Stirling’s San Miguel
Stirling Dickinson wasn’t the first foreigner to fall in love with San Miguel, nor was he the last. But he was one to uniquely form what is part of today’s San Miguel that many, like myself until recently, didn’t connect him to.
For me, I like to tour, talk, lecture and write about those who have had a direct impact on what we do in today’s San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Normally that is the indigenous or the conquering Spanish, or a mix between the two. Stirling was neither and his impact is less obvious.
Stirling was a wealthy American graduating from Princeton born near the turn of time to 1900 and lived to almost to 2000. When young, Stirling visited San Miguel and he quickly fell in love and proceeded to make the town his own.
If known at all today, it is for starting local art colleges that allowed GIs from World War Two to use their Veteran’s benefits to attend college here. This action opened the doors to many Americans discovering San Miguel’s charms leading, by 2010, to nearly ten percent of the population being citizens of the United States.
Another important contribution was building two baseball fields to advance the sport with his team going on to win 84 consecutive games.
He also built a park for his beloved orchids which he donated to the city where his orchids could continue to thrive beyond his lifespan.
In today’s world the colleges have fizzled and though San Miguel is known for its art, it no longer is an academic center for foreign college students. Stirling’s baseball team and the fields he built have long since come and gone. Even the orchid gardens where I led tours to enjoy the beauty and shade (not offered by the Botanical Gardens focusing on cacti) closed two years ago.
Although Americans continue to live in San Miguel, their size and impact is dwarfed by Canadians that escape the cold between Christmas and Easter. Luckily San Miguel’s tourist based economy is formed by Mexican visitors.
Frankly, aside from the street that bears his name, I didn’t see how Stirling’s legacy fit in to today’s San Miguel. Then I realized perhaps had he not pursued World War Two veterans to come down, there wouldn’t have been an article in 1948’s Life magazine which opened up the town to Northern travel media that continues to this day. It may not be his direct efforts as to why foreigners visit, perhaps to live, but he laid a groundwork promoting it.
Recently during a cemetery tour a guest asked to see Stirling’s grave in the “gringo” section of the cemetery.
The lad proceeded to describe to me that he felt Stirling’s role in the art schools provided a sanctuary for gay soldiers returning home from World War 2. Gay soldiers that were having a hard time fitting into 1940’s American life, grasped that being gay, as a foreigner, was largely a non-issue here allowing them a more comfortable lifestyle.
In today’s San Miguel, the art colleges, baseball games and orchids are long gone and the American presence has dwindled in scope and power; nonetheless, Americans, and gay Americans, are still enjoying the lifestyle here. Perhaps that is Stirling’s true legacy to present-day San Miguel.