Holiday, Vacation & Tour
Mexico As A Concept
And Not As A Reality Part 1
Most, if not all, Americans who decide to move to Mexico to "get away from it all" seem to do so based on the merits of at least two books, a handful of websites, some seminars (in the Guadalajara area), and a host of chat rooms and forums whose themes are how wonderfully cheap, relaxing, easy, and convenient it will be living in Mexico. These sources also paint a picture of the Mexican people that is, for lack of better words, a picturesque, pastoral heaven-on-earth populati...
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Most, if not all, Americans who decide to move to Mexico to "get away from it all" seem to do so based on the merits of at least two books, a handful of websites, some seminars (in the Guadalajara area), and a host of chat rooms and forums whose themes are how wonderfully cheap, relaxing, easy, and convenient it will be living in Mexico. These sources also paint a picture of the Mexican people that is, for lack of better words, a picturesque, pastoral heaven-on-earth population of saints who have been sitting around all their lives just waiting for the opportunity to serve the first American who comes their way.
In addition, they move to Mexico based on an image or concept of Mexico of what it will be like for an American who expatriates to Mexico. The current available "expat guides," websites, and chat forums present to the potential American wanting to move to Mexico, Mexico as a Concept and Not Mexico as a Reality.
The title of this article I found while reading a Blog called, The Gringa in San Miguel: Musings on U.S. Immigration Reform, immigrant communities in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic, and my current research on international retirement migration to Mexico & Central America. In this very astute academic folklorist and ethnographer's Blog, she came up with this statement which so perfectly describes what I've been trying to say during the past four years of articles, columns, and books I've written trying to describe what it is I've seen in the so-called Gringo Expat Communities, Enclaves, Sectors, Exclusive Gated Communities, and so on.
It is Mexico as a Concept, an Image, an Idea that attracts Americans here. It certainly would not be Mexico as a Reality that would bring them in droves. And, in droves they are coming. More than 300,000 Americans have been vacating the premises in America each year since 2004 with a great deal of them ending up in Mexico. Some mostly unreliable sources estimate more than a million Americans live in Mexico. The densest populations of Americans are probably Mexico City, Guadalajara, Chapala, Ajijic, and San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel de Allende has an Gringo population of about 12,000 in a city least capable of assimilating this many people who, by the way, stress the infrastructure of that little city by playing the tax dodging game . This is but one of the foibles, the dark side, of expatriation to Mexico that you will never read in any of the expat guides floating around today's book market.
They will tell you all the pluses with never any of the minuses. They will show you the light and somehow fail to tell you that any darkness exists. They will regale you with all the niceties in sugary prose peppered with generous second and third portions of anything you want to hear covered with sweet gooey promises and assurances. You would think that to expatriate to Mexico means there will be a city-sponsored parade waiting on you with humble but strong Mexican men ready to carry you on a pedestal to your new home; that Mexico is filled with nothing but goodness abounding; that you will have reached the promised land of milk and honey—heaven.
Mexico is not like that at all.
The two seemingly most popular books, which most Gringo expats I know have not only read but could quote chapter and verse, are, Choose Mexico for Retirement (Globe Pequot), by John Howells and Don Merwin. The second book is Living Abroad in Mexico (Avalon Travel Publishing), by Ken Luboff. Both of these books are fine books that should be read. They are a bit fluffy and well they should be. They tend to present only a part of the picture of expatriation and that is ok for someone who is trying to get a feel for the ABC's of expatriating to Mexico. They are, in general, totally positive, easy to read, and present the expat picture in the most positive light. And, as I said, well they should. If someone is really considering moving to Mexico, for any reason at all, and will be staying for an extended period of time, they should read these books for a quick and lighthearted rendering of life in Mexico.
But, because of time, book length, and sheer commercial viability, these books do not cover the "other side of the coin." They present life in Mexico as something fairly positive100% of the time. Really, only Luboff's book goes into any substance regarding culture and I give him credit for that. In fact, in the chapter on Prime Living Locations, he has a "call out" in which he says,
"Because they have encountered generations of tourists and expatriates, these locales each have well- established infrastructures for foreign residents." (Page 129)*
NEXT: Mexico As a Concept and Not As a Reality part 2
* Living Abroad in Mexico by Ken Luboff (Author) Avalon Travel Publishing; 1 edition (August 31, 2005) ISBN-13: 978-1566919227Mexico As A
Concept And Not A
Reality Part 2
It has been the Prime Living Locations such as the Lake Chapala area, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Cuernavaca, Mazatlán, and others to which Gringos have been attracted. Because they came in droves and droves, the Mexicans in these cities had to adapt to serve the Gringos. Thus something different, something that had never before existed, arose. A "how-to-serve-the-gringos" infrastructure was born. It is to these cities that Gringos have flocked and, for all practi...
