Santos Diableros An introduction to a Web documentary

Text and photos of Pablo Martínez Zárate

The clinking of the hand trucks resonates throughout the center of the continent’s oldest capital, political and economic nucleus of a country of over one hundred and ten million. The young and the old, they all came to the city from afar. Some find in it their new home; others just come for the trade’s high seasons and return to their villages. They move hundreds of kilograms of goods from one place to another, they come and go during the day; from La Merced to Tepito, from Eje Central and Guerrero to the TAPO [an important bus station on the city’s west side], to the Central de Abastos and Metro Insurgentes, to Revolución, to Hidalgo, and back until the body holds.


Diableros are indeed a hallmark of city trade. They are called diableros because their working tool is known as diablito.1 It could be said that they grab the devil by the horns and put it to work. That is why they are santos (saints). “Many of the paisas (homies) that come here have no other option than to garb the diablito (‘little devil’),” says Daniel, a 50-year-old man from Michoacán who has lived in Mexico City with his family for a while now. Most diableros come from the countryside and can be seen in small groups gathered in the corners along with other members of their community; relatives or acquaintances come always together and take over the urban micro-scale territory. The eldest bring the younger oneswhen they are grown enough, but not all have their families in Mexico City.


“He’s my younger brother,” said Enrique de Jesús to Juan, who with other young ones and some not so young, come from the mountains of Oaxaca and occupy the northeast corner of the intersection between Jesús María and Regina streets. They’re all men who not only share the corner, but also live in the same apartment. His uncle and other seniors leave their hometowns for the high season. Surrounded by stationary shops, the high season for diableros in this corner and those located in the surrounding streets coincide with the school calendar dates, although trade in these central areas of Mexico City never rests. While the diablito is common all throughout Mexico, the employment figure of diablero or even communities of loaders occurs only in big urban trading areas. Amongst the young and old, many return to their homeland during the harvest.


Members of these working micro-communities are conformed almost entirely by indigenous people, that come from within the country and many have problems communicating in Spanish. Some take the diablito as young as eight or ten years old, while others—the majority—during the adolescence. “Back in the village poor me, poor him, who is going to employ us?” says Don Pablo, a sixty year old Mazatecan, with his thin arms with veins bulky like muscles, with one meter sixty of stature, and made with the “good mountain wood of Oaxaca,” claims that he can carry up to two hundred kilos with the diablito. Some are older than Don Pablo, 70, 80, 90 years old. Pablo and Leoncio, the man in charge of the cellar and hand trucks, told me about a man of one hundred and four years pushing his diablito every morning. I never met him. The ones I did, have been diableros or loaders all their life, others returned to the job when age began to play against them when looking for other kinds of jobs. For a large percentage of diableros, their work gives them freedom, unlike working in a store or factory.


Those without a family or a community to share an apartment, can spend the night in the cellar where the hand trucks are saved for fifteen pesos. Diableros that live there have their belongings in a couple of boxes hanging from the walls and at night they spread some cardboard boxes and their sarapes (traditional Mexican blankets) over the diablito itself; which serves them as beds. Some do not go back home more than two or three times a year (for harvest and the holidays). Working hours range from 8 to 10 hours, regular income from 50 to 60 pesos a day; a good day may bring over 100 pesos. “The harvest takes too long; here, even though we earn little, it’s enough to eat and to send some money to the family,” said Abelardo Candelario, a sixty-year-old man from Hidalgo.


When I approached the diableros, I had been working in the Merced and the Historical Center for three years. In part for a documentary draft (film and web) and social bonding, for which Santos Diableros is to some extent a continuation. I recognized in this community stories about national issues related to identity and social equity, as well as the impact of industrialization on the aspirations of the new generations and the neglect of the country given the operational inefficiency of the public sector and the generalized disregard for the community’s welfare. An X-ray of the living conditions and the development opportunities that the majority of the Mexican people have, and to a large extent the world’s population living in poverty; a population which sprung from farming to be increasingly pushed away from the first order economic and political considerations.


With this documentary we give voice to their story, which also tells us much about us, as humans and our perceptions of life. This is a web documentary, which means that it doesn’t have only one way of reading it and can be explored by the users with freedom. Formally, starting from analog photography, text and sound in a digital narrative, Santos Diableros was born as a very simple model that aims to extend the production of digital media to more contexts that do not necessarily have access to these technologies. Therefore, the documentary was designed with an easy-to-process format, without many technological resources (image, sound and text) as well as an editable code without  much prior knowledge of programming and free for replication by anyone. As part of the dissemination of the history of diableros, documentary workshops are made, where we work to extend the original code from a research methodology and audiovisual documentation. The first workshop was held in La CASA of Oaxaca City during June, the second one will be held at ATEA in July.


The open source methodologies, the latest workshops and related projects can be found here. The web documentary can be explored here.

1. The literal translation of diablito is “Little devil,” however it refers to the hand trucks used to carry trading goods.

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