Tag Archives: San Miguel de Allende

COVID-19–The Kindness Virus? In San Miguel de Allende, Helping the Hungry

Yesterday, I put out the question: What is happening is your Mexican town? My friend artist Lena Bartula, who lives full-time in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, replied. Lena is an activist artist who created a movement using indigenous huipils as an art metaphor for feminist strength, identity, oppression, the divine and hope. She is known as La Huipilista and coined the phrase, In Guad We Trust.

It’s no wonder that she is involved in the non-profit Amigos al Cien, helping to feed local people whose lives and livelihoods are interrupted by the coronavirus. This is a model we could all live by.

Receiving food and supplies via Amigos al Cien

I share this story with you because in these days of extreme restrictions, there is sense of community and hopefulness for a future that will teach us how to be kinder and more giving, engaged. Here is what Lena says:

My housekeeper Maria hasn’t come to clean my house for three weeks. Maria didn’t want to ride the bus or leave her house, which I applaud and appreciate, so I pay her to NOT COME. Mexico News Daily reports that most expats around the country are doing this as well. 

But she came yesterday to clean because I paid for her to take taxis both ways. My neighbor five doors down did the same thing, finally, because then Maria would only have to come out of her house for that one day. While she was there, I spent the day at the gallery so there would be no one to interface with. That’s how we handle social distancing. The gallery has been closed since March 13.

This morning she sent me a message that with some of the money we are paying her, she is buying rice and vegetable for the older people she knows that don’t have enough food and can’t go out. She is now supporting two families in this way. I told her how much I appreciate what she’s doing, because this is the way we will survive this. All of us helping each other / unos a otros. 

Then she wrote back to say that she has now decided that she will invite her sisters to help her by pitching in to buy three dispensas, which cost 500 pesos (about $25 USD) apiece. She’s thinking of it as a challenge, and I believe she can do it because she has an independent spirit and a kind heart. 

Dispensas are the packages or bags of staples that one can purchase for a family in need. It generally will consist of rice, beans, lentils, tuna and other canned goods, toilet paper, soap, etc.  They are basic necessities that are “dispensed” to poor communities or families in times of crisis like this one. Since one dispensa costs 500 pesos. in this case she’s asking for 1500 pesos from the combined efforts of three sisters. I hope that makes sense. 

Sometimes the dispensas are supplied by the government but also from NGOs. However, some families fall through the cracks. We have a good new Mexican organization that is doing fabulous work in this realm, called Amigos al 100 [Friends to the Hundreds].

[Note from Trish Snyder: Kudos to Amigos al 100 who started giving out bags of food on March 19, 2020. The first week they reached 200 families and are now reaching nearly 1000 of people in the poorest communities. Many of these villages are women and children whose husbands and fathers are in the States and not sending remittances because they have lost their jobs. To help out, folks can go to Paypal and send a donation to info@smapenzi.com, attention Guadalupe Alvarez.]

 Maria doesn’t live alone. She’s a single mom with three children. But she regularly sees her mom, who while not elderly, does have health challenges. 

Perhaps this is the kindness virus that will continue to spread in our community, where we will all look after each other. May we look for more ways to reach out, to connect one to another, and be sure that it doesn’t end when COVID does.  

Big hugs, Lena

[Leave it to Lena to coin another phrase, the Kindness Virus!]

Also from San Miguel de Allende:

Patrice Wynne reports: Though there are people in the streets in the morning, it tapers off in the early afternoon and is dead at 4 pm. When we close Abrazos San Miguel every afternoon, it looks like this. [See photo below.] And thank you for doing this. Hope you are safe in your beautiful home and that Teotitlan Del Valle is safe from harm, Querida.

Photo courtesy of Patrice Wynne, Abrazos San Miguel

Gina Hyams reports: Hotels, restaurants, and parks are now closed in San Miguel de Allende, so tourism is definitely being discouraged by the government, but I haven’t heard of non-residents being refused entry to the city. Many grocery stores and restaurants are now offering home delivery.

