During the first years of my childhood I lived with my family in a housing complex located southwest of Mexico City. The Olympic Village had been built in 1968 to host athletes participating in the Olympics that took place in Mexico during that year, to the delegations of the different countries and to the international press. It was President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz himself who inaugurated the group with a speech announcing his intention to "shelter the youth of the world," while vetoing South Africa for its policy of apartheid, as a humanitarian president with progressive ideas would have done. According to the Mexican government, these games should serve to strengthen the international image of our country. However, the student protests, inspired by the various social movements that took place in the world throughout that year, infected civil society. Díaz Ordaz feared that these protests would overshadow the Olympics giving an impression of a Mexico too rebellious and disorderly.
On October 2, just 10 days after the start of the Olympic Games, one of the most popular events in our history took place in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Unlike other presidents, such as DeGaulle or Nixon himself, who never resorted to violence against students, the president of Mexico thought that the best way to stop the movement was to crush him with a brutal display of military force, known as the Tlatelolco massacre, in which nearly 200 people died. In just a couple of months the president had gone from wanting to shelter the youth of the world to massacre it.
The Olympic Games in Mexico 68 -probably the saddest in modern history- were inaugurated on the scheduled day, in a climate of absolute repression. While in the stadiums the athletes competed for gold and silver, a real witch hunt took place on the streets and in the universities.
Throughout the seventies the Olympic Village was sold under condominium to Mexican families, but especially Argentine, Uruguayan and Chilean, exiled after military coups occurred in South America at the beginning of the seventies. The housing unit thus became the largest left-wing neighborhood in Mexico City, an emblematic place inhabited by artists, university professors, progressive intellectuals or communist militants, who in various ways had managed to survive the repression.
Growing up with these children of such diverse accents and vocabularies was very enriching. It was also heard his stories, often dramatic, involving the disappearance and torture of their parents or their grandparents.
In "Villa", as we called it, there were trees of very different species, also birds, snails, squirrels, opossums, lizards to chase with the spring, and thousands of corners to hide. The set had games for children, a grocery store called La Luna, and a state supermarket of immense dimensions for the time. The sports club included professional basketball and soccer fields, an Olympic gymnasium, a tartan court, a hundred-meter pool. There was also a very large esplanade where it was possible to skate or ride a bicycle. The children made use of all those spaces dreaming that we were as athletes as their first occupants, and that in the not too distant future we would participate in the Olympics.
From all corners of that place, my favorite was a tree located right in front of my building and whose branches reached the apartment where he lived. It was a very old lime or pepper from America, rooted in a mound of volcanic rocks, omnipresent throughout the unit; a spectacular tree for the width of its trunk and the thickness of its foliage, to the point that the architects who designed that place had not only decided to keep it but also put it into value.
One afternoon, while we played in one of the green areas, my friends and I uncovered a culvert, we got into the hole and started to walk through the drain tunnel. After advancing in the dark for several minutes, we find the exit. When we emerged from there we discovered an immense garden where a circular pyramid stood. It was the ruins of Cuicuilco, a ceremonial center of the Olmec culture, located on the other side of the avenue. Incredibly, none of us had ever visited him. We did not even know of its existence. The place, we read that afternoon, had been devastated by an erupting volcano. We also found out that all the stone we used to run on was the product of that catastrophe. Children have a look without judgment capable of transforming the saddest places into spaces full of wonder and possibilities. Next to the pyramid we smelled copal and incense, and we saw the inhabitants of that city come and go along the stone roads. That afternoon we understood that the glorious past of this country is closer than we suppose, and that no matter how terrifying or vile the origins of a place are, what counts is what we do with it. Like the tree that had managed to grow in the middle of the volcanic rock, on top of that episode of death and repression, we grew free and were writing our own history.
Guadalupe Nettel is a Mexican writer.