Entertainment is scarce on the edge of the city. There is little money to support an entertainment industry. Culturally the deeply aspirational nature of urban migration means that many cultural expressions are highly imitative, giving rise to cover bands and the assumption of global cultural patterns. Nonetheless imitation is difficult and sometimes it is just easier to do ones thing. The combination of low-income levels and cheap space means that entertainment on the edge of the city can leverage economies of scale, many people buying a little cheaply can add up. So entertainment venues in the periphery and on the edge of the city tend to be big.
Parish festival, generally centered on a church and neighborhood are probably the most common form of organized cultural event in Mexico City. Hundreds if not thousands take place every year usually to commemorate different moments on the religious calendar. These events are usually accompanied with mobile children’s rides centering on a square, market stalls with pizza, popcorn and cotton candy. If there is no square a street will be closed off for this purpose.
If the festival is more upscale there will also be a Castillo, a framework tower of metal with different mechanisms for the deployment of fireworks, creating pinwheels of light, letters and crosses, spinning off into the sky. Sometimes there are fights with eggs filled with flower.
Depending on the organization and culture of the neighborhood there may be concerts in different musical genre’s or directed towards different parts of the neighborhoods population, such a children or adolescents. A key event in the festival is naturally the mass, but beyond that they are not very overtly religious.
Territorial pride and a sense of custom are typical of Mexican culture and these festivals are usually paid for by one or a group of neighbors. Compared to other culture Mexico spends a great deal on entertainment, but when one looks at what is understood by entertainment one sees that it is an investment in the sense of community. Sponsoring such an event is an investment in ones status in the community.
Important communal events in Mexico are baptisms, weddings and the quinceaños, the 15th year parties held for adolescent girls. In the periphery of the city one will often see, even in the poorest neighborhoods, shops for the rental of tuxedos and agencies for the rental of limousines. There will be teachers for the dances customary at the quinceaños. And there will be the Salon de Fiestas, a space large enough to accommodate the many people invited to a baptism, wedding or quinceaños, with a sound system and games for the children.
This space will also usually have facilities for cooking and dance floor and maybe even a podium. They may have different themes in their decoration from space age, to palatial, to tropical paradise. The salon will provide tables, chairs and a bar.
Hosts will save for years to be able to have this one event in style and a whole sub-economy revolves around it even in poor neighborhoods. Invitations will need to be printed, photographs and videos made and party favors designed. Because the event is special it gives rise to a whole economy of higher quality products. If the event is particularly well endowed there will be band, or at least a deejay.
Though this kind of event is common throughout the city, there cultural importance is better appreciated in the peripheries where the economic movement they generate is more significant. For many kinds of creative professions these parties are the only economic outlet. As such these parties themselves are also an investment in a sense of community.
Bars, Pool Rooms and Pulquerias
The concept of the neighborhood bar is practically absent in the periphery of Mexico City. In general bars are seen as places of alcoholic vice and prostitution and hence do not seem to function well in more neighborly settings. A neighborhood bar in the strict sense of the word will usually only cater to alcoholics and in areas with more of a rural influence will often be pulquerias, since pulque is cheaper than beer. Such a place is basically frequented by drunks of all ages, and usually lacks many of the niceties of design necessary to attract a different public. Often there won´t even be any music playing. These places tend to get to the point rather early and are open throughout the day.
Roadside bars catering to truckers and others travellers of the freeways are also common on the roads out of periphery. These often have a veiled function as places for prostitution and generally have a somewhat seedy appearance, though there is music and jukeboxes. Though they are places of relaxed morals they are not desperately down and out alcoholic like the pulquerias.
A more social environment for having a beer common on the periphery are billiard halls. Since these require a great deal of space the cheaper rents of the periphery make these more viable than in the city center. The pool hall is more of a meeting place than a place for purely drinking. Given their size they may often have a small podium for live music or even, depending on the idiosyncrasies of the owner, have small art exhibits of local artists since there is so much wall space to cover. Perhaps they will have a jukebox. In most neighborhoods a pool hall will be the first business catering to socializing in leisure hours.
The most upscale and aspirational form of bar is the sports bar in the local mall. Here young people aspiring to a more North American life-style experience can be seen drinking beer from long slender glasses help up in stands to stop them from teetering over. Music and décor is generic and globalized with wooden tables and stools, perhaps a faux-rural wagon wheel or battered trumpet hung on the wall. Prices are high and drunkenness is rare. Chicken wings and French fries are typical side dishes. There is generally no live music or podium
Places for family outings
The rural edge of the city is a destination for daytrips by families. For many Mexicans culinary tourism is the pretext for the day trip. Instead of going to see some colonial church or pre-Hispanic ruin in the countryside just beyond the city or going hiking a family will go visit a family restaurant in the countryside where one can eat some special dish.
Such restaurants generally can be found on the smaller roads leading out of the megalopolis. Generally they are large open buildings with many tables to be able to cater to large groups of people. Usually there is a field or open space behind them. Next to the dirt parking lot there will often be some children’s games or perhaps an enclosure with a few animals.
Often there will be live music, usually a singer or keyboard player playing popular favorites, expected to play requests and lead in the singing of any birthday songs. The restaurant will have some kind of dish, which will be its main draw, the superior quality of which is the pretext for the family outing. Some specialize in seafood. Others in the Mexican mutton dish barbacoa, the vapor cooked meat in wax paper bags known as mixiote, fired pork carnitas, trout or quesadillas.
The general philosophy is one of quality and plenty at a reasonable price with space for children to run around and a rural atmosphere. Depending on their success and size they may even be accompanied by petting zoos or other minor attractions. Some of these restaurants are very successful and will be completely full on a Sunday afternoon.
A general dynamic of the edge of the city is that there are few venues for entertainment. There is however a great deal of space. This makes the edge of the city a useful staging ground for circuses, fairs and other temporary mass events.
A dying form of entertainment is the travelling circus, putting up a tent in a vacant lot. Recently the use of animals in these circuses was prohibited. But before then it was not uncommon to see a couple of tired looking camels or a cage with a moping lion outside of the tent, or even driven through the streets of the outer peripheries as a kind of advertisement.
This strategy backfired as pity for the conditions in which the animals were kept has led to their prohibition as circus exhibits. Who knows what happened to the animals themselves, but most probably were slaughtered.
These travelling circuses are very often very old family businesses wandering from staging ground to staging ground. But they are only one example of the use of open lots on the city’s edge as a venue for temporary entertainment events which can run from concerts and fairs to circuses.