viernes, 19 de enero de 2007

"Guanajuato: The Death of Heritage"

American Chronicle
Doug Bower
January 16, 2007

Gentrification is “the process of renewal andrebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class oraffluent people into deteriorating areas that oftendisplaces earlier, usually poorer, residents”(Webster’s). Gentrification is occurring in Guanajuato. When we decided to move to Guanajuato instead of toone of the many cities in Mexico, it was because itwas, at that time, “still Mexico.” Gringos liveeverywhere in this marvelous country. The largestpopulations are in Mexico City as well as in theresort areas of the West Coast. It is estimated thataround 25,000 gringos live in Puerto Vallarta. San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato inMexico’s heartland, has about 12,000 Gringos—most ofwhom come from the USA.

We didn’t want to live in any of the areas where Americanization has taken over to extent that they arebarely recognizable as Mexico. San Miguel de Allendeis a perfect example of how the influence of such alarge, and might I add, excessively demanding Americanenclave has changed the town from colonial Mexico toGentrified Mexico. Americanization is its definingtheme. San Miguel de Allende “looks” Mexican. It is,however, Mexican in facade only.We wanted to live where that wasn’t happening or whereit hadn’t yet happened.

We chose the city ofGuanajuato. Did we err?Late in 2006, the first signs of Gentrification incolonial Guanajuato began. A Mexican version of a“Super Wal-Mart” opened. We now have a Megasuperstore. It is an anchor store in an indoor mallthat contains what you would expect to see in any mallin the USA. There is a Blockbuster video store,General Nutrition, and various other stores that noaverage Guanajuatense (someone who lives inGuanajuato) could possibly afford. There is even anexclusive men’s store with clothing imported fromItaly. And, to top it all off, there ischolesterol-laden, heart tissue-destroying,obesity-inducing MacDonald’s selling seven-dollarhamburgers. They’ve also throw in a multiplex movietheater for good measure.Just as in America where the arrival of thesesuperstores 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 ofthem), or the Mexican version, Mega, they have comeinto towns without a thought about how they willeffectively alter the lives of hundreds, if notthousands. What happens is a way of life, one thatworks, one that enriches, one that promotes communityand 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.” Inthe days of yesteryear when I was a kid, it was acustom to go downtown. We would walk the sidewalks,stare at the window displays, and end up whereeveryone did—the drugstore. There we sat, drank sodasand ate ice cream while our parents caught up on theneighborhood gossip. It was there where relationshipswere forged and strengthened. It was there where thosein trouble found comfort and solace.

It was therewhere you would find reassurance that, though theworld seemed to be falling apart, you could survivewith the help of your friends. It was true community.Now in America, no one drives to downtown if one evenexists. No one walks anywhere. Wal-Mart and all itsderivatives are the new downtown. Instead of goingdowntown to shop, everyone heads to where the productsare offered at prices the old local Mom-and-Pop shopscannot possibly beat. Instead of catching up on thegossip, instead of forging relationships, instead offinding comfort, solace, and strength to get youthrough a crisis, instead of community, you find acold and impersonal factory where you recognize noone. You find a sea of people rushing in and out of awarehouse filled with goods. No one talks. Theemployees barely acknowledge the customers.

Everyonerushes through the store trying to get their stuff asfast as they can so they can leave and get back towhat 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 tobuy a pair of socks, a transaction taking mereminutes, but left refreshed and more energized thanwhen you went in? When was the last time you spent anhour, maybe two, in Wal-Mart (and all you came to buywere socks) because you saw someone you knew and tookthe time to talk and minister to one another’s needs?When was the last time you went to a Wal-Martsuperstore because you knew you might meet “so-and-so”and get to see what’s happening in her life and sharewhat’s happening in your life?That’s what we saw in Guanajuato: a life weremembered, loved, cherished, and missed from ourchildhoods in the 50’s and early 60’s.

Downtown Guanajuato, or El Centro, is not so much aplace to go but a place to find friends, to relax, torecharge. Shopping in small, Mom-and-Pop shops here ismore than an activity to forage for your daily bread.These shops are places to forage for souls, forcompanionship, for support.Do you remember when America was like that?Superstores come into towns like plagues. They areable to buy products at such huge wholesale discountsand in such quantities, the small, traditional, andheritage-sustaining-Mom and-Pop shops cannot keep up.Soon, they are run out of business. They die.The locals in a city like Guanajuato think superstoresare a good thing—at first. Then reality sets in. Theyare forced to shop in these superstores because thesmall neighborhood stores are dead and gone.

Thelocals have to get their food somewhere. It is thesuperstore or nothing. It seems rather diabolical tome. It seems well planned. It seems to be done onpurpose.Superstore overlords know what they are doing.Not only do the locals have no other alternative butthe superstore for sustenance, they also soon realizethey cannot get to the store conveniently. So, theyreason, we must get a car to get to the poorly locatedsuperstore. Thus, car traffic increases in a citywhere there are already too many cars with no place toput them. It is a city that is becoming increasinglypolluted because American car manufacturers haveconvinced Mexicans that you haven’t arrived in theworld unless you own a car.I cannot help wonder how much Americanization has todo with all of this.

The Mega store that opened here is nothing more than aSuper Wal-Mart on steroids. It also has a dubioushistory in Mexico of forcing the Wal-Mart businessmodel on Mexico and her people. And, they employ theAmerican Wal-Mart business model.Open a huge megalithic warehouse of a store, buyproducts at wholesale prices, and the people willcome. No matter that these stores destroy the heartand soul of a city. The almighty dollar (peso) reignssupreme. There is no doubt in my mind that thesegiants can and do offer better prices at what theMom-and-Pop shops can. No doubt!But, at what cost?A way of life is threatened. A way of life thatsustains and nourishes is lost. Life is irreparablybroken.Something that works—life—is messed with and isconsequently ruined forever.There is no going back.

Lest you think I am bitter in attributing this toImperialistic Business Americanization, listen tothis:I was in the mall in Leon, Guanajuato, and asked a manwhy he liked coming to the mall. The response blew meaway,“I come here,” the Mexican man told me, “because it ishere where I can pretend I am in America.”Need I say another word?

2 comentarios:

paco dijo...
Este comentario ha sido eliminado por el autor.
Anónimo dijo...

Creo que la manera de salvar San Miguel de Allende es prohibiendo tomar bebidas alcoholicas en la via publica. Muchos regios y de todas partes de Mexico van a eso, emborracharse.