morena. All the parties have used clientelism. My impression is that there is an exhaustion of the model that the hegemonic PRI of the 20th century created and exploited for years, however, it is early to say if clientelism is going to end or it will simply change its face.

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Is the trend of rural migration to urban territories reversible?

This is a very complex question and the book does not attempt to answer it. I would like the people who live there, and especially the young people, to feel that their stories count, that they problematize them and bring them to the center’s discussions so that we are more aware and together we seek solutions. I do believe that things can be reversed, but it has to be based on a very broad discussion with people from the peripheries and especially their young people. The beginning of a solution is that people get involved and change the course of the discussion.


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