Gina continues: regarding groceries, you can still shop in person, but it’s a very mixed bag re: masks, gloves, social distancing depending on where you go. I personally am sticking to small neighborhood tiendas where only a few people can shop at a time.


Norma’s notes: San Miguel de Allende is a well-established colonial Mexican town that has had a vibrant foreign-resident arts community since WWII when returning veterans could use the GI Bill to study art there. Today, the colonial town is has an active gueros community and is supported by tourism. They, together with Mexican locals, create and support model programs to help Mexican people and their animal spay/neuter rescue program is unparalleled in Mexico.

Gina Hyams adds: Thanks for this article, Norma. While it’s true that the foreign community contributes a lot to local philanthropy, Amigos al Cien and many other current neighborhood efforts to help people impacted by COVID-19, are led by Mexicans. Foreigners are supporting these initiatives, but they’re not the leaders.

Oaxaca, Mexico in Solidarity with Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

Please join me on January 21, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. in front of Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo de Guzman Church on Macedonia Alcala, when U.S. citizens and friends will gather in support of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

RSVP Here to Attend Women’s March Oaxaca!

This is an inclusive, peaceful, positive Women’s March Oaxaca, and is not a protest march. It is a solidarity walk for U.S. citizens and friends who want to join our voices along with our sisters in Washington, D.C. on January 21.

It is in support of human rights, diversity, freedom and equality for all. We stand in support of U.S. constitutional and civil rights, our Latino, LGBQT, Black friends and neighbors in the U.S.A., for adequate health care coverage for all citizens, immigration rights, for the respect of laws of our nation, for protection of our environment, and the Fifth Estate.

This Oaxaca Sister March is registered on the Women’s March on Washington website. Marches are planned worldwide. Please check this website for a gathering near you! This is our Grita! Let us raise our voices and be heard.

Other Sister Marches in Mexico to be held on January 21 as follows:




View of San Miguel de Allende: Joseph’s Birthday Gift

On one of my last evenings in San Miguel de Allende, I was invited by a friend to come along to a party to celebrate Joseph’s birthday. That’s the way it is in San Miguel.  Connections matter.  And they happen immediately!  We were ruminating all day about what Joseph asked us to bring as a birthday gift:  Sharing a random act of kindness that each of us had given freely to the world without expectating anything in return.  The mantra is to focus out!

Now, to set the stage:  Joseph is of an undisclosed age.  Let’s just say, he’s somewhere between late thirty-something and wiser.  Who knows? He would not tell.  More importantly, Joseph is like what many aspire to become but rarely achieve:  sassy, smart, theatrical, witty, and on top of the world.  Joseph teaches acting and improvisation in San Miguel.  He inspires students to let go and discover. They love him for it.


Joseph and his partner Eli perch on a mountain top in a home layered, almost sculpted, into the hillside.  San Miguel is at their feet below.  Joseph is from the U.S.A.  Eli was born and raised in Mexico City.  They are a perfect example of the San Miguel melange and mystique.


Joseph and Eli are passionate about life, sustainability, giving back and paying forward.  They are active volunteers involved with non-profits that help local Mexicans. That’s why Joseph said, don’t bring a gift. Share a random act of kindness.


So, after we circled the resplendent table laden with the potluck dishes that could have been catered by the finest professional chefs but weren’t, after pouring bottles of wine, after tasting the homemade red velvet cake perfectly executed, after scooping the handcrafted ice creams and gelatos, after consuming the fresh fruit custard tart, we circled up on the terrace overlooking the sparkling town below.

