The Quinta Axayopa Cultural Center is one of the most famous, or infamous, of the many cultural centers in the City. While mostly focused on providing skill sets to kids, the center is set in what is likely the oldest residential building in San Pablo Oztotepec. The house dates from 1797. But that’s really only the beginning of the center’s tale. No one knows who built it nor who first lived there.
The Legend of Quinta Axayopa
For one thing, people aren’t sure of the meaning of “Quinta Axayopa.” A quinta is simply a country house or inn let out in exchange for 20 percent of the returns of the estate (i.e.; farm produce, etc). Even still a “fifth” could sound at least a little reminiscent of a church-based tithe. Worse, the Nahuatl word “axayopa” is argued about continually. And this is in one of the most important centers of Nahuatl-speaking population in the City. Most of those willing to offer an opinion suggest that it could mean something like “over a puddle.” But in any event, none of them will say so with certainty.
Some historical documents confirm that an Hermenegildo Brígido Molina worked as a notary here in 1869. Other documents have him in the area even earlier, during the elections of 1854.
Deal with the Devil
A notary, though, is a very powerful land attorney. This one, at least according to legend, was one of the dirtiest. Having built himself a fortune, he’s said to have used every dirty, cheap, and exploitative method possible.
Some versions of the legend have Brígido Molina cutting a deal with the devil. Eventually he was stripping people of their land and piling up an insurmountable pile of riches – and always at the people’s expense. His life reads like a list of the exact complaints the Zapatistas would later be making.
Still more sinister tales hold that should you ring the doorbell of the house, or even hear it, you’ll see the ghost of Brígido Molina. Perhaps he’ll be at the window. H may even stumble around in the shadows of the garden. Should the door open, which it often does, those who enter will never be seen again.
By the time of the Mexican Revolution, (1910 – 1920), the legend of Brígido Molina had been a running tale for decades. He’d obviously died by that time. But, Oztotepec grew into a stronghold of Zapatista loyalism. Emilano Zapata even maintained an important temporary headquarters here. That building, too, had been part of the extensive Brígido Molina real estate portfolio. (It’s a museum today.) And his famous, and controversial, Plan de Ayala was signed and ratified in the town’s most beautiful church. But before the conflict ended, troops loyal to then-President Carranza (i.e.; against the Zapatistas) burned the entire town.
The buildings spared from the fire were the churches, some clerical buildings, and the Quinta Axayopa.
By the 1920s, the house belonged to a priest named Elías Guadalupe Flores. He used the house to perform clandestine masses as the churches were occupied by army troops under the presidency of Álvaro Obregón (1920 – 1924). The next president, Plutarco Elías Calles (1924 – 1928) closed all the churches as the Cristero War was just taking off. The Quinta continued in its role as a quasi-church until the 1940s.
The building remained in private hands from 1940 to 1985. Still a prominent building, the Quinta fell into the hands of one Gonzalo Rosas Flores. He eventually used the house for the headquarters of the committee charged with building the Chalmita Sanctuary between 1955 and 1960. Rosas was the Treasurer of the committee. But was the new Sanctuary a response to the Plan de Ayala signed right next door?
The People Succeed
With the death of Rosas, the people of Oztotepec, led by young people, organized to seize the former property of Mr. Brígido Molina. After some legal wrangling with a notary now dead more than a hundred years, they won. Since 1987, the center has offered classes in music, dance, languages, computer skills and more. They also host performances and art exhibitions. And the building still serves as the host for meetings relating to the community and its interests.
Sources cited on this page:
Revista Nosotros Núm. 87,
La Quinta Axayopa. Orgullo de San Pablo Oztotepec,
Pascual Gallegos Palma