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Eight days around the world in San Miguel

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

The Encuentro Internacional de Convivencia y Hermandad Universal (International Congress of Coexistence and Universal Brotherhood) turns 15 this year and will showcase the best of local and worldwide culture for eight days in a row. More than 40 ambassadors, councilors and even beauty queens are expected to attend the proceedings, which will feature photographic exhibits, concerts and folkloric dancers.

This festival of universal culture is for the general public, said don Luis Ferro de la Sota, its founder and organizer. It is an event to send a message from San Miguel de Allende to the world, to let it know that in this city “we can coexist as brothers.” Ferro told Atención that this event generates tourism for the city, because the ambassadors that attend fall in love with the city and come back with more visitors. “Actually,” said Don Luis, “when tourists from their countries come to Mexico, we hear that the first city the ambassadors recommended is San Miguel de Allende.” This mix of cultures, noted the organizer, must be accessible to children, who must use 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 others more easily.

The program

This year, with the goal of promoting student exchanges, the Asociación Civil en Marcha A.C, which is responsible of the whole event, handed over to local universities a list with the names of the confirmed ambassadors for the Congress so the schools could have a special guest and share experiences and make agreements for student exchange programs. On Friday, May 9, at 12pm the ambassador from Lebanon will visit the Universidad Patria. Ferro commented that the Universidad Tecnológica has enrolled students from Venezuela and for that reason they decided to have as a special guest the ambassador of that country. The Universidad de León, which has agreements for student exchanges with more than 10 countries, invited the Korean ambassador, and the Universidad Allende will host an American diplomat. The special guests will tour the schools and then will offer a keynote speech open to the general public.

The cultural festival will officially begin on Friday, May 9, at 6pm at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, where the city council will hold a session and appoint the ambassadors, councilors and consuls as “Special Guests of San Miguel.” After the city council meeting, a photo session will take place outside of the theater with the façade as a backdrop.

All the events are free and open to the public. After the photo session a parade called “Parade of the Nations” will leave from the Teatro Ángela Peralta, featuring the special guests wearing the traditional clothing of their countries and carrying their flags. The parade passes through Mesones, Hidalgo, Portal Allende, Plaza Norte, Correo and Corregidora and ends at San Francisco church, where the symphony orchestra from San Luis Potosí will give 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 Luis H. Ducoing Gamba, a former governor of Guanajuato and the man responsible for construction of high schools such as El Pípila and the CBTis 60, as well as the Guanjuato–San Miguel de Allende road, the Unidad Deportiva and the road that connects Los Rodríguez with Highway 57. Jorge Garralda has also received the honor. He is 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.

Also on May 9 Lebanon will feature a photographic exhibit in the gallery of the Teatro Ángela Peralta. The next day it will be shown at the museum in the former city hall building. On Saturday, May 10, in the Jardín the Philippines will present a wide variety of its culture, including martial arts, folkloric dances and a fashion show with traditional clothing. The next day, Indonesia will feature folkloric dances and music.

The Universidad de Guanajauto will offer an extensive program—check all the events on Qué Pasa—which includes the play Quemar las naves, las cenizas del náufrago (Burn the ships, the ashes of the shipwreck). This play is a combination of circus, dance and music. This will take place at the Jardín on Sunday, May 11 at 7pm.

Due to the ovation that they have received every year, the festival will end on Saturday, May 17, in the Jardín with the ritual dance of the lions from the Chinese Circus of Beijing. The furry creatures with huge heads and sinuous bodies will appear on the stage and later will dance, whirl and jump among the audience, accompanied by a resplendent 10-meter-long dragon.

Origins of the congress

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 the diplomatic authorities resident 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.

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