by Hector Aguilar Walk

I live in a city of 23 million inhabitants, but I was born in a town that only had eight thousand. The town was called Chetumal.

In the year I was born, 1946, the so-called Mexican miracle began.
Chetumal was not part of the Mexican miracle.

It was a poor town, scarce, in many ways non-existent, it had no drainage or running water, it had rainwater and well water, the one smelled like rotten.

The rain one was thin and sweet. It was stored in wooden barrels, tight by steel strips, called curbates, a word whose meaning only fully understand those born in the Chetumal then. The curbates received the rainwater that fell on the houses through a sheet gutters.

We played a game called kimbomb made with broom sticks.

The boy stick had sharp tips. With the big stick you hit one of those sharp tips, the boy stick jumped and hit it in the air. The one that made the farther stick boy won. Game of poor.

Chetumal was a world apart. To arrive or go by plane you had to fly to Mérida, from there to Villahermosa, from there to Veracruz and from Veracruz to Mexico City. The flight lasted all day. By boat could be made two weeks to Veracruz. By land it was not possible to get or leave.

The Secretary of Marina had founded that village in the southern end of the country, at the mouth of the Hondo River, to give some reality feature to the boundary Treaty signed in 1893 with England, the treaty that still defines the limits with Belize and Guatemala.

On January 22, 1898, twelve sailors and a sublieutenant of corvette put a pontoon in the mouth of the Hondo River to mean that Mexico began there and ended British Honduras, the then English colony that is now called Belize.

In its beginnings, the city that would be Chetumal was only the barracks and latrine that the sailors of the pontoon the bank so they could sleep on the ground. They didn't think, I guess, that they were painting Mexico's southern border and that their bodies carried the country's territorial sovereignty.

Some Navy Secretary file must be their names. Local memory remembers only that of its commander, Othón Pompey Blanco Núñez de Cáceres, whose abbreviated name, Othón P. Blanco, is the municipality where the city of Chetumal is today and the old street of the village in whose number 17 I was born, half a century after the facts I mean, in 1946.

The story says that Othon P. Blanco went to report to the English authorities that his pontoon and he were the new customs, Mexico's new border. It was later by the villages on the English side: Council, Sarteneja, Corozal, Orinchuac (Orange Walk), to invite those born on this side to return and populate the bank that he had begun to chapear (deyerbar a machete).

Legend says that to distract his tedios, Lieutenant Blanco crossed the Belizean villages when there was a dance and that at one of those dances he met a woman named Manuela Peyrefitte, whom he proposed to come with him. She accepted, he brought it to her, but Manuela had a boyfriend who came to claim her, only to meet the pontoon sailors who pointed their rifles in defense of her commander's loves.

The story says that Manuela Peyrefitte was a teacher and put Chetumal's first school, then Payo Bishop, in the shadow of a ceiba. It's a fact that Othon P. Blanco and Manuela Peyrefitte got married and procreated nine children and had a good life together.

In 1910, Quintana Roo had 9 inhabitants. Thirty years later, in 1940, I was 18 thousand. Thirty years later, in 1970, I was 88 thousand 150. Thirty years later, in 2000, I was 874 963. Ten years later, in 2010, I was 1 Million 350 thousand. Seven years later, at the time I write, there are in the state of Quintana Roo, 1 million inhabitants and in its capital, Chetumal, 350 thousand.

88 % of this population is urban and 12 % rural. Since 2004 Quintana Roo has grown to 5 % per annum, more than twice the national rate. Quintana Roo's average schooling is 9.6 degrees, against 9.2 of the national average. The University of Quintana Roo, founded in Chetumal in 1992 with 300 students, has more than 6 thousand graduates today.

Not bad to have started only in that village of poor.

Hector Aguilar Walk
Writer and journalist. He is the author, among other books, of Modernity Fugitive. Mexico 1988-2012 and co-author with Jorge G. Castañeda of A Future for Mexico and Back to the Future. His most recent novel: All Life.

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