Video: Putting Life and Joy First in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende captivates with its vibrant colors, rich culture, and warm-hearted community.|©iStock/Roberto Galan

“When I came to San Miguel de Allende, something inside me just opened up. I felt like this was my home. I could make a very beautiful life here,” says long-time resident Patrice Wynne. This sense of belonging marked the beginning of Patrice’s journey from Berkeley, California, to Mexico’s Central Highlands.

During a recent trip to San Miguel, I had the pleasure of meeting Patrice, a remarkably creative individual whose story embodies the spirit of this vibrant town.

Patrice was captivated by San Miguel's beauty the moment her feet touched the cobblestoned streets nearly twenty-five years ago. The city’s historic centro area, with its radiant reds and golds, is a sight to behold, especially under the towering pink spires of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the neo-gothic Catholic church in the town square, El Jardin.

After closing her bookstore in Berkeley, California, in the late '90s, Patrice took time to travel around Mexico. “I always wanted to live in a Latin American country. I love the language, the people, the music, and the food. So, when I closed my bookstore, I was sad but saw it as an opportunity, a gift to restructure and reinvent my life,” she explained.

Patrice's vision became a reality as she built Abrazos into a thriving business celebrating Mexican culture.

Abrazo means embrace, and “My reason for calling the store Abrazo’s is that to me, it represented the embrace that the Mexican people have for the foreign community of San Miguel and the heart-to-heart embrace the foreigners have for this culture.”

The idea to start Abrazos came to her when a neighbor, Dolores, knocked on her door needing help. Dolores, a seamstress, wanted her children to have a good education. It was a perfect partnership; Patrice was good at marketing, while Dolores and her daughters were skilled seamstresses. This collaboration became the foundation of Abrazos, now a thriving business that supports many Mexican women and their families through fair trade employment, making clothing and household items from vibrant Mexican fabrics.

Reflecting on the early days of Abrazos, Patrice shared a heart-warming story from the store's opening night. “When I opened Abrazos, I had a car full of champagne that I delivered. As I drove up the hill to park, the clutch gave out, and I was stuck grinding gears. A taxi driver behind me got out, knocked on my window, and said in broken English, ‘You drive the taxi; I drive your car.’ Despite having a passenger, he crawled my car up the hill and parked it for me.”

This incident epitomizes the kindness and warmth of the Mexican people, which Patrice says is her favorite thing about living in San Miguel. Daily acts of kindness are normal, and she laughingly explained, “I’m always amazed and appreciate the natural affection that comes from the Mexican people. My doctor hugs me and genuinely cares; it’s a natural affection that comes from living in Mexico. I love that element of touch.”

Embracing the difference between Berkeley and San Miguel, she stated, “That’s the biggest change for me. Coming from Berkeley, where people are wired for intellectualism, performance, ambition, and a big life, here in San Miguel, it’s more relaxed, and there are no demands, so you can enjoy your life. In San Miguel, people put life and joy in living first.”

Patrice was kind enough to invite me to her home in Independencia, a neighborhood on a hill overlooking the city.

Patrice's colorful home is filled with vibrant art.
Patrice's colorful home is filled with vibrant art.

Stepping inside her home, I saw a rainbow of colors. All trimmed in white, the cheery colors made me smile automatically. Turning to me, Patrice beamed, “I dare you to be depressed in my home. Color makes us happy and is a happy element in your home. In Mexico, you can have a house of many colors, any color you like.”

Her home was filled with artworks, folk art, and sculptures from local artisans, including her husband, Ernesto Perez, a former lawyer who became an artist at 70. What stood out the most was the beauty of Ernesto’s hand-painted furniture—exquisitely painted intricate designs full of color that are quintessentially Mexican.

Patrice met Ernesto in a whirlwind romance in San Miguel de Allende in 2010, ten years after moving there. “I was very unhappy living in Berkeley after losing my bookstore. I wanted to find happiness, so I chose to live in a culture where I’d be happier. San Miguel is that for me, and now I’ve not only found happiness, I’ve found love,” she reflected.

Laughing, she added, “I began making a list of the qualities I’d like in a partner. The first thing on the list was a Mexican gentleman. I created a list with 104 things on it. Ernesto’s list had four. He’s so laid-back.”

They met, and six days later, he proposed. Now, 14 years later, they are still happy. Smiling, Patrice shared, “It was a great thing in my life to have Ernesto, a great love at 65.” So, the saying is true: love happens when you least expect it.” It was serendipity.

Patrice and Ernesto.
Patrice and Ernesto.

“Mexicans take everyday life as a lightheartedness,” Patrice says, a fact she’s thankful for. Even contractors go with the flow. Telling this funny story: “When I built my house, I had just read the book On Mexican Time, by Tony Cohan, which explains how San Miguel works. I thought, “I would never do that; I would do it differently.” Fast forward four years, and when I added another room on top of my house, I decided I wanted a skylight. They came back and removed the new room, and they laughed about it.”

But what Patrice loves most about her home is that it's quiet and on a hill, so they get lovely breezes.

Happy in San Miguel de Allende for twenty-five years, Patrice has built a beautiful life for herself. She says, “When you live in a foreign country, you have an opportunity to see life through new eyes. I fell madly in love with San Miguel and have never regretted it for a nanosecond.”