It was there in the twilight  that each guest told how they randomly (and not so randomly) were committed to creating a better world for others.  One person extended a helping hand to an old woman, another gave a contribution to a street person, another made a gift to help a school boy fund his education, one gave roses to strangers as a gesture of loving kindness, another gifted food to a shelter, one started a spay/neuter program for street dogs, one bought sheet music and  supplies for local musicians, another raised concern about costs to buy books and uniforms for local children to go to public schools (a disincentive to further education for poor families).  The sharing became a discussion about how to start an organized support system to raise enough money to underwrite these expenses at $325 USD per child per year.  The small acts of kindness add up.


By bringing us together, Joseph gave us a gift in celebration of his birthday.  Our gift to him was the food and drink we provided for the table to share.  His gift to us was his energy and creativity to raise our awareness for how important it is to continually and consciously make the world a better place for all.  On this night, that resulted in starting a social action program that would make a difference for school children in the region.


During my leadership training five years ago at The Legacy Center in Durham, NC, one challenge was to approach a stranger and perform a selfless, random act of kindness.  This is not something we as a society are comfortable with nor have we incorporated easily into our complex social norms and rituals.  That’s why it is considered an opportunity to go from Me to We.

Who knows what would happen if you modeled the same approach at your next birthday celebration?  Want to try it?  There’s an old Talmudic saying: to do something positive will make a difference for seven generations.

And, yes, connections matter.


Today, I’m in Los Angeles with my son after spending a week in Santa Cruz, California, with my 96-1/2 year-old mother who is in declining health, and after a day-and-a-half romp around San Francisco with my sister.  I am midway through my return trip from Oaxaca to North Carolina.  From here, I meet my husband Stephen for three weeks on a quiet lake in Maine.  Then, back to NC, then back to Oaxaca for our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition.  Today, I am far from Oaxaca, though she is always in my heart and in my mind’s eye.


San Miguel de Allende: A Way of Life and House-Sitting

It is easy to describe San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, as an adult playground and haven for exploration, self-discovery, and creativity.  Much is written about San Miguel, which took off as an arts community in the 1940’s when U.S. veterans of World War II came to Belles Artes for arts education paid for by the GI Bill.


I stopped there for three days to visit friends after my work in the Guanajuato pueblos and before heading back to the U.S.A.  During this first visit to San Miguel, what impressed me were the art galleries, indigenous crafts, restaurants, cultural life, blue light treated and filtered drinkable tap water, groomed avenues, elegant colonial homes perfectly restored, aging hippy ambience, the Jardin and La Parroquia light spectacle, the Saturday organic market, the spirit of the place.  Three days is a nanosecond in the life of a Mexican village, and mine is a first impression.  And, everyone has their own experience!  Thankfully.


San Miguel long ago graduated beyond Mexican village status. With a population of about 130,000 people total, the expatriate community numbers about 14,000 or almost 11 percent of the population, of which 70 percent are Americans. (Oops, Estadounidenses, ie. from the U.S.A.  Mexicans are Americans, too, as in North Americans, as in part of the North American continent and The United Mexican States.)  Fourteen thousand is a hefty number and it is easy to see why people from the U.S.A. and Canada want to live in San Miguel.  It’s easier.  All the services are there to support a first-world lifestyle and you don’t even need to speak Spanish if you don’t want to!


Do you want to play music?  Do it.  Do you want to grow and sell organic food? Start a market. Do you want to become a painter?  Lessons are plentiful.  Do you want to teach yoga and meditation?  There are people to join you in the practice.  Whatever you might have yearned to learn or do, it’s here in San Miguel.  Plus, San Miguel has a very socially and politically active group of volunteers who are mentoring and supporting local women, youth, families, organic farmers, schools, health clinics, animal shelters and starting self-help entrepreneurial projects.  Can’t find what you are interested in?  Start your own group.


House Sitting in San Miguel

So, how can someone from the U.S.A. live in San Miguel for not much money?  I discovered that one  alternative is to become a house sitter.  If you join the Civil (a SMA listserv), you can get notices and also put out the word that you want to house sit.  These arrangements can be made for several weeks, months, or years usually for the cost of paying for utilities and services (water, gas, electricity, maid, gardener), which can range from $400-1,000 a month.


