Mexico City food stalls lose rotulos after Sandra Cuevas’ edict



MEXICO CITY – For decades they’ve been a bright and crucial part of Mexico City’s identity: street food stalls decorated with colorful and exuberant paintings of sandwiches, bright-eyed shellfish or smiling pigs simmering in pots of boiling broth. The designs are called rótulos, hand painted public art with to attract customers.

But this year, a politician in Mexico issued an executive order. Sandra Cuevas, mayor of the Cuauhtémoc borough in Mexico City, said the street paintings that had come to characterize local culinary variety in chains of colorful stalls were not compatible with her vision of a modern metropolis. . She ordered the drawings removed.

“The cleanliness and beauty of the municipality is everyone’s business,” said Cuevas. She sees the standardization of stalls in the Mexican capital as a matter of “order and discipline”.

Art historian Aldo Solano Rojas says the impetus is not new. “Behind this is an evil association of rotulos like grime and dirt to be cleaned up,” he said.

With the edict, central Mexico City underwent a drastic transformation overnight. Hundreds of stalls, which had been decorated with luscious rótulos, were covered in thick layers of white paint last month. Others simply had the colors scraped from their aluminum walls. The colorful designs and logos have been removed at the owners’ expense and replaced with a single corporate image: the municipal seal.

Giovanni Bautista and his family have operated a rótulos workshop since 1983. “Rótulos have played a huge role in Mexican gastronomy and street food,” he says. “A lot of them advertise their products on the rótulos, but most of them have their name and identity there too.”

There are precedents for this laundering in the history of Mexico City. In the 1940s, the capital’s then-governor banned popular murals outside pulquerías, bars that sold an alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave popular with workers.

“Abundance in color has historically been associated with the popular working classes,” Solano Rojas said. “And the working class has often been associated with bad taste.”

Solano Rojas is a member of Re Chida, a group of artists and activists working to map and preserve local rótulos. They plan to file a lawsuit against Cuevas before the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, accusing him of infringing on the human right to an identity and hindering graphic communication and freedom of expression.

For Bautista, the edict seems contradictory and sad. While international tourists visit his studio and clients from Germany, Switzerland and the United States commission his hand-painted work, in his own city “they are erasing Mexican cultural heritage”, he said. . “Governors should be the first to protect it.”

The sentiment echoed what the Mexican philosopher Emilio Uranga wrote in 1949: “Erasing or blurring, even a little, our particularities, to embrace others which do not belong to us but which more easily evoke the universal, does not do not like.


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