Activity brews on every street corner. In huge Mexico City, people have always been doing and making. Makers? Why not. The community is growing and redefining its rules. Part 1 of our report focuses on the pioneers.
Mexico, special report (words and photos)
With a population of 21 million, ultra-developed artisanship and manual trades, markets teeming with electronic and second-hand treasures, the Mexican metropolis is the perfect nest for makers. However, here the movement is barely a year old. “The Mexican people are creators, but we needed someone to light the spark,” says Antonio Quirarte, who instigated the local movement with his website Hacedores, followed by his makerspace of the same name, opened in 2015.
Since then, makerspaces have popped up all over the city (which covers nearly 1500 km2, or about 14 times the area of Paris), blending in perfectly with existing hackerspaces and labs, which didn’t wait for the maker movement to “make”. Part 1 of our guided tour features the pioneers and precursors!
Hacedores, the initial spark
The tour begins in the historical city center, a few steps away from Mexico’s metropolitan cathedral, the largest in the Americas, and home to the Mexican government offices. The Hacedores makerspace opened one year ago, spurred by Antonio Quirarte. Often described as “Mexico’s Internet pioneer” by the local media, it was he who breathed the maker spirit into the city. First with his Hacedores website, launched in June 2013 to document projects from the international community, then by organizing events such as the Oaxaca Mini Maker Faire, and finally, in March 2015, by reuniting the IRL digital community inside a 200m2 space on the 4th floor of a shopping mall.
The venue is quite crowded, even if it’s hard to count the number of regulars. “Membership cards don’t work,” says Antonio. “We tried, but what works in the States doesn’t necessarily catch on here.” Here, the workshops are popular (sewing, woodwork, making a satellite, etc).
On the day of our visit, the regulars are busy. One person is touching up the sculpture of a divinity before printing it out in chocolate, while another person, skilled in robotics, builds a lamp. Antonio also shows us objects made by the community: a homemade drone, a device that sends a message to family in case of epileptic seizure, a candy dispenser triggered by a “Like” on Facebook.
One year after opening, the makerspace is growing. The team now counts 10 permanent members, and Hacedores prepares to open makerspaces in schools. Already, a school in Sante Fe opened one of its own, impressive. The team also plans to launch a makerspace in Pachuca, in the state of Hidalgo. “It’s a poor city, where 40% of young people have immigrated illegally to the United States,” says Gustavo Merckel, who is responsible for developing these activities. For those who come back, the Hacedores team is planning to offer a dedicated Rasberry Pi space.
Hacedores Makerspace, 402, República de Guatemala 10, open Monday through Saturday
330ohms, the pioneer
Welcome to Mexico’s first makerspace. Open in 2014, a few months before Hacedores, as advised by Antonio Quirarte, 330ohms started out as a shop for electronic components and professional prototyping. “When Antonio told us about makers, we realized that all we had to do was open the space,” says Norman Rogelio Morales Vega, one of the three cofounders. On December 26, 2014, it was done.
A little more than a year after opening, the three makers are still trying to stimulate the community. “It’s hard to convince people to use these spaces,” says Antonio Marcel Diaz Garcia. “Working with your hands, fixing things, here it’s only natural. But showing your projects and sharing knowledge is more complicated.”
They still manage to hold a monthly meeting, Tardes de Makers (“maker afternoons”), which is attended by about 15 people. These individuals form a precious pool of freelancers for their company. “When a client requires specific skills, we know where to look in our network,” Norman says. Proof that things are starting to move, after we leave, the founders have another meeting with an events company that would like to sponsor their Tardes.
330ohms Makerspace, Cerada Alberto Zamora 26, La Concepción, open Monday through Saturday
Computer Clubhouse, the historical makerspace
Patience is necessary, as it takes about 90 minutes by subway to reach Mexico’s Computer Clubhouse, one of the 100 worldwide antenna of the network built by MIT in 1993 to offer an educational and creative environment to youths from marginalized communities. The Mexican antenna opened in 2004 in the heart of Faro de Oriente. This cultural center in Nezahualcoyotl, one of the poorest and most populated cities in the country, is an island of creativity where both art and artisanry are taught.
In this historical venue of the maker movement, projects are mentored. Universities (including MIT) and institutions offer programs that are used by the Computer Clubhouse. Robotics, making electronic instruments, computer languages, video projection mapping, making skateboards (which the club plans to sell in order to increase its budget), developing an electric wheelchair (for a disabled club member)… the youths are talented jacks-of-all-trades.
“We are from the periphery”, micro-documentary by Alexis Joel Ponce Hernandez about a 14-year-old Computer Clubhouse member who travels 12 km to get there (in Spanish):
Computer Clubhouse, Centro Cultural Faro de Oriente, la Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza s/n, Colonia Fuentes de Zaragoza, open Tuesday through Friday
Fablab Mexico, branded MIT
It was a missed opportunity—while we were visiting Mexico City, Bernardo Gomez-Pimienta, director of the Anahuac architecture school and in charge of its fablab, was visiting Paris… So the grand tour of Fablab Mexico will be for another time. Too bad, because it’s Mexico’s first fablab, Bernardo tells me by e-mail once we return to our respective cities. Fablab Mexico was launched in 2012 in collaboration with MIT, and the team now assists other institutions in opening their own labs. “The Fablab operates with a library of materials, which includes about a thousand last-generation materials,” writes Bernardo.
Students in architecture, design and engineering work on social projects, building life-sized pieces and making a chocolate 3D printer. “We are also open to students of other universities, who are welcome,” Bernardo adds. “It’s not usually reciprocated…”
Fablab Mexico, Avenida Universidad Anáhuac, núm. 46 Colonia Lomas Anáhuac Huixquilucan, open Monday through Friday
El Rancho Electronico, Mexico City’s hackerspace
Next stop: La Colonia de Obrera, a working-class neighborhood populated by printers, garages and industrial machines where it smells like fuel, to visit El Rancho Electronico, the hackerspace of the city of Mexico. After a somewhat “nomadic” start, in the true hacklab tradition, El Rancho settled down here in 2013, according to Jaime Villarreal, historical hacker of the space, as he evokes the hackerspace vs hacklab genealogy.
El Rancho is very active, self-sufficient (hackers pay for the rent and the equipment) and offers 10 workshops. The emphasis is on free: free cinema (the hackerspace’s most popular workshop), digital library (the team built a DIY book scanner), free music. But people also talk about and practice digital security and mapping. Politics (cybersecurity and surveillance) takes up a lot of their discussion.
El Rancho aims to be first and foremost open to all. And it’s worth noting that almost half of the hackers here are female. “They instigate a lot of projects and have even organized self-cyberdefense and cybersecurity workshops reserved for women. They only spoke about them to women, we don’t really know what’s going on,” Jaime laughs.
As the only permanent and declared hackerspace in Mexico City—other hacker groups exist, but they’re more underground, says Jaime—El Rancho Electronico is getting ready to move to a larger space, for more workshops and especially “bigger parties” Jaime winks.
Rancho Electronico, between spaces, meeting every Tuesday night and workshops every weeknight
Next week, part 2 of our report on Mexico’s labs. After the historic pioneers, the newbies (a makerspace, a fablab and the local biohacker community)