Inocencia sells donuts in San Gregorio Atlapulco’s market. She sits calmly behind the small folding table that holds her donuts, occasionally calling out to passersby to tell them what kinds she sells: chocolate, pink-frosted, and sugar-coated. They cost four pesos, or seventeen cents, each. “I earn fifty or sixty pesos [$2 to $2.50] a day,” she told me. “This is all the work I have.” She, like everyone in the pueblo, knows about the coronavirus. But, she said, “If I do not work, I cannot eat. I am afraid but I have to work. I have no choice.” She doesn’t wear a mask or gloves.
San Gregorio is one of fourteen pueblos that together make up Xochimilco, a borough of Mexico City. Its population is between 25,000 and 30,000, and although the phrase “Mexican pueblo” may conjure up images of a lovely village tucked in the mountains, San Gregorio is very urban and mostly working-class. It’s a pueblo originario, an original pueblo, which means it has held on to its indigenous traditions. That means there are many fiestas, and in normal times that’s a good thing: the streets and churchyard fill with people; there is food and dancing. But these are not normal times, something the pueblo has been slow to realize. In fact, San Gregorio Atlapulco is woefully unprepared for the virus.
This year the celebration for the Feast of San Gregorio, the pueblo’s patron saint, was held from March 12 through March 22. Many people here already knew about the virus and how it was likely to spread in large crowds. Nevertheless, thousands of locals attended processions, fireworks, and nightly concerts. “It was dangerous to have the processions,” admitted Domingo García Flores, the local medical clinic’s administrator. “I talked with people, but they said that it was something political, something that would keep people in their homes.” When he asked people if they were worried about the virus, they told him, “No pasa nada”—nothing will happen.