I was impressed by seeing how simply house sitters — many of whom are retirees on small fixed incomes — can live, with all their belongings in a few suitcases.  Everything can fit in the trunk of a car.  For me, it was an instructive lesson in FREEDOM and MOBILITY.  During “the season” (winter months) when the snowbirds return, house sitters may take to the road (or air) to discover other parts of the world or negotiate occupying the small casita in the back of a property.


Would I visit again?  Absolutely.  Would I live there permanently?  Silly question.  I live in Oaxaca!  At least most of the year.


This year, it will be seven or eight months of being in Oaxaca, going back and forth from there and between North Carolina and California.  My 96-1/2 year old mother lives in Santa Cruz near my sister (I want to see her as much as I can), my son, daughter-in-law, brother and his family are in Los Angeles, and my husband is in North Carolina until the casita we will live in is completed.  Sometimes, I don’t know where I live and living out of a suitcase for two months makes me appreciate what the house sitters of San Miguel are able to do!



Want to Live in Mexico? Advice from a Wisecracker!

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is a zany memoir by Mark Saunders (Fuze Publishing, LLC, McLean, VA, ISBN 978-0-9841412-8-9), who, with his wife Arlene Krasner, moved to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) shortly after falling in love with the place.  The book’s tag line is “Drop out.  Sell everything. Move to Mexico. Sounded like a good plan.”  Not!

Saunders’ writing is tongue-in-cheek witty, with a sprinkle of irreverent, brash, and self-deprecating thrown in for good measure.  Overall, it is an entertaining and fast read.  The book could be a primer for Baby Boomers on the eve of retirement who believe that relocating to Mexico is the answer to a less-than-adequate retirement income.   Saunders’ sardonic underlying message is a “don’t do what we did” warning to greenhorns who think they can move to Mexico on a wing and a prayer (or maybe in a 10-year old high-performance Audi Quattro) without adequate preparation (or an expert, specialized mechanic in tow).

Saunders’ memoir focuses on the couple’s experience moving from Portland, Oregon, to SMA, with their standard poodle and cat. (He’s originally from Sacramento, California, and she grew up in New York City.)  Wooed by blue skies and balmy days, bolstered by a vigorous ex-pat community, their story will resonate with anyone considering living anywhere in Mexico as an alternative to the northern part of North America.  Anecdotes and vignettes of mishaps, miscommunication, and missives fill the pages.

And, Saunders is unabashed while dissecting the realities of living in Mexico for uninitiated American and Canadian expats:  constant dust, barking dogs, lack of central heat and air, long queues to pay bills (which must be done in person) and at banks, past due utility bills and interrupted utility services, cars in need of repair, bodies in need of repair, the meaning of “manana,” and the ubiquitous language barrier.

Most importantly, Saunders raises important questions underlying the humorous pokes at himself, at “gringolandia” [a place where a lot of expats live in Mexico], and his situation.

Subtextual Questions — Self-examination BEFORE you move:

  • What are your primary reasons for the move?
  • What is your experience living in another culture?
  • How adaptable are you?
  • How dedicated will you be to learn or improve your Spanish?   How much patience do you have?
  • Do you need the same conveniences and lifestyle (food, entertainment, shopping, etc.) in Mexico as you had living in the U.S.?
  • Do you expect to live among English speakers?
  • How well can you negotiate through problems?
  • What special health care issues do you have that may require medical attention?

The book is sprinkled with Saunders’ own drawings and cartoons depicting daily gringo/a challenges and misadventures.  The ending is pure redemption  and I won’t give it away!  And remember, a sense of humor will take you a long way.

Here are my 9 Tips for Living in Mexico.

If you are an expat living in Mexico, will you share your advice with us for making the transition smoothly?  If you are a Mexican who wants to add your suggestions about ways to make the landing softer, please do so!