Flack over "Echo Park in Mexico"

I found this article in the L.A. Times last week, and (at first) decided not to blog it. It’s really nothing new: an American visits San Miguel for a day, goes on one of the weekly House and Garden Tours on a Sunday afternoon, and then writes an article about the experience. In part she writes:

It was at this point that I realized that if I really wanted a taste of Mexico, I might as well go home to Echo Park. The tour wasn’t so much a backstage pass to aspirational cultural immersion as it was an English-only how-to guide for getting away from it all without giving anything up. Each dwelling was mostly notable for just how thoroughly the householders had managed to bring the comforts of the north into the wilds of the south.

In other words, the expats in SMA have succeeded in Americanizing this town to the point that it is indistinguishable from L.A.’s Echo Park.

Once again, this is nothing new. If you Google “San Miguel de Allende,” about half of the articles and posts will discuss the rampant Americanization of SMA. This article, however, sparked the ire of many of SMA’s residents who discussed it at length this weekend on a SMA discussion list.

Their response to the article was quite revealing, and indicative of how much the Echo Park author Meghan Daum missed while she was visiting SMA. Some people were dismayed that the author simplified SMA as a Gringo colony that had usurped Mexican culture. Others were annoyed that this (and many other) authors write about SMA as if they know the town after a seven day visit. Still others remarked that it is quite possible that Echo Park (and other areas of L.A.) are likely more Mexican than parts of SMA. Perhaps the best comment was by a woman who summed it up brilliantly: “San Miguel is not a Sacred Cow that no one can make fun of”–she suggests that SMA is a novelty to the American press and as such, it will attract the admiration and criticism of many who visit.

What I did find fascinating about this on-line discussion was how remarkably diverse the expat opinions are, and that they are positively unafraid to debate one another on-line. Daum’s piece is not entirely incorrect: there are parts of SMA that do seem like American islands. But I have to wonder what Daum did to avoid all of the Mexicans who live there (they are still the majority, regardless of how you count the number of expats)? The fact that she missed that part of SMA tells us more about her and tourism in general than about SMA. If she did not see the Mexican influence in San Miguel, she had to work pretty hard to miss it.

So much for accurate reporting.

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2 thoughts on “Flack over "Echo Park in Mexico"

  1. <>“The fact that she missed that part of SMA tells us more about her and tourism in general than about SMA. If she did not see the Mexican influence in San Miguel, she had to work pretty hard to miss it.”<>The narrative used for this piece unfortunately works very well for readers abroad. It also seems to fall into the theme of recent “reporting” on SMA – and travel writing in general – that everything has to be cool. A dispatch including an anecdote about eating gorditas at that great little spot across from the Biblioteca Publica just wouldn’t make editors salivate quite like a tale of expat licentiousness.This is a great blog … keep up the good work

  2. I live in a Mexican neighborhood in SMA. Right now I can look out the window in one direction and see the cages of fighting cocks that one neighbor raises and trains, I can hear the iron worker across the street pounding on metal, I can see the Mexican flag flying at a couple of houses, I hear a Mexican worker walking down the street singing. The tienda down the street is open as is the barbershop and another tienda just a few doors up the street. A man is delivering milk from cans on the back of a donkey. I see some Mexican women walking up the street with bags of veggies from the San Juan de Dios mercado. Yesterday I walked across town to the Ramirez mercado. I saw almost no gringos until I got to the plaza in front of the Parroquia. I saw Mexicans taking care of their business, buying things they needed for the day, walking children home from school. I’m not going to dispute that there are gringo enclaves or that the gringo’s usually build or remodel their houses to a comfort level that we enjoy in the USA, but it sure gets tiresome when someone comes to SMA, stays in a hotel and does the tourist thing and then goes back to the USA and writes a piece that the gringos have taken over the town. Actually I think SMA is more in danger of being taken over on the weekends and holidays by the wealthy from Mexico City.

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