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Mexico: “They Live With What They Can Get, However They Can Get It”

May 28, 2017

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — I broached the issue of illegal settlements after reporting part of this story , about a group of landowners working to protect a fragment of an agricultural area from urbanization. They clean up trash and maintain canals, but illegal settlements are part of the problem they’re facing. I wanted to write a story that would demonstrate the other side of the issue.

When I looked for other voices, I encountered resistance from the residents of the illegal settlements. They had looks of distrust, defiance and skepticism questioning. They asked why I wanted to know how they came to live there. I learned that just as there are groups that have violently invaded lands or have taken them from their owners, there are those who were scammed into buying land on which it was illegal to build. They didn’t have anywhere else to go, so they stayed to defend what they grew to consider as their own.

As my reporting advanced I also decided to move out of my own Mexico City apartment. I’m still looking for a new place to live, but as I visited buildings and evaluated the pros and cons of each place, I recognized my fortune in being able to choose where to live.

There are people who don’t have this option. They live with what they can get, however they can get it. It would seem, then, that having a dignified place to live in this city is not a right, but a privilege.

Of course, the issue of illegal settlements is neither uniform nor homogenous. But in the excitement of trying to unravel its complexities, I understood that the first necessary step was to recognize this as a city problem that affects all of us. I then understood that what could cause a lack of trust or a violent reaction from people who live in illegal settlements is the same driver for someone who decorates their home to their style or who is looking for a house with a specific feature.

We’re all looking for something to call our own, something to call home.

A home sits on a hillside in Laderas de Sayula, an illegal settlement in the La Magdalena Contreras municipality in southwest Mexico City. Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico

Natalia Aldana, GPJ, translated this blog from Spanish.