Sitting in one of the many cozy San Miguel de Allende coffee shops, our boisterous conversation cascaded out into the cobblestone street.
Six of us, including Miguel Angel of Ojalá Niños and Maria Demello of Meaningful Mexico, were sharing our favorite travel stories. Stories of cooking alongside local women, stories of getting lost, stories of cultural disconnections, stories about coming back home to realize that you were a better person than before you left. Our coffee cooled as our hearts opened warmly to each other.
All these San Miguel natives get it. They are passionately proud of their city, but they also realize how much need to change — especially regarding environmental and economic sustainability — and they are using their creativity to harness the influx of tourists to jumpstart these discussions.
San Miguel is overrun with international attention. Mexican and American tourists pour into San Miguel constantly. But are these tourists actually leaving San Miguel with an authentic understanding of the place? If they just walk around looking at cathedrals and eating in fancy restaurants, probably not.
In some ways, tourists are even a detriment to San Miguel due to the very scarce water and the tendency for tourists to be flagrantly wasteful with their water usage.
Out of a desire to introduce the true San Miguel to travelers and provide visitors with an opportunity to truly connect to the people of San Miguel [and their own selves], these creative thinkers founded Meaningful Mexico in order to provide opportunities for responsible tourism.
Meaningful Mexico offers customized travel experiences that engage the mind, spark the imagination, stimulate creativity, and indulge a sense of adventure. To keep the tourists’ travel experiences simple, they offer all-inclusive packages that include accommodations. They also offer a variety of exhilarating weekend getaways and plenty of outdoor activities.
This passionate group of artists — ranging from painters to sculptors to jewelry-makers to weavers to yogis — have coordinated workshops, lectures and cultural activities conducted by San Miguel de Allende’s most talented local artists and artisans.
After learning about the beating cultural heart of San Miguel, the tourists are offered opportunities to volunteer with local organizations. By opening their hearts and eyes to the rhythms, joys, and hardships of the local folk, visitors will be able to give their resources directly to those who need them.
Personal relationships empower us to be active agents for change rather than reliant on organizations to be the mediators. If I see that Veronica’s daughters need more books for school, I go buy a few books. I don’t give a massive non-profit a donation of $25 only to have $2.50 end up with Veronica’s girls. If I see that Willard’s nieces don’t have enough time to haul water and do the laundry, I haul water or do the laundry. I don’t give money for a new well system that will certainly just end up in the hands of a corrupt government.
Every traveler deserves the opportunity to create the loving connections that I have experienced. Traveling with an open-heart makes the world smaller and smaller. The differences between cultures no longer seem daunting or insurmountable. We all cook for our families. We all carry our children. We all pour out our hearts through music, art, and dance. We all want to make life better for ourselves and the people we love. Loving people like they are your family — that changes you and them.
Next time you go on a trip (whether it be to the mountains or another country or the grocery store), find a group of artists and have coffee with them. Talk about their passion, about what they wish to see changed. Listen. Let their energy infuse you. Envision solutions with them. Open your heart to find ways to collaborate together.
Find a family and sit down with them. Share a meal. Share yourself.
You will never be the same.