- San Miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site by Lisa Pinley Covert
Lisa pinley covert's san miguel de Allende: Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site is a cultural history of the relationship between national identity and economic development. The book draws upon archival research and qualitative research with residents of San Miguel, a city in the eastern part of the state of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City. Interviews and social engagement yielded access to private archives in order to write a history of competing visions in a city which is now famous as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Across five chapters and a introduction, which together provide a story of San Miguel as it has changed for a century and a half, Covert reveals articulations of national identity formation and economic development upon which the form of the city has been contingent. Even if contemporary geographers might observe a missed opportunity to explicitly draw out theoretical implications of the analysis for thinking about the intersection of culture, economy, and landscape, the book will certainly be of interest to geographers, and particularly to cultural and historical geographers of modern Mexico.
Covert's book circles around the question of how a place that is popularly represented as typical of Mexico can be, in tangible ways, so palpably international. She shows us that this paradox—of San Miguel being both "'typically Mexican' and jarringly foreign" (p. xviii)—has been produced by countervailing social relations around distinct visions for the city, and divergent efforts to enact those competing visions. Tensions between distinct visions for San Miguel were often articulated either through claims about forms of life proper to the city, or as claims about perceived requirements for local, regional, and national economic development. These claims found material support in the work of identifiable social blocs in post-revolutionary Mexico. Covert reveals the negotiations and adversarial relations of different social blocs through careful attention to specific conflicts in the five substantive chapters. For example, Chapter One features an analysis of the locally-meaningful conservative counter-revolution to the revolutionary anti-clericalism and agrarian reforms of the Party of [End Page 184] the Mexican Revolution (PRM), which ironically promoted Catholic architecture and spatial practices that historical preservationists would later valorize through government recognition of their significance for the nation. Chapter Two provides a critical discourse analysis of place-promotion texts (e.g., travel writing, planning documents of historic preservation elites, etc.) that echoed and instrumentalized the Pan-American rhetoric of the Good Neighbor Policy for local economic development. And Chapters Three and Four reveal tensions and surprising complementarities between a tourism sector that tended to privilege foreigners and international tastes and a proudly nationalist agenda of industrialization that was never to be realized in San Miguel. Covert's work shows that blurry social categories like foreigner and Mexican tend to harden and become oppositional during moments of cultural-political conflict, for example, around the destabilization of gendered divisions of labor and authority, or disagreements about what constitute the requirements of local economic development. Through these conflicts, distinct visions for San Miguel, and conflicting strategies of selectively remembering the region's histories, found expression in the cultural landscape. Painted walls, historic markers, bilingual storefronts, and tolerated performances of gender identity, among other landscape forms, can accordingly be interpreted as material expressions of distinct and often conflicting discourses on what is (or should be) deemed historically significant in this place.
Taken together, San Miguel de Allende is a regional cultural history of post-revolutionary Mexico. In its fine-grained ethno graphic and archival attention to constitutive tensions between state authority, cultural-political movements, and popular perceptions of economic requirements, Covert's book...