Lesson: Tlatelolco: The Localized Negotiation of Future Imaginaries

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Social Studies, Global Studies, and Studio Art


Written by Hub Fellow Melissa Amezcua
This lesson investigates the exhibition Tlatelolco and the localized negotiation of future imaginaries and presents the complex history of this neighborhood through commissioned artworks. Tlatelolco is an area in Mexico City that has been the setting of very significant events in Mexican history. In contemporary times, the name Tlatelolco is imprinted in the minds of most Mexicans as the Massacre of Tlatelolco in 1968 when the government murdered students and laborers protesting for social and political rights. In this lesson students will see the neighborhood of Tlatelolco from ancient to modern times.


  • Students will reflect on the meaning and significance of neighborhoods.
  • Students will think about the role of art, artists, and museums in relation to community life.
  • Students will engage in informal dialogue with each other about various ways art can provide new perspectives of seeing social, cultural, and political relationships.


Neighborhood is a local community located within a larger city, town, or suburb. In our discussion we will go beyond the basic definition with a more developed one that considers a neighborhood as a living organism that changes and reproduces itself.
Localized negotiation refers to the different social and cultural protocols that a society, or in this case a particular community, undergoes in maneuvering in daily life.
Future Imaginaries refers to how collective ideals and social relationships contribute to imaginaries of the future.
Collective is a group of people that work together on a particular project or towards a common goal determined by shared social or political values. Collectives operate by consensus with a decision making process based on group agreement.
Collective memory is shared stories/narratives.


Tlatelolco and the localized negotiation of future imaginaries images in the Digital Archives

Lesson Strategy

Our discussions provide a space for an informal and spontaneous exchange of ideas to provide students with a clear context to help them understand the complexity of the theme we are addressing. This exposition will serve as background necessary to help them ask insightful questions, allowing students to engage and exchange ideas. We will begin with an historical context of Tlatelolco, followed by an inquiry into the reasons that may have inspired commissioned artists to address this particular neighborhood, and finally by reviewing the artists’ work so students can further relate to their work.

Provide historical background
The neighborhood of Tlatelolco is an historically loaded site. Very important events have given it its character from pre-Hispanic times to the present. Unfortunately the majority of these events have been tragic and traumatic, but as we will see later neighborhoods are also agents of change from which we are able to think about possibilities for future imaginaries. Tlatelolco is a living example of this.

The Plaza de las Tres Culturas is a square in Tlatelolco that gives a great perspective on Tlatelolco’s three major historical periods; the place itself juxtaposes Aztec pyramids, early colonial Catholic churches, and modernist architecture such as the Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing complex. Together they make a unique combination of Pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern cultural history.

  • Aztec Empire During the Aztec Empire, Tlatelolco was an independent city that eventually became part of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Empire. Tlatelolco was the site of the most important market in the region; it was a center for the exchange of not only goods but also cultural, political, and religious communal practices. In its day, it is said that around 60,000 people visited Tlatelolco every day!
  • Spanish Conquest In 1521 Tlatelolco was the scene of one of the most traumatic experiences of indigenous people. Tlatelolco was the location of the Spanish defeat over the Aztecs. Decades later Spaniards erected a church on top of the Aztec pyramids to assert their political and religious dominance in the region. Today, placed in between the Church and the pyramids is a plaque remembering this event:

“On 13 August 1521 Tlatelolco, so heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc, finally fell into the hands of Hernán Cortés. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat; it was the painful moment of the birth of the Mexico of today, of a race of mestizos”.

