Mexico: A thriving expatriate population
Edwards CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of travel stories from Edwards residents Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall about their journey through Mexico. Jones is a professional photographer. View more of his work at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.
It began in the 1930s. The Instituto Allende Art School initiated an influx of foreigners unabated to this day. The GI Bill after World War II enabled veterans to stretch their benefits while studying in San Miguel de Allende. Over the ensuing years, especially the last 15, the growth of the expatriate population has brought significant changes.
San Miguel has grown from a sleepy backwater to a thriving, international community. There are somewhere between 6,000 and 13,000 foreigners in San Miguel, nobody knows the exact figure. In a town of around 85,000 people, the impact is remarkable and disproportionate to their numbers.
Some decry the gentrification, the large, expensive homes and rising prices but on many levels, gringos make vital contributions to the social fabric
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. the dedicated, knowledgeable docents of the Patronato Por Ninos lead tours of the historic center. Each year, the Patronato, founded in 1970, provides medical and dental care to thousands of children living in and around San Miguel de Allende. Last year, more than 7,000 children received care ranging from eye glasses to kidney surgery.
The 100 peso ($7) donation requested for the tour goes directly for this care. The popular tours are a usual first stop for hundreds of tourists each week who gain firsthand knowledge of the town and its history from the expat guides.
The second thing most tourists do is the home and garden tour. This is another philanthropic venture began by the expat community. Every Sunday, up to 700 people, (no where near that amount on the day Yolanda and I attended), tour three beautiful homes. The charge is 150 peso, around $10. The money goes to fund the Biblioteca Publica, the public library, and its many educational programs and the youth of San Miguel.
The biblioteca is a cultural and social epicenter for visitors and residents alike. From morning to night plays, concerts, lectures, movies and discussion groups fill its busy calendar.
The Sunday morning tours begin in the spacious courtyard of the library. Visitors from around the world join the numerous resident volunteers to mingle while enjoying a band of local musicians before boarding the buses to that week’s homes. Three hundred expat homeowners have volunteered to open their homes to the tour, so every week is unique.
The Sunday we went, each home provided a unique experience. The first, belonging to a several generation native, was elegantly understated, with clean interior lines and bright, airy rooms.
The second, perched above the town, had a panoramic view. Each room was situated to partake of the town below. Its rich interior was punctuated by a wall of exquisitely framed, original Rembrandt etchings.
The last house was just plain fun. Like so many houses in San Miguel, the exterior walls gave no hint of what surprise was lurking behind them. Upon entering, a very long, bright red, arched roof led the visitor into a garden that was a riot of life. Each separated section of the house and every brightly colored wall, nook, cranny and horizontal space was filled with fun, fantastic folk art. The sense of humor at work there was infectious.
The garden itself is a work of art, a labor of love filled with ponds, plants, fruit trees, sculpture and tranquility. The zen-like quality of the recently added rear cactus garden and spare, modern guest house were a quiet exclamation point juxtaposed against the tumult of the house and original garden.
And those are just three of the 300 homes available to tour!
I can see I have to write another article on the impact the expats are having on their adopted San Miguel de Allende. The “Insiders Guide” lists 22 organization where one can volunteer and there are quite a few more deserving mention. Before that though, I must mention the Jardin Botanico and El Charco del Ingenio preserve.
El Charco covers 250 acres of canyon, hillside, lake and wetlands, Well-maintained trails provide access to the preserve. The crown jewel is the beautifully designed and landscaped Botanical Garden and conservatory containing a collection of 850 species of native succulents and cacti.
The town preserved the surrounding area as an ecological preservation zone. It was also honored by the Dalai Lama, who proclaimed it a “Peace Zone” during his 2004 trip to Mexico.
Dennis Jones is a local photographer and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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