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.