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Dec. 24, 2013, volunteers in San Miguel visit the residents of the city dump to distribute donations.


Holiday Contrasts

by Jim Palombo
Politics Editor


here are two dumps located in this area of Mexico, one in the vicinity of San Miguel Allende, and the other, about 30 miles away, is near the city of Dolores Hidalgo. I’ve had the experience of visiting both sites, predominantly to see how the people living there were faring and if indeed the conditions were as bad as some had indicated. In that regard I have to answer both yes and no. The “yes” part is directly tied to the belief that no one, especially the new-born and young, should be living in the conditions in which the people in these dumps live. Given the smell, the filth and the overall lack of what can easily be considered “basic” living elements, the dumps are an affront to human decency. And this is no matter what political platform you support or how you frame individual and societal responsibilities.  On the “no” side, unfortunately – and I say this with legitimate sadness and despair – I’ve seen worse.

That being said, this Christmas Eve I had friends who went to both sites to bring food, clothing and presents for the people who make the dumps their home. From their recollection, and like most others who happen to find themselves making this trip, it was both a heartwarming and heartbreaking experience. And as I listened to their comments about the deplorable living conditions mixed in with the cold, damp weather of the day and looked at the few pictures they took (with great care not to offend) I couldn’t help but recall the images of the dirty, hungry and listless faces that I encountered in my own visits. Suffice it to say it was a most unsettling sensation.

Perhaps on any normal day I wouldn’t have made any more of the discomfort that the images pushed. Again, I had seen worse and I had on several occasions sorted through the feelings that my prior visits prompted. But later that evening, as I sat in front of our big screen and listened to the beautiful Christmas sounds coming from the beautiful choirs across the world, the images of the poor and dirty and hungry came back at me. I tried not to let the sadness overcome the beauty I was witnessing, but it was simply unavoidable.

Amid the welling of tears, all I could think about was how strange a world it is – where clean, bright and healthy souls could sing with great joy and spirit at Christmas time while others lived in such gut-wrenching misery. It wasn’t as if the conditions were the carolers’ fault or even if fault was in play. It was more of an empty feeling, as if that was the way of world; it always has been that way and it will more than likely always be so.

I guess this wasn’t in the best of holiday spirit but it was what it was.  And again the feeling lay somewhere between the heartwarming and heartbreaking landfill that is life. Maybe it’s just a matter of enjoying what we can of joy’s relative availability. In any event, I know that the contrast of those whose voices and images were so beautifully arranged versus those who had little to rejoice amid their scattered lives, presented a meaningful picture. And with the essence of that picture in mind, it seems fitting to extend to everyone best wishes for a thoughtful year ahead.


*The assistance for people at the dumpsites is a “holiday season” effort.  To contribute next year – whether in food, clothing, monetary or volunteer terms – please contact Eli Hans or Joseph Bennett in San Miguel de Allende at , and thanks in advance for reaching out.

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About the author: 

Politics editor James Palombo’s work focuses on issues related to social, political and economic concerns in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of several books, the most prominent being his autobiographical discourse, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,”Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The book chronicles his experiences from drug dealer and convict to social worker, professor, world traveler and public policy advocate. While continuing to travel he divides his time mainly between Endicott, New York, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.