Starbucks San Miguel: A Tale of Parallel Lives

Juan remembers playing in the dusty arroyo that ran alongside his great grandfather’s field of corn. April was dry and hot in the little pueblo of San Miguel and afternoons found Juan and his brothers resting under the shade of a peppertree after delivering wood on the backs of their burros to the residents that morning.


John remembers those same days on his great grandfather’s field of feed corn in Oklahoma, chasing his little sister through the neatly planted rows while black clouds gathered on the horizon to deliver the afternoon rain. The spring rains provided passionate skies, healthy crops and even healthier harvests in the fall.


After the death of his grandfather, Juan’s father started to plant a section of the cornfield with herbs that he harvested and sold to the McCormick Company. This provided Juan’s family with even greater prosperity. After several years of successful harvests, the McCormick Company made a generous offer to Juan’s father for the purchase of the land. Juan’s family was now land-poor and cash-rich. His father took the money from the sale, purchased a large, walled parcel of land on Calle Sollano in the heart of the pueblo, and constructed three modest colonial homes – one for each generation of the family. Monies were also set aside so that his sons could receive college educations in Mexico City.


John remembers the day that the Federal Government arrived to their rural farm home to inform his grandfather that they would construct a federal highway through the center of the family farm. He remembers hearing his grandfather crying at the injustice of the government forcing him to sell the center parcel of land for half its value and reducing the annual yield of corn by two-thirds. This “progress” brought hard times for John’s family. His father took a job in Oklahoma City to subsidize the family income while John helped his grandfather plant and harvest the corn on their remnant of a farm.


Juan’s family held a grand fiesta two days before Juan was to go to Mexico City to begin his education in law. The entire pueblo came, including many American ex-pats who had come to Mexico to live in the quiet pueblo. Barbacoa and pozole, tequila and mescal, music and dancing were enjoyed by all in this celebration of Juan and his future. Juan later graduated with honors and became a successful lawyer in Mexico City. With his success Juan purchased several properties in his family’s pueblo – an investment for his family and retirement.


John’s father came home from the city one afternoon to announce that hard times were over for the family. He had received a visit from two lawyers who represented the Standard Oil Company. Construction of an on-off highway ramp had been approved by the Federal Highway program on the family property, and Standard Oil wanted to purchase the entire parcel for the construction of filling stations, stores and restaurants that would cater to highway travelers. The sale completed, John’s father purchased a large two-family home in the heart of Oklahoma City, and John was accepted and enrolled in the University of Oklahoma to study business law. John excelled in his studies and spent his summer vacations with his family in Mexico – enjoying a new cultural experience in the dusty pueblo of San Miguel. John completed his law degree from Harvard and became a successful corporate business lawyer. He retired early and, after his children had completed their professional degrees at university, he purchased a large colonial home in the same pueblo he had enjoyed with his parents during those prosperous summers of college. He wanted to live his September years in that magical and slow pueblo where life was in the present moment and uncorrupted.


Juan enjoyed many prosperous years as he watched his dusty pueblo emerge into a sparkling jewel of international tourism. His properties doubled in value every couple of years as wealthy Americans began buying up every available campo parcel and constructing glorious colonial homes. Juan took his grandchildren to the grand opening of McDonald’s where they enjoyed their first Happy Meals. Juan’s pueblo had arrived on the modern global map, and he was proud as he reflected on his family, his roots, the hard work and discipline that brought him to this day and allowed his grandchildren unlimited opportunities for their futures.


John received a call from another ex-pat friend announcing that Starbucks was opening a store on the Jardin in Centro. The friend said that their pueblo was being taken over by international franchises and spec developers and their voices needed to be heard – a group was gathering to protest the opening of Starbucks – would he join them? When John got off the phone, he reflected back to his grandfather’s cries of injustice at the American “progress” that had taken away their farm. He watched as global concerns and large corporate entities were now taking over “his” pueblo and he would not stand by in silence. John arrived to the Jardin, protest placard in hand, and joined his ex-pat friends in their anti-Starbucks chants while Juan and his family proudly walked the air-conditioned reception line of San Miguel’s A-list, live jazz, and the aroma of freshly brewed Starbucks coffee filling the air on that warm and sultry April eve.