Monday, August 06, 2018

we are not amused

San Miguel de Allende is not Disneyland.

I do not know how many times I have heard the comparison. Probably, hundreds. Always delivered with a sardonic sneer, as if the speaker had just found something mildly unpleasant on his sole.

I suspect I have been guilty of that particular sin once or twice. But, the metaphor not only suffers from the handicap of being a cliché, which would be reason enough not to use it. But it is simply wrong.

The Disneyland comparison is just another variation on the long-running "Is it authentically Mexican?" debate that swirls around almost every conversation concerning Mexican towns. Well, discussions amongst foreigners. It is a concept that does not seem to bother Mexicans in the least.

I love good debates. But the "authenticity" discussion is a manufactured issue. And, like most manufactured issues, the resolution is simple.

Not to sound too tautological about it, but if a place is in Mexico, it is authentically Mexican. Because it is in -- Mexico.

That is true of Cancun or Mexico City or San Cristobal de las Casas or some tiny village in the Sierra Madres that can be reached only by a 17-mile footpath and whose residents can scarcely scrape out a subsistence living from the exhausted soil of ejido land.

Mexico is a multi-layered country. In that sense, there are many Mexicos. All of them authentic.

The "authentic" argument is not really what it seems. The subtext for many of the "this is, that isn't" list makers is a bit of old-fashioned Freudian projection. They have a notion of what Mexico should be and are then offended that there are places that do not live up to their expectation.

San Miguel de Allende is a perfect example. It played a central part in Mexico's war for independence from Spain. And it remained a thriving mining center until the mines ran out just about the time of the revolution. When the mines died, so did San Miguel de Allende.

Well, almost. The town came within one rasping breath to becoming just another amongst the other ghost town that litter Mexico's highlands.

San Miguel de Allende dodged that destiny by re-inventing itself as an art coven. From art colony, the next morph was easy. Tourist and retirement haven. All to assist finance its new life style.

It has now become a victim of its own popularity. On the weekends, the sidewalks and the streets are more congested than my arteries. On those days, it does look like Disneyland.

But San Miguel de Allende definitely is not Disneyland. And I am here as its attorney to put that calumny to rest.

May it please the court. My name is Steve Cotton and I am here on behalf of my client San Miguel de Allende. The question before the court is whether San Miguel de Allende is different than Disneyland. We contend that it is.

This is the evidence.

Disneyland blocks off its amusement park to keep out vehicle traffic and to let pedestrians roam freely to spend money.

In Disneyland, characters in costume greet guests.

Disneyland is a place where any girl can dress as a princess.

Disneyland has vendors offering colorful doodads of questionable utility.

Disneyland has a castle -- Cinderella's castle -- that acts as the theme park's logo.

Disneyland even has a train.

And food carts.

And ethnic food offered al fresco.

The place would not be Disneyland if there was not an almost-Nordic obsession with cleanliness and order. After all, it is not Six Flags.

I will not mention the young Mexican couple I saw with matching Mickey and Minnie sweatshirts. Nor the three occasions I saw young girls wearing mouse ears. Both of those observations might undermine my point that San Miguel de Allende is not Disneyland.

Members of the court, I rest my case.

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