Lokkal- todo SMA
Poverty Amidst Wealth in San Miguel de Allende

by Ted Davis

On a cold cloudy day in December, I drove up to a desolate hard-scrabbled landscape, right near one of the new mega-condo housing developments that are fast enclosing our town. So near, yet so far, so much like the Star Wars planet, Tattooine, this field was dotted with rusted corrugated metal huts, some with old blue tarps for makeshift roofs.

I came to this place with members of Casita Linda, a charity organization in San Miguel de Allende, to see the beginnings of a new home they were planning to help build for Marisol, a single mother of five children. One of her boys has Down"s syndrome and the entire family slept in one of these unheated one-room huts.

Not far from the house was another tarp strung aside a pile of sooty charred rocks with a cooking pot perched on top. Hobo campsites had nicer, safer kitchens.

Nearby, a group of lively kids were playing on a mound of shoveled dirt. They were having a blast, filling old plastic yogurt tubs with sand and making castles like at the beach, but on closer look I noticed that the liquid they had mixed with the sand was old motor oil. They gleefully showed me their sand castles, and after earning their trust a little, they wanted to show me their new pets. Soon, a sickly puppy and some half-dead baby chicks were held up like precious babies. This was Dickens in the Desert.

Many of us who live in this town have no idea what exists outside the Centro bubble. Our town is rich, full of life and first-world options like, "Where shall we eat tonight?" "What hotel shall we recommend to our visiting friends?" "Is that gallery show this Friday?" "I think I"ll take a hot shower." We sometimes take our ability to choose for granted.

But did you know that San Miguel de Allende, one of the richest spots on earth, is surrounded by people who don't have the same options as our lucky selves?

For example, just half mile from the big stocked supermarket, La Comer, some people live in terrible conditions. Some have no homes. The few lean-tos that do have some sort of roof, have no access to clean running water. And this isn't a camp of drunks or drug addicts.

These are families who have jobs, who work all day in the fields, or make bricks by hand to sell, but because of whatever unfortunate cards they've been dealt in life, they are here living in squalor, very close to us.

This is a mother and her eleven year old daughter making bricks by hand. The girl shovels mud and cow manure all day. School? What's school? If the quota of bricks is not met by the end of the day then there is no pay.

On my first visit to this site, it was hard to imagine anything could be done to help. It seemed that these people were simply born into this situation, that not much could be done to help them. But in weeks to come, I would witness what the power of positive and organized "can-do" actions would accomplish.

I mentioned Casita Linda. Have you heard of them?

Casita Linda's goal is to bring positive change to people's lives, one house at a time. They provide many services for families in need, with the goal of helping create a better life for many of the poorest people in the San Miguel de Allende area. These include workshops that show how to manage finances, how to remove oneself and one's children from abusive situations, and, importantly, how to build a strong house with running water, a safe, warm home for a family.

Casita Linda has very thorough vetting steps that a qualifying family must complete before and during the home-building process. Not all families qualify, but the ones that do are certainly the most in need.

A few weeks later I re-visited Oil and Sand Castle Beach. Now it was a busy bee-hive, buzzing with dozens of men, women and children, Mexican and gringo. Along with Marisol's family, were neighbors, friends, and other relatives climbing ladders, laying bricks and pouring concrete.

Everyone was involved. From Marisol I sensed a strong feeling of "I'm building my own home," a contented pride of ownership.

With the neighbors involved, there was also a sense of community, of lending a hand and looking out for each other.

After a few months, the house was ready for occupancy with a wonderful ribbon cutting ceremony.

This ceremony was, again, a heart-warming team effort. Relatives, friends and donors, all brought a little something: fresh, hot carnitas, rice, potato salad, fruit salad, cole slaw, cookies, drinks, cups, plates, and a huge cake.

It all added up to a hot, delicious meal for all who attended. The look on Marisol and her family's faces when that ribbon was cut, the realization that this house was actually complete and all theirs, was too much for me and my tears flowed. Such pure true happiness is rare to see, and I wasn't ashamed to cry. Everyone around me was blubbering, too.

As an American, throughout my life I've had many wonderful choices. I have now chosen to live in a beautiful place, San Miguel de Allende. Working with Casita Linda, is a gift, the gift of feeling that I'm giving back, one home at a time to a people and culture that has given me so much.

There's so much that can be done. Every small bit of help is a gift.

Check out the Casita Linda website at www.casitalinda.org

Check out the Casita Linda website at www.casitalinda.org


International photographer Ted Davis, based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, creates unforgettably beautiful photography. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, then schooled in Texas, he spent twenty years in Hollywood, California, both in front of (Seinfeld, Just Shoot Me, The West Wing) and behind the cameras. "My childhood in the Caribbean gave me a love of vibrancy, and my time in the Hollywood film industry taught me how to tell a compelling story with pictures, using color, light and texture."

He credits master painters like Titian, Velasquez, and Sargent, as well as Golden Age cinematographers like Jack Cardiff, Greg Toland and Gabriel Figueroa for the look of his photographic artworks. "I was a film-maker before I was a still photographer," says Davis, alluding to when as a teen he won first place in the Texas State Film Festival with his film "Bug Family Robinson". "It was the story of a small-town family who could turn into superhero insects and save the day." That talent for story-telling is evident today in his photographs, especially his award-winning photograph, Piano Lesson, where one is drawn into a world of enigmatic and theatrical beauty.

Davis creates polished elegant photographic pieces of art and a wide group of international art collectors cherish his work. "I love that my photographs have caught the eyes of such a wide range of sophisticated buyers. There is a genuine connection with them and they make it a joy to be in this business."

His photographs have been exhibited in London, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic, and notably, three works (Piano Lesson, Night flight to Maroon Ridge, The TV Room) have featured in recent European and Asian exhibitions of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

Photographs by Ted Davis project a wit, a smile at the edge that adds universal charm. "Irving Penn, a photographic icon of mine, said that a good photograph should startle the eye of the beholder, and I try to maintain that principle."

"I hope my pictures are sometimes funny, sometimes mysterious, and always beautiful in their own way. I want to make the viewer think, laugh, sigh, gasp, but never wince."

Davis was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and picture-taking has been an active passion since aged nine and became a professional photographer while studying at the Dept. of Theater at the University of Texas at Austin. He went on to spend twenty years working both as an film and television actor, and photographer in Los Angeles, California, appearing in numerous acting roles on television programs like Seinfeld, Married With Children, The West Wing. Davis is a member of The Royal Photographic Society of the UK, and his powerful photographs continue to be featured in many international exhibitions.

For the past three years Ted Davis Galeria, at Zacateros 81B in San Miguel de Allende, has been the leading showcase for his work.


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