Guanajuato: The Death Of Heritage

by Douglas Bower - Date: 2007-01-17 - Word Count: 1385 Share This!

Gentrification is "the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier, usually poorer, residents" (Webster's).

Gentrification is occurring in Guanajuato.

When we decided to move to Guanajuato instead of to one of the many cities in Mexico, it was because it was, at that time, "still Mexico." Gringos live everywhere in this marvelous country. The largest populations are in Mexico City as well as in the resort areas of the West Coast. It is estimated that around 25,000 gringos live in Puerto Vallarta.

San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico's heartland, has about 12,000 Gringos-most of whom come from the USA.

We didn't want to live in any of the areas where Americanization has taken over to extent that they are barely recognizable as Mexico. San Miguel de Allende is a perfect example of how the influence of such a large, and might I add, excessively demanding American enclave has changed the town from colonial Mexico to Gentrified Mexico. Americanization is its defining theme. San Miguel de Allende "looks" Mexican. It is, however, Mexican in facade only.

We wanted to live where that wasn't happening or where it hadn't yet happened. We chose the city of Guanajuato.

Did we err?

Late in 2006, the first signs of Gentrification in colonial Guanajuato began. A Mexican version of a "Super Wal-Mart" opened. We now have a Mega superstore. It is an anchor store in an indoor mall that contains what you would expect to see in any mall in the USA. There is a Blockbuster video store, General Nutrition, and various other stores that no average Guanajuatense (someone who lives in Guanajuato) could possibly afford. There is even an exclusive men's store with clothing imported from Italy. And, to top it all off, there is cholesterol-laden, heart tissue-destroying, obesity-inducing MacDonald's selling seven-dollar hamburgers. They've also throw in a multiplex movie theater for good measure.

Just as in America where the arrival of these superstores has all but ruined small downtown America, these stores in Mexico are causing the same problem. Whether it is a Wal-Mart (and Mexico has plenty of them), or the Mexican version, Mega, they have come into towns without a thought about how they will effectively alter the lives of hundreds, if not thousands. What happens is a way of life, one that works, one that enriches, one that promotes community and the fellowship of its members, is destroyed.

Heritage is lost forever.

What has happened all over America is happening here. In America, Wal-Mart has become the new "downtown." In the days of yesteryear when I was a kid, it was a custom to go downtown. We would walk the sidewalks, stare at the window displays, and end up where everyone did-the drugstore. There we sat, drank sodas and ate ice cream while our parents caught up on the neighborhood gossip. It was there where relationships were forged and strengthened. It was there where those in trouble found comfort and solace. It was there where you would find reassurance that, though the world seemed to be falling apart, you could survive with the help of your friends. It was true community.

Now in America, no one drives to downtown if one even exists. No one walks anywhere. Wal-Mart and all its derivatives are the new downtown. Instead of going downtown to shop, everyone heads to where the products are offered at prices the old local Mom-and-Pop shops cannot possibly beat. Instead of catching up on the gossip, instead of forging relationships, instead of finding comfort, solace, and strength to get you through a crisis, instead of community, you find a cold and impersonal factory where you recognize no one. You find a sea of people rushing in and out of a warehouse filled with goods. No one talks. The employees barely acknowledge the customers. Everyone rushes through the store trying to get their stuff as fast as they can so they can leave and get back to what has become a miserable urban existence.

Too harsh? I don't think so.

Just think of this.

When was the last time you waltzed into Wal-Mart to buy a pair of socks, a transaction taking mere minutes, but left refreshed and more energized than when you went in? When was the last time you spent an hour, maybe two, in Wal-Mart (and all you came to buy were socks) because you saw someone you knew and took the time to talk and minister to one another's needs?

When was the last time you went to a Wal-Mart superstore because you knew you might meet "so-and-so" and get to see what's happening in her life and share what's happening in your life?

That's what we saw in Guanajuato: a life we remembered, loved, cherished, and missed from our childhoods in the 50's and early 60's.

Downtown Guanajuato, or El Centro, is not so much a place to go but a place to find friends, to relax, to recharge. Shopping in small, Mom-and-Pop shops here is more than an activity to forage for your daily bread. These shops are places to forage for souls, for companionship, for support.

Do you remember when America was like that?

Superstores come into towns like plagues. They are able to buy products at such huge wholesale discounts and in such quantities, the small, traditional, and heritage-sustaining-Mom and-Pop shops cannot keep up. Soon, they are run out of business. They die.

Downtown becomes a fantasy land. It becomes a theme park like Disneyland where tourists come to see how people "used to live." The city planners rename downtown as the "historic center" where people come to see "history" and shop at insidious little boutiques that target the rich tourists. The point I am trying to make is that downtown Guanajuato is not a "historic center" but it is alive and is where life still goes on, businesses are run, and people live. It has history but is very much alive as it was hundreds of years ago. It is where life is being lived and not now history.

Superstores will change all of that.

The locals in a city like Guanajuato think superstores are a good thing-at first. Then reality sets in. They are forced to shop in these superstores because the small neighborhood stores are dead and gone. The locals have to get their food somewhere. It is the superstore or nothing. It seems rather diabolical to me. It seems well planned. It seems to be done on purpose.

Superstore overlords know what they are doing.

Not only do the locals have no other alternative but the superstore for sustenance, they also soon realize they cannot get to the store conveniently. So, they reason, we must get a car to get to the poorly located superstore. Thus, car traffic increases in a city where there are already too many cars with no place to put them. It is a city that is becoming increasingly polluted because American car manufacturers have convinced Mexicans that you haven't arrived in the world unless you own a car.

I cannot help wonder how much Americanization has to do with all of this.

The Mega store that opened here is nothing more than a Super Wal-Mart on steroids. It also has a dubious history in Mexico of forcing the Wal-Mart business model on Mexico and her people. And, they employ the American Wal-Mart business model.

Open a huge megalithic warehouse of a store, buy products at wholesale prices, and the people will come. No matter that these stores destroy the heart and soul of a city. The almighty dollar (peso) reigns supreme. There is no doubt in my mind that these giants can and do offer better prices at what the Mom-and-Pop shops can. No doubt!

But, at what cost?

A way of life is threatened. A way of life that sustains and nourishes is lost. Life is irreparably broken.

Something that works-life-is messed with and is consequently ruined forever.

There is no going back.

Lest you think I am bitter in attributing this to Imperialistic Business Americanization, listen to this:

I was in the mall in Leon, Guanajuato, and asked a man why he liked coming to the mall. The response blew me away,

"I come here," the Mexican man told me, "because it is here where I can pretend I am in America."

Need I say another word?

Related Tags: mexico, guanajuato, san miguel de allende

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