Upcoming book explores development of tourism in San Miguel

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

Lisa Pinley came to San Miguel in 2002 to study Spanish. She was impressed by the relationships between Mexicans and foreigners in the city, and she decided to write her dissertation for a Ph.D. in history on the topic: “Defining a place, defining a nation: San Miguel de Allende through Mexican and foreign eyes.” According to Pinley, she wanted to integrate the history of both populations in her dissertation, and what she found was that the relations between Mexicans and foreigners have changed greatly since the 1930s and 1940s, a time when there were very few foreigners here and they were very integrated into the local population. Nowadays, she commented, the expats are more isolated, although there are also those who seek to be integrated through working with nonprofit organizations. She decided to develop her dissertation into a book.

On July 7, during a lecture at El Sindicato, Pinley, who has visited the municipality for more than 10 years doing research, said that she is preparing a book about San Miguel and shared with the audience part of the first chapter, which covers the development of tourism in the city during the 1950s and 1960s. In her talk, the historian said that the establishment of the Instituto Allende, headed by former Guanajuato governor Enrique Fernández and his wife, Nell Harris, helped pave the way for attracting foreigners to the city. Pinley commented that the Instituto’s efforts to promote San Miguel as a cosmopolitan, culturally vibrant city was so effective that in 1957 the American magazine Travel “mentioned San Miguel in 7 out of 12 issues.”

The researcher commented also that Instituto was supported in its effort by the construction of roads in the country during the so-called Milagro Mexicano (Mexican Miracle), an age of prosperity in the country between 1940 and 1970. In the decade of the 1950s, San Miguel began to appear in travel guides in the US and Mexico, among them a bilingual travel guide written by Miguel Malo in which more than 10 San Miguel hotels advertised. According to Pinley, several houses near Centro were turned into hotels.

The author explained that in 1961 the local government formed a tourism commission, which installed an information stand in Centro. The municipality also requested financial support from the federal government for economic development but received no response. It was not until 1968 that the city received federal support to maintain the city’s market; in that same year, the Presa Allende was also constructed with federal funding, as well as a school and a road.

Despite those advances, funding from the state and the federal government remained scarce, so a group of citizens decided to highlight the importance of San Miguel in the struggle for Mexican independence as a means of attracting funding; after all, one of the most important independence heroes, Ignacio Allende, was born here, and it was in San Miguel that the idea of independence was first conceived. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Allende’s birth the group unveiled a statue, paid for with their own resources.

Pinley explained that during this time there were also some who wanted to industrialize San Miguel because, they said, tourism would not generate sufficient jobs. In 1967 a drought led many people to move from rural areas to the urban zone to seek employment, which did not exist.

Those opposed to developing tourism believed that an influx of foreigners would affect the culinary traditions of the town and recommended that restaurants include traditional dishes on their menus. Also, the publishing of advertisements completely in English was strongly criticized by journalists, who argued that San Miguel was being turned into “Gringolandia” and that Spanish should be the only official language.

Finally, in 1970, tourism came to be seen by the federal government as a valid option for economic development, especially because the period of the “Mexican Miracle” had come to an end. San Miguel received resources to build a museum and a bus station, and new roads were constructed.

Pinley’s book is still in progress, and she assured the audience that it will be an objective exploration of San Miguel’s recent history. The historian can be contacted by email at coverltp@cofc.edu.


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