  • Urban development Tlatelolco is the site of one of the most ambitious housing projects in Mexico City ever developed. Commissioned by the Mexican Government in 1965, the famous Mexican architect Mario Pani built the Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing complex. Pani was inspired by Swiss architect, Le Corbusier and his idea of drastically transforming cities by building massive housing complexes that themselves resemble small cities. The Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing project alone housed 70,000 residents in Tlatelolco.
  • Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968 A few years after the inauguration of the housing complex, Tlatelolco faced yet another tragedy that would remain in the memory of most Mexicans as one of the most lamentable episodes in the twentieth century. On October 2, two weeks before the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City, the government massacred hundreds of students and laborers protesting for social and political rights. The repression in Mexico was so strong at the time that the day after the massacre only a few publications even mentioned the incident and even those that published it did not confront it as a governmental injustice. For many years, the Mexican government suppressed information about the event until a few years ago when a few official archives were opened, though authorities are yet to be held accountable for such acts of violence.
  • 1985 Earthquake Mexico City was severely damaged by a furious earthquake in 1985 that left the whole city in chaos. The Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing complex suffered serious damages, as well as the collapse of two major buildings that caused the deaths of thousands of inhabitants in the neighborhood. Authorities were logistically incapable of providing assistance to the millions that were affected, prompting the need for neighbors, schoolmates, and colleagues to organize into a larger community to provide relief, thus fostering the unpredictable and phenomenal growth of community-based organizations in the city. Local communities came together to work on both the physical and emotional reconstruction of the overarching community. Some of the more stable organizations that still exist today were initiated in Tlatelolco.

Look at the artworks in the exhibition
Focus on how artworks address the significance of neighborhood life and ways that provide us with strategies to rethink our own surroundings.

  • Describe each project and how the artwork addresses Tlatelolco in particular.
  • Investigate how the artist’s ideas relate to students own experiences.
  • Engage students in discussion.

Paulina Lasa, Centro de Intercambio y Producciones Caseras, 2007.
Responding to Tlatelolco’s pre-colonial period as a major market place, Paulina Lasa created a site called Center for Exchange and Homemade Productions. During this project Lasa observed how some neighbors were at a great distance from others and proposed the Center for Exchange as a means of establishing closer ties to one another. Through collaboration and exchange Lasa added to the life of the neighborhood.

The Center was in a rented space housed in the La Rosa Azul building in Tlatelolco. Lasa generated a space for exchanging ideas, information and objects determined by themes fundamental to everyday life such as food, tools and art. The Center presented a stock of donations that the public was allowed to photocopy in exchange for a contribution, as well as various types of events of greater interaction including workshops, concerts, round table discussions, and trades. The Center provided all these exchanges to participants without the use of money. Lasa’s artwork became a social model that portrayed the encounters and connections that were made possible by the community and her investigation of the neighborhood. Her interest in doing this project was to recreate the social dynamic that might have existed during the Aztec empire when Tlatelolco was a dynamic market place.


  • Other than buying things for money, can you think of other ways to exchange with others?
  • Do you trade favors, share, or barter with people in your neighborhood? Among your friends?
  • If so, what do you think is the difference between buying things and exchanging?
  • Is there a different kind of value to it?
  • What makes a neighborhood more likely to be socially interactive?
  • What qualities in Lasa’s Center for Exchange in Tlatelolco do you see as generating interaction?
  • Are the neighborhoods in which you live open to interaction or are the residents in your neighborhood very isolated from each other?
  • Can you imagine these activities in your neighborhood?
  • Imagine a neighborhood in which there is very little interaction among the people living there. Imagine one in which there is collaboration and communication. What kind of neighborhoods would these be?

Pedro Reyes, Parque Vertical, 2002-2008.
Visible from across the city is Tlatelolco’s most iconic building, a triangular high-rise. In its day it was a government office, and the proposed relocation for the police headquarters which was denied after strong opposition from residents. Afterward it was left abandoned for twenty years. Pedro Reyes proposed to recuperate the building and renovate it into a vertical park, an urban farm where the neighbors could apply for a parcel of land and utilize hundreds of hydroponic units to grow their own food. The challenge in making a “green skyscraper” was water, which Reyes easily solved by connecting Tlatelolco’s single output drainage system to the tower. The two blind walls on its west and east facades would be covered with solar panels creating enough electricity to pump the water up to the hydroponic parcels. The proposal for the project proved to be feasible with a relatively small initial investment.

