MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – The last time that Julieta Ángel exercised was when she was a student. Now, the 72-year-old practices yoga twice a week at the Fábrica de Artes y Oficios de Oriente, a center that has brought arts and culture to one of the most marginalized areas of Mexico City.
“I was afraid of yoga,” Ángel says. “I heard the name, and it scared me [because] they say that there, you lose yourself, that you vanish.”
Ángel learned about the unique cultural center when she brought her grandchildren there to see a play. But it was thanks to a TV show that she learned that the center offered free workshops.
The first workshop she took was gardening, where she met a woman who persuaded her to try the center’s yoga classes. She has now been practicing it at the center for two years.
“I feel good coming,” she says, leaving the final class of the trimester. “I have bettered some little ailments in my body and in my character. I was very tense, very grumpy, very nervous. And now, I don’t complain about anything anymore.”
Fábrica de Artes y Oficios de Oriente is located in Iztapalapa, a borough in the eastern part of Mexico City, the country’s capital and an independent federal district. It also aims to serve communities in the neighboring Mexico state, where marginalization is also rife and cultural spaces are lacking.
Ángel is from one of these neighboring municipalities, Nezahualcóyotl, which is on the border of Mexico state and the federal district. To reach the center, she travels one hour from her house – half by bus and half walking – with her mat and wooden block for yoga.
But she doesn’t complain about the weight or the distance. She just wishes that her town, located in Mexico state, offered an equivalent cultural opportunity.
“There in the state, they don’t take us into account,” she says. “They say that there is no money. We have it very bad in comparison with the federal district.”
For more than a decade, Fábrica de Artes y Oficios de Oriente has been bringing arts and culture to a marginalized area of Mexico City. It also serves as an informal school where participants learn trades through which they can earn an income and improve their living environments. All are welcome at the center, where women play a large role and, in doing so, break traditional gender roles. Also offering health services and conferences, the center strives to be an agent of social change. But directors admit that more of these centers are needed in order to significantly lower rates of crime and violence.
Iztapalapa is the most populated borough in the federal district, according to the 2010 census. It also had the highest crime rate as of 2011, according to the district attorney general’s office.
With the exception of Fábrica de Artes y Oficios de Oriente, the lack of cultural centers is common in the eastern part of the city, says