A world united in San Miguel de Allende
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
The identity of San Miguel de Allende is reflected in its local traditions and customs that have been enriched and strengthened by foreigners of more than 40 nationalities. This mix of cultures, in addition to agreements with San Miguel’s sister cities, were the inspiration for the creation of the International Congress of Coexistence and Universal Brotherhood. This congress has the aim of demonstrating to the world that it is possible to coexist in harmony despite differences in religion, language, nationality or social condition. This year, more than 20 ambassadors will attend the congress representing their countries, and art exhibits, dances, martial arts demonstrations and even circus acts will be presented in the municipality.
Congress of Coexistence and Universal Brotherhood
This annual event was the idea of Don Luis Ferro de la Sota, a sanmiguelense who feels a deep love for the city and who was mayor of San Miguel for two terms, from 1970–1972 and 1983–1985. As mayor, he signed several sister city agreements with other cities. He also knew Sterling Dickinson, an American philanthropist who first came to San Miguel in the 1930s and has left an indelible mark on the town. One of his many interests was organizing sports teams, and Don Luis Ferro commented that the local government used to lend him space to use as an athletic field but later the location was changed. That problem ended when Ferro became mayor: together they built the local baseball stadium and the local administration purchased more land to be used as soccer fields.
To pay homage to Sterling Dickinson a plaque and a bust were unveiled on Ancha de San Antonio, and Don Luis Ferro was invited to speak. When Ferro saw all the attendees of many nationalities, he thought it would be good to demonstrate to the world through the Sociedad Civil en Marcha (a nonprofit organization) the importance and beauty of the city. In addition, thanks to the agreements with sister cities it was easier to invite representatives from those countries to come to San Miguel for a cultural exchange. For 13 years the congress has brought other cultures to San Miguel and sent a bit of San Miguel out into the world.
Ferro told Atención that this congress is held because San Miguel de Allende is a special city, one of those few places in the world where there are people from more than 40 countries. This event, he commented, is to let the world know what is happening in San Miguel, its arts, culture and social programs. He said that he realized that the easiest way to do it was by inviting all those diplomatic authorities accredited in the country. “Here there are no conflicts. People work to help others, and that is incredible,” said Ferro. The congress has always been held in May, traditionally a low tourism season.
Sister cities and invited countries
Currently the municipality has more than 25 sister cities around the world in countries such as Argentina, Cuba, the US, Spain and China; some of the cities are not listed in the official registration. Don Luis Ferro commented that the first sister city agreement was signed by 1950. In the early 1980s, Spain started celebrating the discovering of the Americas and inviting representatives of North American countries every year. In 1985 Mexico was the guest of honor, San Miguel was selected to represent the country. Ferro was mayor at that time, so he and a committee of city councilors, including the minister of tourism, attended the celebration. According to Ferro, it was an unforgettable experience. They arrived at the Casa de la Hispanidad in Madrid and were welcomed by Senator Prats, representing the Spanish government. A special ceremony was held in Granada, where a sister city agreement with San Miguel de Allende was signed. The national media interviewed the Mexican representatives and the name of San Miguel de Allende was printed in the most important Spanish newspapers. During Ferro’s administration they also signed a sister city agreement with a Chinese city, where, according to Ferro, a plaque remains that reads “we feel honored to be a sister city of San Miguel de Allende, México.”
This year, sister cities such as Laredo, Texas and Tepatitlán, Morelos, Jalisco have confirmed their participation in the event. This congress will also gather the ambassadors from Russia, Slovak Republic, Ukraine, Finland and the Republic of Korea, among others. Ferro commented that the congress is very important now, and for that reason they sent an invitation to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who will not attend because of his schedule but will send a representative. “The importance of this event has grown in the whole world; nowadays, there are people contacting us from different countries and asking to participate in it. They want to come,” said Ferro. He also remarked that the festival is not sponsored by commercial enterprises but by the local and state governments and the Sociedad Civil en Marcha in order to preserve its cultural essence.
These days of celebration are for everyone, said Don Luis, who commented in addition that the world’s cultures must be accessible to the children, who must use the knowledge as an essential tool to preserve peace. “The lack of cultural awareness leads us to destruction,” remarked Ferro, who said that those who embrace other cultures can love and respect easily.
The congress will begin on May 3 at 6pm at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, where a city council meeting will be held and the ambassadors, consuls and councilors will be recognized as special guests in the city, after which a photo session will take place in the theater. All sanmiguelenses are invited to this event; it is free, as are all of the scheduled events. A parade called “Parade of the Nations” will leave from the Teatro Ángela Peralta, featuring the special guests and the flags of their countries. The parade route will be through Mesones, Hidalgo, Portal Allende, Plaza Norte, Correo and Corregidora and will end at San Francisco Church, where the symphony orchestra from San Luis Potosí will offer a concert (by invitation only).
After the concert, a recognition will be bestowed by the Sociedad Civil en Marcha to a person who has worked for a social cause; the recipient’s name will be revealed that day. This recognition has been given to persons such as Jorge Garralda, one of the most altruistic radio and television hosts in Mexico. It has been also been given to Lolita Ayala, who hosts a news program on Televisa; she is part of the nonprofit organization Sólo por ayudar (Just to Help), which was formed following the earthquake in 1985.
The International Congress will also feature klezmer music from Israel, flamenco from Spain, tango from Argentina, folkloric dancers from Japan and lions from the Chinese Circus of Beijing, among others. You can find the whole program in Que Pasa.