Mexican state gets its first electric escalator, followed by judgmental snark

David Agren in Mexico City
The patent for the electric escalator was first filed in 1859. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico’s smallest state has marked a milestone of modern development with the inauguration of its first electric escalator – a device first patented in 1859.

The news prompted a crush of reaction on social media, welcoming the mostly agrarian state of Tlaxcala to the 21st century.

“Incredible but true: the first electric escalator arrived in Tlaxcala,” read a story in the local newspaper El Sol de Tlaxcala, which described the event as “historic”.

State governor Marco Mena and his wife were the first to ride the escalator at its inauguration on Wednesday at a department store in the state capital, 70 miles east of Mexico City.

Local press coverage was effusive. “The first shoppers’ excitement was evident and others were just curious to go shopping and move from one floor to the other on the automatic escalators, avoiding the fatigue of greater physical effort,” wrote El Sol de Tlaxcala.

But others in the Mexican media had a field day making fun of Tlaxcala, an oft-overlooked state just to the east of Mexico City.

tlaxcala map

El Deforma, Mexico’s version of the Onion, ran a story listing other recent innovations in the state such as the toaster, the microwave oven and the telegraph.

The tiny state is often the butt of jokes by the inhabitants of the country’s capital, possibly because of its controversial place in Mexican history: in the 15th century, Tlaxcala’s indigenous population joined forces with the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés as he waged war on the Aztecs.

Its role in the conquest led to Tlaxcala having special privileges in colonial times – but also earned it a stigma that has been slow to fade.

Some from the state, however, saw condescension and classism in the criticism from Mexico City, which dominates national life. Unlike the capital city, Tlaxcala has clung to traditions, agricultural economy and local merchants and kept out multinational retailers such as Walmart.

“Don’t be such bullies with the escalator,” tweeted Antonio Martínez Velázquez, a writer from Mexico City who pointed out that a similar wave of excitement surrounded the arrival of the first lifts in Tlaxcala in the early 2000s.

“It’s an involuntary meme. The arrogance of her national media seems to be not believing that there are escalators everywhere,” said Martínez, a Tlaxcala native, who objected to the idea that opening shopping malls with escalators – common across Mexico over the past decade – was a sign of progress.

“It foments a certain a certain aspirationalism linked many times with racism and classism that, in a society with a broad indigenous population like Tlaxcala does little to help social cohesion.”

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