Exploring San Miguel’s Streets’ Secrets
The popular song lyric about the street with no name wasn’t written with San Miguel de Allende in mind. Our streets all have names, often several, that combined with a Dr. Seus like nonsensical numbering system even the Cat in the Hat would admire, causes endless confusion.
The Spanish, given their obsession with converting the locals, named the streets after Jesus, Mary, the saints and related religious notions like the Immaculate Conception or the Ten Commandments. To this day we’ve countless streets named for saints and the various versions of the Virgin Mary.
Several religious themed streets in centro were renamed after the revolution from Spain for the local founding fathers like Aldama, Allende and Hidalgo. (Look at the actual street signs to see what the street was called before in small print under the current name. Ignore the misspellings and odd use of abbreviations.)
Recent subdivisions tend to focus on themes. Colonia Guadalupe prefers artists and songs while Colonia Olimpo leans towards Greek gods and goddesses. And, yes, street names are repeated around town with Allende, Soledad, San Juan and Guadalupe being oft-repeated favorites.
Some street names are logical if you know where you are. Huertas is for the orchards that once surrounded San Miguel and their corresponding plant life while Muertos (Street of the Dead) leads down to the St. John of God cemetery. Animas is for all the Lost Souls that roamed the streets as ghosts following their executions in Plaza Cívica. Calvario is for Calvary, the hill Jesus died on and why his partner in death, St. Dimas, is named for the street that intersects it.
Canal, Sollano, Hernández Macías and Homobono are named for important people and families. Meanwhile important dates like 5 de Mayo for getting the French out of Mexico, 15 de Septiembre for when the Revolution against Spain started and 20 de Enero for my mother’s birthday (well, and Allende’s also) are the names of important streets.
Sidebar: Allende’s baptismal certificate in the Parroquia states on January 24th he was four days old. So 24 – 4 = born on the 20th unless you count 24, 23, 22, 21 meaning he was born on the 21st and what is celebrated today.
Below is a list of street names for famous Mexicans that most foreigners didn’t learn about in grade school:
Niños Héroes – Six teenage military cadets that died defending Mexico City‘s Chapultepec Castle from invading U.S. forces in the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican–American War. According to legend, in an act of bravery, Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the Americans. Many streets and schools are named for the cadets both singularly and as a group.
Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz – A former child savant/lady in waiting for the royal court, Sor Juana became a cloistered nun and prolific writer on feminist issues. Featured on the older version of the 200 peso note, the book behind her features her famous phrase “Pity the men that underestimate the intelligence of women.”
Fray Jose de Guadalupe Mojica – Former Hollywood movie star turned priest, Fr. Mojica built the boys’ orphanage here in town called Mexiquito. It was here he wrote his best-selling autobiography and starred in the film version of the book with Sara Garcia.
Bartolomé de las Casas – Arriving as one of the first Spanish settlers in the Americas, Las Casas initially participated in, but eventually felt compelled to oppose, the abuses committed by colonists against the Native Americans. Unlike some other priests who sought to destroy the indigenous peoples’ native books and writings, he strictly opposed this action. His efforts resulted in an increased focus on the ethics of colonialism. Las Casas is considered to be one of the first advocates for the conception of human rights.
Stirling Dickinson – By all accounts, a thoroughly pleasant American man that settled in San Miguel and actively sought veterans returning from World War Two to use their VA benefits to get a BA in Art here for a fraction of the cost as offered up north. Enthusiastic for both baseball and orchids he increased the local popularity of both. Stirling also created the foreigner section of the Guadalupe cemetery.
Melchor Ocampo – wrote Civil Laws, that in the end would make civil and political matters independent from Church ones. His legacy is the epistle of marriage written in 1859 that is still read by judges presiding over civil weddings. Prior to his execution, Melchor’s captors allowed him to write his will recognizing his daughters and identifying their mother, information his girls didn’t know.
Fray Bernardo Cossin – The priest that infamously lost his dog only to find him at the present-day site of the Chorros, or natural springs. Cossin had an epiphany realizing where the town originally was situated, now called San Miguel Viejo (Old San Miguel) was being attacked from all four sides. But by moving the village to the present site of San Miguel they had natural water from the springs and protection with the bordering mountains. It is easy to spot Cossin in art around town as he normally is featured with his forward-thinking dog.
Francisco “Pancho” Villa – a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. Villa helped fashion his own image with the wide sombrero and impressive mustache as an internationally known revolutionary hero, starring as himself in Hollywood films and giving interviews to foreign journalists. He enjoys continued posthumous popular acclaim in images throughout town.
Pípila – nickname of Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro and the word for a hen turkey, it is said his nickname stands for his freckled face (similar to that of a turkey egg). Pípila became famous for an act of heroism near the very beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, on 28 September 1810. In the city of Guanajuato, Guanajuato, the Spanish barricaded themselves – along with plenty of silver and other riches – in a grain warehouse . The granary was a stone fortress with high stone walls, but its wooden door proved to be a shortcoming.
With a long, flat stone tied to his back to protect him from the muskets of the Spanish troops, Pípila carried tar and a torch to the door and set it on fire. The insurgents, who far outnumbered the Spanish in the granary, then stormed inside and killed all the soldiers and refugees.
Dr. Mora – José María Luis Mora Lamadrid was a local politically-active priest and promoter of the separation between church and state more than a century before than it came to pass. The nearby village named for him hosts their infamous carnita festival yearly.
Acatempan – The hug of Acatempan is an event that occurred in 1821 in which Agustín de Iturbide , commander-in-chief of the army of the Viceroyalty of New Spain hugged Vicente Guerrero , head of the forces fighting for the Independence of Mexico . This embrace marked the reconciliation between the Spanish forces and the insurgent army ending 11 years of war.
Indio Triste – or sad Indian is named for the indigenous lad that played sad music daily for his wife suffering in the indigenous hospital then behind the St. John of God Church. The musician felt his music would be carried by the angels to his ill wife and make her well again. I can only assume it did the trick and his spousal devotion won’t be forgotten if only for the unusual street name!
The list of important Mexicans and events can continue but, for now, this a great start towards making getting around town more interesting and relevant!