Does Mexico City exist? When I drive north from Cuernavaca, signs welcome me to Mexico City. Yet as far as I can tell it does not exist as a legal entity.
King Charles I of Spain approved a coat of arms for Mexico City on July 4, 1523 -- less than two years after Hernán Cortés took Emperor Cuauhtemoc prisoner. Today however, with the electoral process underway, no one is running for mayor of Mexico City or positions in its city council.
Political parties have chosen their candidates for Chief of Government of the Federal District (D.F.). There are also candidates vying to be delegados to head the D.F.'s sixteen delegaciones. Others are competing to be members of the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District.
Two years ago I wrote to well-versed Enrique Galvan Ochoa asking him "does Mexico City exist?" My letter was published in his syndicated column Dinero and he brought it up with Carmen Aristegui on her radio program. I seem to have stumped them both. Galvan Ochoa replied: "I'll answer your question with another to help us resolve this matter. What does the Constitution call the seat of the federal powers?"
I looked it up and Article 44 of the Constitution (reformed in 1993) reads: "Mexico City is the Federal District, seat of the powers of the union and capital of the United Mexican States. It will be made up of the territory that it presently holds and in case the federal powers move to another location it will become the state of the Valley of Mexico with the territorial limits assigned to it by the General Congress."
Galvan Ochoa's answer in the form of a question in turn stumped me. Has Mexico City's name been changed to become the Federal District? Or is the federal district, in lower case letters, Mexico City?
Strange as it may seem, 58% of the Federal District is classified as rural, agricultural, or forested land. Is that part of the city? Or is Mexico City the urban part of the D.F?
For fiscal reasons Chief of Government Marcelo Ebrad fights on behalf of considering the Federal District equivalent to a state. Logical since it has as many senators as each of the states. Yet in the international sphere he had no qualms accepting the 2010 World Mayor Prize "for outstanding contributions to his...community and [having] developed a vision for urban living and working...relevant to...cities across the world."
Complicating matters is the fact that only one of Mexico's thirty-one states (the state of Mexico) has a population larger than that of the Federal District. One out of every ten Mexicans lives in the capital. Hence Mexico refers to itself as divided into thirty-two federative entities -- thirty-one states plus the Federal District.
Each of the thirty-one states is divided into municipalities, Mexico's smallest unit of government. No cities there either -- hence no mayors. In the states there are only three levels of government: federal, state, and municipal. The chief executive of a municipality is a municipal president which is sometimes called alcalde (mayor) though that is not the person's official title.
Some municipalities have ciudad in their name such as Ciudad Hidalgo on the border with Guatemala. However that happens to be the name of the whole municipality and does not refer only to a city.
The states of Baja California and Baja California Sur each have five municipalities. The state of Oaxaca has more than one hundred times that number! Five hundred seventy municipalities make up ethnically diverse Oaxaca.
Population figures of Mexican urban areas in almanacs always seem much larger than one would expect, especially when comparing them to urban areas in other countries where cities and municipalities, or their equivalent, exist side-by-side.
Mexico's large cities, especially the state capitals, each have a distinct character resulting from regional or ethnic diversity. Of course the grandest of all is the city whose existence I question but which I always refer to as Mexico City. In addition to being the country's political center, it is Mexico's economic, educational, and cultural center. It’s a city with progressive legislation, vibrant literary and cultural activity, marvelous museums, unparalleled architectural diversity, innovative means of transportation, and that closely guarded secret--it’s the world's third most important theater center after London and New York.
Legal entity or not, it is a fascinating city which we are privileged to be able to enjoy and experience.