Reyes and his collaborators published the proposal for the “green skyscraper” project as a new redevelopment plan in progress. It was announced in papers and magazines as the “World Environmental Education Center.” The publicity for the project, though false, enabled the public to imagine its immediate possibility, if not create the expectation and desire for an environmental Mexico. As a result Reyes was often asked when the center would open. When the building was instead acquired for offices, Reyes installed a billboard next to the building advertising its environmental possibility as a last effort of intervention. The intent was to make their proposal available to future developers.
Reyes’s artwork addresses neglect and abandonment and the government’s indifference towards the deterioration of Tlatelolco. His artwork also offers the possibility for people to rethink their neighborhoods in ways that may seem utopian for developers, but are highly beneficial for the community.


  • How do the spaces and structures in our neighborhood affect our everyday life?
  • Who decides what our neighborhood will have or look like?
  • Can you name some features of your neighborhood that may be similar to Pedro Reyes’s center?
  • What voice do you think residents have in changing their neighborhood?
  • In Tlatelolco, residents rejected the government’s proposal to move the police headquarters into their neighborhood. Have you ever experienced a situation where residents came together to prevent or affect changes in their neighborhood?
  • What strategies have you seen communities, churches, or schools use to affect change in their neighborhood?
  • Can you think of other strategies that Reyes could have used to make his project possible?
  • Reyes used the proposal as a way of showing possible futures, spreading the proposal in newspapers and other publications, creating interest and expectation for the project. If you were to introduce a change or transformation in your neighborhood, what would it be?
  • What strategy would you use to generate interest for your proposal?

Christoph Draeger, Tlatelolco, 2005.
Draeger’s piece was inspired by the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre and the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. About one week before the Olympic games, on Oct 2, hundreds of students and laborers protesting for political and social rights were massacred by the Mexican military in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco. In a turbulent year with massive student protests worldwide, most famously in Prague, Berlin, San Francisco, New York, and Paris, the Tlatelolco massacre was the biggest massacre of its kind, though its history is little remembered outside the context of Mexico. In comparison, the1968 Olympics and the popularity of the Olympic logo of Mexico68 (American designer Lance Wyman) are much more remembered within collective memory. The logo is well remembered and is even frequently recycled in fashion and design. In his artwork Draeger converted this famous logo for the Olympic games from MEXICO68 to the word Tlatelolco, thus superimposing two different layers of historic representation that were intimately connected by time, effect, and cause, but which were separated historically and in the cause of the massacre, removed from our collective memory.
Draeger’s piece takes the form of a bright neon sign that appropriated the font design of the Olympics logo inscribing instead the word “Tlatelolco.” His choice of neon light was to choose a bright and visible signage to burn the image of that word into the retina, serving as a reminder of the event and possibly as a memorial not so easily forgotten.


  • Do you see your neighborhood represented in the news? In history?
  • What types of records exist about your neighborhood?
  • How is your neighborhood regarded from an outside perspective? From the perspective of the neighborhood itself?
  • What kind of memories do you associate with neighborhoods in your city? What sort of experiences or historical moments do they remind you of?
  • Explain collective memory. What are some events from U.S. History that are part of our collective memory? What are some ways of remembering these events?
  • What would you like to remember about your neighborhood and what are some ways of including it into our collective memory?


Students will develop a project of their choice: writing, artwork, acting, etc., that addresses some of the elements we discussed in relation to Tlatelolco or in relation to other neighborhoods of their interest.


Evaluate students ability to understand the history of Tlatelolco. Assess student’s ability to use new vocabulary and their participation in class discussions.

Additional Resources

Elena Poniatowska, Massacre in Tlatelolco, University of Missouri Press, 1991. Miquel Adria, Mario Pani, La construccion de la Modernidad, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 2005.
Memorial del 68’, Universidad Nacional de Mexico, Direccion General de Publicaciones y Fomento Editorial, Gobierno del Distrito Federal-Secretaria de Cultura, Editorial Turner de Mexico, S.A de C.V. 2007.

Lesson Plan: Tlatelolco: The Localized Negotiation of Future Imaginaries