San Miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site

San Miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site

San Miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site

San Miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site

Synopsis

Struggling to free itself from a century of economic decline and stagnation, the town of San Miguel de Allende, nestled in the hills of central Mexico, discovered that its "timeless" quality could provide a way forward. While other Mexican towns pursued policies of industrialization, San Miguel - on the economic, political, and cultural margins of revolutionary Mexico - worked to demonstrate that it preserved an authentic quality, earning designation as a "typical Mexican town" by the Guanajuato state legislature in 1939. With the town's historic status guaranteed, a coalition of local elites and transnational figures turned to an international solution - tourism - to revive San Miguel's economy and to reinforce its Mexican identity.

Lisa Pinley Covert examines how this once small, quiet town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of Mexico's largest foreign populations. By exploring the intersections of economic development and national identity formation in San Miguel, she reveals how towns and cities in Mexico grappled with change over the course of the twentieth century. Covert similarly identifies the historical context shaping the promise and perils of a shift from an agricultural to a service-based economy. In the process, she demonstrates how San Miguel could be both typically Mexican and palpably foreign and how the histories behind each process were inextricably intertwined.

Excerpt

Stirling Dickinson and Emigdio Ledesma Pérez both arrived in San Miguel de Allende, a small town nestled in the folds of Guanajuato’s eastern sierra, in 1937. Like many others who journeyed to San Miguel by train during that era, Dickinson and Ledesma recalled being somewhat anxious as they waited on the station platform, straining to see some sign of the town and its inhabitants in the predawn darkness. They arrived during a pivotal time: residents of the town, with a population of just under nine thousand, were searching for a path forward after nearly a decade of violence and economic decline. Both of these men would play an important role in charting San Miguel’s new paths. Each would spend the rest of his life there; both became beloved figures in local cultural and civic life.

Yet their trajectories reveal two fundamentally different visions for San Miguel. Ledesma’s family arrived after his father had been recruited along with other workers from Mexico City to help boost production at San Miguel’s textile factory, Fábrica La Aurora. Ledesma, whose lanky figure belied his nickname, El Gordo, followed in his father’s footsteps and also worked in the factory, ascending the ranks as a skilled mechanic and serving as a representative of the textile workers’ union. He is perhaps best known for his work to preserve and sustain numerous religious traditions and festivities . . .

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