The Dye Works | Mexico | Living in Mexico

The Dye Works

We don't have much industry in San Miguel de Allende. This is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it moderates development and growth so our town retains its low-key colonial character; a curse because there are few real career opportunities for our native daughters and sons.

Ambitious young people know they have to learn two things: English and computers. Then they can move to Querétaro or Léon and get a job in a manufacturing company where they have a chance of working up the ladder. It's tough on people whose culture values close-knit families. Among my English students, many had never traveled as far as Mexico City, less than four hours away. Mexicans want to stay near their parents, their siblings. They don't like to move away.

San Miguel used to have a carpet factory, but it became uncompetitive in the latter half of the 20th century. The old buildings now house a bunch of expensive art galleries and antique dealers—very chi-chi. A local girl can get a job there waiting on customers for, oh say, $3,000 pesos a month—if she speaks English and maybe knows a little something about selling art.

So what's left? Well, we have a small glass factory. My friend Paul Latoures is building a toy factory, but it's not up and running yet. Then, we have the dye works.


This is indeed a small manufactory. The building, the size of a large house, contains dye vats somewhere deep inside, out of view of passers-by. Thick yarns, once they're colored, are hung over parapets and the tinaco to dry in the sun.

The yarns are then woven into area rugs on these looms.


A truly 19th-century facility. All the machinery is hand-made out of wood. Note the wooden pawl-and-gear. Two-by-fours laid on the floor serve as treadles. I kind of like it.

I had to sneak in to take this photo. The owners are publicity-shy because they dump used dye solution into a creek which runs into the Presa Allende, our large agricultural reservoir. Pressure is building for them to knock it off. In response, they are circling their wagons.

The creek also receives effluent from the slaughterhouse. Consequently the waters, before they leave town under the bridge on the periferico, are incredibly nasty. But city officials say the slaughterhouse pollution problem will be solved by moving the facility to another location. (Sounds to me like we're exporting our problem to someone else.) When that happy day comes, the dye works will stand out as the major single pollution source in town (setting aside sewage from private homes) and they will surely have to move or shut down.

I don't think many tears will be shed. They don't provide many jobs anyway. But I'll miss those old looms, and the colored yarns draped on the building.