San Miguel de Allende: Home of the White Retiree Hippie-Inclined North American. The vast expatriate community does mean that there are an astonishing number of delectable restaurants and tourist comforts (what, Wifi everywhere??) in this relatively small town.
However, the expatriate community mostly sticks to itself. Many Norte Americanos barely speak Spanish (or only speak cringe-worthy bastardized Spanish) even after living in San Miguel for years. In San Miguel Viejo (the little rancho south of the Centro where Ojalá Niños is located), the gringos rarely appear — unless they are whizzing by on a 4-wheeler tour to the rancho’s quaint church.
As content as I was to never leave San Miguel Viejo, others seemed to think that I needed to see other aspects of San Miguel. And I suppose they were right — after all, how else would I have been able to truly recognize the economic disparity?
The Saturday organic market reeked of privilege with lovely goods way beyond the reach of any of the families in the rancho. My scrimped pesos tumbled between my fingers as I looked longingly at handwoven scarves and soaps and cheeses. My fair skin and blonde hair camouflaged me in this sea of white privilege, but my heart, more comfortable in a Zimbabwean slum than in a boutique, shuddered at the luxurious wastefulness of it all. Before the fury behind my eyes erupted into screams, I wandered down the street and ultimately stopped in front of a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was roiling with laughter.
La Cocina de Boris y Jessi boasts an impressively delicious menu, but the true draw — the laughter — was not coming from a particularly rowdy group of customers — it was coming from Boris and Jessi, the owners who were (as always, apparently) loudly joking with the one table of “customers” in the corner. The moment I walked through the door, not only did I become a part of the conversation, I became a part of the family — as every other person who had crossed the threshold before me.
These two expatriates have broken the mold and become an integral part of the San Miguel de Allende family. When they first opened their doors in January 2013, children toting produce began coming by the shop attempting to sell their wares. Boris and Jessi, seeing how exhausted these kids were, began giving them sandwiches and reserving a special table just for the kids to sit, rest, and color — the one break in these kids’ long work days.
The “Suspended Coffee” program – inspired by using the 20 pesos for the cost of a cup of coffee in order to feed a person in need – developed organically as the first few children began telling their friends, siblings, and cousins about the generous couple in the tiny restaurant. Soon the restaurant was overrun by children eager for a bit of rest — and the walls overrun with their coloring sheets.
Boris and Jessi could no longer afford to just give away sandwiches to all the kids who would stop by, so they set out a coffee mug for the restaurant’s patrons to be able to drop in a few pesos at a time to go towards the food for the kids who had become a staple of the restaurant’s atmosphere.
However, Boris and Jessi are not just giving food; the “Suspended Coffee” program is as equally about giving childhood as it is about giving a meal. These children are often up before dawn to lug produce into town for hours on a bus. Then they walk miles in the hot sun trying to sell as much produce as they can to support their families. These children are primary earners for their families — there is no time for them to be carefree children.
When the parents began to notice that their children were taking a break in the middle of the day, many became upset and forbid the kids from visiting Boris and Jessi. After all, coloring meant they were losing valuable sales time. But Boris and Jessi were steadfast: if the kids chose to walk over the threshold, they were safe. Boris and Jessi cannot change the kids’ lives outside of the restaurant, but La Cocina will always be a safe port for any child.
As I was polishing off a post-meal coffee, Boris sat down at the table next to me and began to tell me a tear-jerking story about a little boy who had shown up at his door just a few months prior. The little boy came often for sandwiches and coloring, but that day he was gripping his head, and his brother looked very scared.
As soon as the boy crossed the threshold, Boris saw that the little boy was bleeding from a gash above his eye. He had fallen and hit his head on the curb, but there was no way this family could afford a doctor. Boris cleaned the boy’s wound as best he could, and as he prepared to superglue the wound shut (the wound was too old for stitches to be of use), he told the little boy how brave he was. Pinching the stinging wound shut, Boris noticed tears in the boy’s eyes. The brother immediately scolded him, “Dad says that men don’t cry!” Boris, in his big-hearted tenderness, looked the little boy square in the eye and said, “Men do cry. Here with me, you can cry.” As the little boy started to cry from the pain, Boris joined him.
Boris and Jessi’s open hearts and sincere dedication to be a port of safety and childhood creativity reminded me that, no matter our means, we can all make a difference by welcoming others to our table. They are shining examples of how doing something small with the right intentions can make a massive difference.
500 pesos (approximately $50 USD) will sponsor a whole week’s worth of “Suspended Coffee”. Please help Boris and Jessi keep smiles on these beautiful faces and their bellies full. Email Boris Olvera for more information about how to drop a few virtual pesos in the “Suspended Coffee” mug.
Oh, and if you want to die with a full belly and dreamy smile on your face, just gorge on Boris’ divine enmoladas after watching the kids chat giddily over their coloring sheets and sandwiches.