A Small Mexican Town | Mexico | Living in Mexico

A Small Mexican Town

You're not going to understand mexico by visiting Ixtapa or by staying in a five star hotel on the Reforma or even by visiting my town, San Miguel de Allende, known to some as "Mexico Lite". Ordinary Mexicans live in gritty cities like Saltillo or in countless small pueblas scattered throughout the country. In these places, it is possible to observe ordinary life where nobody is trying to impress or entertain you, where no monuments or beaches distract. On the Dolores Highway, a sign points to a couple of such small towns. (The appearance of good directional signs is a new phenomenon in Mexico.) Having a half hour free, I swung off the libramiento to check them out.

Rancho Don Quijote's location is given away by the silhouette of a substantial church.


These small places may not have much money, but the Church has, so you see substantial ecclesiastical buildings in places where they are pretty much the only structure of note. This church even has an attached school. But I doubt it serves as much as a thousand people.

Neon crosses surmount the bell tower and dome, something I see on churches from time to time. I'm not sure why they do this. Arthur C. Clark (who died the day before yesterday) said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Early in the last century, neon might have produced awe and wonder in ignorant campesinos. Could the Fathers have deliberately electrified these crosses to impress parishioners with the otherworldly power of the Church?


Flanking the gate leading to the church are two súchiles—traditional altars. They are raised in rituals dating back to prehispanic times and today incorporated into Catholicism. These may have been erected in anticipation of Semana Santa—Holy Week.

Súchiles are constructed of frames woven with leaves of the cucharilla plant—a yucca relative, I think.


Here, a woman removes cucharilla leaves from the bole of the plant. They pull off the stem readily. She's using scissors to shorten the leaves to the correct length for weaving onto the súchil frame.


The church is pretty much all Rancho Don Quijote has going for it. The town square in front of the church is dirt. Boys play in the town's bandstand that otherwise doesn't seem to get much use.


To the side of the bandstand sits a trampoline. A network of hand-knotted ropes are intended to keep kids from falling off onto the ground, but uncovered springs look to me like they could trap, even break small legs. In Mexico, safety is the concern of the individual, not the state.


Housing is rudimentary: This place, one of the better homes, has a corrugated iron roof on cinderblock walls.


For some reason, many dooryards have clumps of buckets hanging from trees. Anyone know what that's all about?


Residents of Rancho Don Quijote live close to the land. This woman is helping kids find their mother's teat.


A handsome turkey forages outside what must be the Mayor's home (what with the brick arches and all). Rest assured: This one is not being raised as a pet.


Rock walls are common throughout Mexico. I think Mexicans are born knowing how to do masonry—just look at Chichén Itzá. But even rock walls require too much investment in Rancho Don Quijote, where many are constructed out of cut brush.


This is farming country, which means cornfields. As everywhere in the world, cornstalks are used for fodder. But people here can't afford silos to ferment the stalks, so they shock them by hand and feed them dry to livestock. This field looks like a scene from a Pieter Bruegel painting.


Rancho Don Quijote does't offer much to draw the out-of-town visitor. Seen one goat, you've seen 'em all. But it has one attraction of note.


A surprisingly large, well-built bull ring sits on the edge of town. Frequent corridas featuring perhaps not star-quality toreros, but good ones nonetheless, bring in crowds, providing employment and informal vending opportunities for the locals.

I'm always surprised how little business is required to support a small Mexican town.

A slim majority of Mexican people still live in small towns like this one. The country is not all beach boys, body shops, and hijacking taxi drivers. And towns like this seem to be good places to live, if measured by the relative lack of graffiti. Gangs haven't seemed to have reached places like this one. You won't get surf or cathedrals or monumental ruins here. But you will see how many Mexicans really live.