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It has been the Prime Living Locations such as the Lake Chapala area, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Cuernavaca, Mazatlán, and others to which Gringos have been attracted. Because they came in droves and droves, the Mexicans in these cities had to adapt to serve the Gringos. Thus something different, something that had never before existed, arose. A "how-to-serve-the-gringos" infrastructure was born. It is to these cities that Gringos have flocked and, for all practical purposes, driven prices for everything so high that Americans on middle-class incomes can no longer afford to live in them. I know of Gringos in these areas who have been living there for some time, but who are just now being driven away by the prices. Potential expats are seeing they cannot afford the Prime Living Locations. So, they are trying to find much more affordable pastures in Mexico. Here is what is happening because of it.
They are now trying to move to the "not-so-prime" locations to find more affordability. The "not-so-prime" locations not only do not have an established infrastructure for foreign residents, the locals are not particularly thrilled that the gringos are coming to town. And, to town they are coming.
I've been told that the waiting list for real estate in Guanajuato, for example, is a lot longer than the list of houses on the market. Suddenly, it seems, and almost overnight, there have been real estate agencies springing up everywhere in Guanajuato (where I live). Prices, of course, are now astronomical compared to when we moved here. And the thing is, Gringos are moving to these new areas with nary a linguistic or cultural fluency notch on their cultural belts. That's because they've read these books, these websites, received expat newsletters, talked on chat rooms, and have gotten a feel for what it's like to live in the Prime Living Locations for expats but haven't a clue that the other parts of Mexico are not like what they say in the expat guidebooks.
Do you get what I am saying here? What exists in expat literature, for those gringos wanting to move to Mexico, applies to areas of Mexico where many existing expats and potential expats cannot now afford. The reading material applies to areas of Mexico that have had existing infrastructures for generations for the foreigner but are now expensive beyond most middle-class income folk's wildest imaginations. You cannot come to Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, Zacatecas, or Tlaxcala where it is cheaper and expect the locals to treat you as they would have in one of the Prime Living Locations mentioned in Ken Luboff's book.
If you think about this for a moment, the "I am American Hear Me Roar" act you would put on in one of the traditional Prime Living Locations Luboff mentions in his book, while it will get your needs met there, it will not get you piddly-squat elsewhere. Show up in Guanajuato, Silao, Celaya, Salamanca, Dolores Hidalgo, Santa Teresa, Guadalupe, Jerez, Zacatecas, or any other city outside the Prime Living Locations zone, and act like, "If you expect to work for me, you will have to adapt to me," you will get nowhere fast.
In the cities where the Gringo's presence, the foreigner's dollars, is what the locals depend on for their livelihood—The Prime Living Locations—you will be treated radically differently than in the areas where the gringo's presence does not determine who gets to eat and who doesn't. In Guanajuato, for one example, where no gringo infrastructure exists, the locals do not depend upon the foreigner's presence for their bread and butter. So, coming into town huffing and puffing and threatening to blow all the houses down if you don't get your way, does not work. Give it up. Forget it. You won't get by with it.
In San Miguel de Allende, the gringos will tell you, "Oh, yes, they love us here." The San Miguel de Allende Mexicans, as one who told me this, "We take their money, we smile, we nod approvingly, but they will never be our friends." In Guanajuato, and I am thinking really of a couple of establishments, they will take your money and that's it. You would be lucky if they acknowledged your existence after you tell them Muchas Gracias. One young woman at this ice cream place acts like she would love to kill every gringo who comes into the shop if she could get by with it. She will not make eye contact, will not open her mouth to you even though you have a high degree of spoken Spanish fluency, and throws your change on the counter rather than handing it to you. Whereas, she talks gaily with her fellow countrymen, she acts like she despises Americans. Maybe she does. The point is her livelihood is not contingent upon the foreign presence; yet, she acts accordingly.
