San Miguel (SMA) is truly a unique place. It’s got the mystic of a 15th-century colonial city and the charm of a small village. While it might be true that not everyone will enjoy the 5:00 A.M. bombastic fireworks that wake the town at 5:00 A.M. for the past two days, they serve as a reminder that this is town is different. It’s typical of a laid-back Mexican slower pace and relaxed rhythms of life.
My best description of cities in the US of SMA is imagined if New Orleans meets Santa Fe. Of course, being a 15th-century colonial city, there is the Old World charm with 600-year-old cathedrals which have welcomed the faithful and stood as a witness to the years of Mexican history and the progress of society.
Where else but in a town like SMA can you wander into the Jardin (garden) on a balmy Thursday evening to find a religious festival in progress with dancing and mariachis?Or a parade of lanterns held highly the devout, and the hundreds of devoted followers attending the white daisy-draped casket-like float held high by eighteen strong Mexicans men? We gringos wonder which saint is celebrated?
The first week taught me that pace of life in North America is so different from the slow-moving, carefree, less hectic life in the “States.” There is a mantra about the town – “No es importanta!” Relax. Being busy isn’t life. One’s worth isn’t depending upon how busy one is.
Of course, in my situation, I have three small children with me. People back home have asked, “Is it safe?” Hmmm… Is it safe in the US? Do we in the US live an illusion that we are “safe?” And, what do we mean when we ask about safety? From what are we trying to protect ourselves? People? Food? Violence?
On Tuesday, I began a class in the Spanish language and had progressed in my comfort of speaking with locals in a short amount of time. I still have a long, long way to go concerning being completely fluent in Spanish, but my comfort level, particularly with Spanish verb tenses is slowly increasing.
A big blessing for me is my language teacher, Socorro. She tells me she’s taught Spanish to foreigners, many Gringos, for forty years. She’s feisty, fierce, funny as hell, and demands correct syntax. She’s my kind of teacher!
Every day, I (along with Karen) spend four hours of language class from 9 to 1 with a 30-minute break at 11:00. Followed by homework of learning verbs and verb tenses. The entire class is in Spanish for the first hour-and-a-half is spend on the lesson and the second 90 minutes is conversational Spanish as we practice speaking the language with Socorro. It’s a safe space to attempt to expand our comfort for speaking Spanish with native speakers. Students come from colleges in the US to spend some time learning to speak the language. Many students have retired from their occupations in the US and spend some time in SMA.
San Miguel is rich in educational offerings. It’s kind of like a college campus of arts and language. While the town is known as a center for the arts, there is most defiantly a wide variety of class and educational opportunities. The class has been a great way for me to meet some new people from the States as well as local folks. Learning Spanish is so important to be able to enjoy time in San Miguel. Don’t expect people to speak English! I find the locals to be forgiving and accustom to guys like me who are trying to hone their language skills. If nothing else, I shrug off my attempt to speak, and together I share a laugh with those whom I speak as I feebly try to communicate. I try not to be so hard on myself for my lack of fluency. It’s a work in progress, yet anyone who has immersed one’s self in a culture where a different language is spoken can be sympathetic to the lack of fluency.
Along with my class, my two older daughters attend school a few blocks from our apartment. Analise is entered third grade in the fall and has been placed in the appropriate eight-year-old classroom. Half her day is spent learning in Spanish, and the other half is in English. She, too, struggles with the lack of language but is having fun. In fact, it’s been heartwarming to see her classmates run up to her on the street to greet her and say ‘hola Analise‘!
My four-year-old is in the preschool and loves it. She gets to have a lot of fun and makes artwork and enjoys her immersion in Spanish as she is helped by Ms. Pati, her English-speaking teacher.