Expressing their love for San Miguel, many of the city’s artists, both full-time residents and tourists, paint street scenes or portraits of street vendors or campesinos who come into town with their burros bearing produce from the surrounding farms. These paintings are done predominantly in the style of impressionism, and they are basically highly romanticized pictures of urban life. Charming, yes, but not very inspiring. Another favorite subject is the facades of the many Spanish-style churches found throughout the historic center, or centro historico. With a few exceptions, the streets and buildings of San Miguel are not as beautiful as those in some of the major cities in Mexico.
To my way of thinking, however, the best way to express one’s love for this city is to capture the vitality of the people who live here. It’s the Mexican people who make their homes here, who grew up here and have families that go back several generations that make San Miguel beautiful. And the children! The children here have some of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen! And what about the young lovers, the teenagers who kiss for hours on the benches in the public squares, oblivious to everything around them! Or the twenty-somethings who stop in the street to embrace and kiss before continuing their graceful amble along the street? Or the middle-aged couples who walk arm in arm or hand in hand? Love is strongly in the air here, and that is much more important than stone structures with climbing flowers or windows with potted plants.
When I look at photos of the remaining buildings and pyramids of the Mayan civilization, for example, I am not moved. The same is true of the Egyptian pyramids, or the remaining structures in Rome’s Ostia Antica. Impressive in their size and scale, perhaps, but they leave me cold. The spirit of the people who lived there is gone.If San Miguel artists want to paint trite and clichéd street scenes they are not truly expressing their love for the city. They are playing it safe by catering to the herd’s need for comfortable images. They are not doing a service to San Miguel’s people.
Better to show the Mexicans who live here laughing, dancing, eating, working, and simply enjoying life with their celebrations and fiestas. If San Miguel vanishes a hundred years from now and there’s nothing left but ruins, which images will tell the truth about the people who lived here?