Does this mean that Guanajuato or any of the "not-so-prime" living locations are full of mean Mexicans? Not at all. In those towns where the local's livelihood depends on the foreign presence, there will exist an entirely different atmosphere concerning gringos than in towns, like Guanajuato, whose livelihood is NOT dependent on the gringo.
NEXT: Mexico As a Concept and Not As a Reality part 3
Mexico As A Concept
And Not A Reality Part 3
Based on my going-on five years of expat experience in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico's Heartland, I do not think the current expat guides such as Howell, Merwin, and Luboff, apply here. It is so stark in fact, that the difference between Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Here are two cities, two Colonial Mexican Heartland towns, so close, and so different. What's changed it? The Gringo presence and the Mexican's subsequent adapt...
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Based on my going-on five years of expat experience in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico's Heartland, I do not think the current expat guides such as Howell, Merwin, and Luboff, apply here. It is so stark in fact, that the difference between Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Here are two cities, two Colonial Mexican Heartland towns, so close, and so different. What's changed it? The Gringo presence and the Mexican's subsequent adaptation (subjugation?) to the Gringo presence.
Is this a bad thing? Is it bad that the Americans have swept into towns such as San Miguel de Allende and with their money effectively changed it from uniquely Mexican to something all together different? My view is that it is a bad thing. My traditional understanding of expatriation, one about which I feel passionately, prevents me from seeing the changes in San Miguel as something good. It prevents me from seeing the Gringos in San Miguel as expatriates. What that city has become is a playground for the rich Gringo. The Mexicans in the town live to serve the Gringos. That is something with which I take great exception. However, for most Americans, living in Mexico would be impossible without a town like San Miguel whose entire infrastructure has been redesigned and functions to serve the American who wants to live there. I cannot argue with the fact that what San Miguel now is, is what it is, and there's no going back to what it was. The ultimate sadness is that the town's Mexicans I am not sure ever had a choice in the matter.
Mexico as a Concept
So, what is the Mexico as a Concept that draws Americans to towns like San Miguel de Allende or any Prime Living Location in Mexico? What is the Concept of Mexico about which the popular expat guides, online websites, newsletters, seminars, speak? What Concept or Image of Mexico is attracting the American who wants to leave the U.S. to live here?
Primarily, Americans think they can come and live here because Mexico and her people are just like us. I mentioned this in our first book, The Plain Truth about Living in Mexico. I tried using the phrase, "Don't forget, Mexico is not America." throughout the book to try get across the point that is very much lost on Americans: "Mexico is not America." Americans typically do not hold any depth of cultural awareness and too often think that all that is necessary to live with Mexicans is throw some money or technology at them under the guise of "Now, we gringos are here to help these poor third-world Mexicans" charities and soon the Mexican will jump through America hoops and be "just like us." I've often wondered if Americans would be so willing to move here if they knew in advance that there is not someone "just like me" under that Mexican's mestizo skin.
Do not think me glib or disrespectful here. This American woman in Guanajuato was once telling me how the Gringo Charity to which she belonged was here so that they might help these "little brown people." At first I thought I had misheard her until I asked my wife in private who had also heard this hideous remark.
I remain convinced that Americans think they can come to Mexico to live because Mexicans are just like Americans, only in a different wrapper. That seems to be the extent of America's cultural awareness. I cannot begin to count how many times I have heard the following two statements from the mouths of American expats:
1. I know they understand what I am talking about and are pretending they don't.
2. If they are going to work for me, they are just going to have to adapt to me and assimilate my ways, including speaking English.
I really wonder if Americans would come here if they really knew what lies deeply layered underneath the surface of the Mexican mind?
Americans, and especially Texans, think that because they've eaten tex-mex, attended some cross-border festivals, have driven across the border to go shopping, worked with a few Mexicans in a construction project, screamed at a few of those projects' Mexican workers, had a few Dos XX beers while camping in Reynosa, can say "Yo quiero Taco Bell," that they've pretty much mastered Mexican culture and living in Mexico will be a cinch. Americans (and don't forget those Texans) delude themselves into thinking they know Mexicans. They are more willing to admit that there are vast language and cultural differences between themselves and the Chinese than they do with Mexicans.
They are convinced they are cultural experts when it comes to Mexicans and therefore willingly pack it up and move here based on this delusional Concept about Mexico: Mexicans are just like us; Mexico is just like America. They can handle it, they reason, because after all, they are just Mexicans and are just like us.
NEXT: Mexico As a Concept and Not As a Reality part 4