Let me shoot straight from the hip. No fancy introductions to this article, no witty sayings, no clever expressions, no wildly used adjectives. Just plain talk about what you will find if you are planning your retirement in Mexico or if you are coming here to work.
You will find two basic groups of expatriates in Mexico. I am speaking experientially about central Mexico, although I do have more than a passing knowledge of other regions in this country through my research. You will also find lots of regional differences in the culture and personalities of the Mexicans in the place you choose to expatriate.
The First Group of Gringo Expatriates
Traditionally, Gringos have migrated to the Prime Living Locations in Mexico. A Prime Living Location is that which has the most well-defined and well-developed Gringo infrastructure. These are cities that have been forever altered to serve the needs of the Gringos. Everything that happens in that city is no longer for those born and bred there, but for the Gringo. Within these Prime Living Locations, you will find that the Gringos are not integrated into the culture or the language of Mexico. You will find the Gringo living in his own little mainly American enclaves, speaking nothing but English, shopping at the “American” stores, and socializing with other Gringos almost exclusively.
To put it into the words of Star Trek the Next Generation: The Americans (the Borg) came sweeping into the lives of the Mexican people (potential drones) with their huge financial resources (their superior technical abilities), bought up these towns (assimilated the locals into the Borg collective), and now the locals live to service the Gringos (Drones: You will be assimilated…existence as you know it is now over…resistance is futile!).
I actually received email from a guy from San Miguel de Allende who said that if there are any Mexicans in “his” town that don’t like the fact that their existence is to serve the Americans, they can just leave the town.
These Gringos are not expatriates. They are Fakepatriates. They do nothing to break the apron stings to their home country (America). They typically do not learn Spanish, have little to do with a culture they hardly know, treat the locals contemptuously, and then will turn around when questioned and tell you: “Oh…but they love us here!”
A paper written by a researcher from the States had the following to say about this issue with special application to San Miguel de Allende:
Sheila Croucher, a professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio and author of “Globalization and Belonging: The Politics of Identity in a Changing World,” made these observations about San Miguel de Allende:
1. San Miguel de Allende attracts one of the largest foreign populations in Mexico.
2. Most do not learn the local language and reside and socialize within an isolated cultural enclave. These immigrants practice their own cultural traditions and celebrate their national holidays. Grocery stores are stocked with locally-unfamiliar products that hail from their homeland.
3. American professionals largely work illegally in San Miguel and pay no taxes.
4. They typically do not pay their servants the Social Security taxes required by law.
5. The illegal businesses run by the American gringo community rips off the local San Miguel de Allende government in excess of more than four million pesos a year in unpaid taxes.
6. Some Americans are actually illegal aliens and do not bother with proper documentation.
7. Some are even involved in the Illegal Drug Trade and take drugs across the different Mexican state lines.
Now, this is not a pretty picture. I had actually written of this about 3 years before professor Croucher’s article came out (http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=723). Yet, for my trouble, I got not just some who disagreed with my opinions, but I got those who threatened me with physical harm for my views. My views were more or less in line with Professor Croucher’s and were garnered from talking with Mexicans, both in San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, who were intimately acquainted with the situation in San Miguel de Allende.
Coincidentally, I spoke with a German tourist who has been in both San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato and who echoed my views on the situation there. His words about Americans in San Miguel de Allende were, “They are just rude to the Mexicans.”
What you have are large groups of mostly Americans who form their own little microcosm of American life in the Prime Living Locations. These are Gringo enclaves ruled not by law, principle, ethics, or morality. It is very much a “Lord of the Flies” situation.
Now, if you are retiring or moving here, you have got to understand that if you are going to live in one of these enclaves, this is the environment in which you will be sucked into without hope of redress. What they’ve done, these Americans, is form not an enclave or a “Gringo Gulch”, but an entire society, a miniature America without a constitution to govern their behavior. This American colony is called Gringolandia.
Let me caution you never to use this word with members of these Gringolandias because all hell will break loose and they will hurt you if they can.
Two More Points
First: Because these Gringolandians think they live in paradise (I’ve heard this word used more than once in their midst), they think that any criticism whatsoever is not only unwarranted but also out-of-line.
They will never, ever in a million years answer your arguments. They will never take the premises you put forth in speech or writing and try to offer counter arguments. They will curse you, exclude you, isolate you, send you threatening emails or even confront you on the street.
I received one of the many threats from this local American man which went like this: “I hope when I get up in the morning I will find the Gringos will have taken care of you.”
Can it get any scarier?
In fact, it can!
About twenty-four hours after that threat, someone set a yet-to-be-investigated fire outside our bedroom window at 4:45am, June 3rd, 2007. Were it not for me being up early with an illness, I would not be here writing this now.
Second: I would guess that 99.9% of all the literature online and in print that speaks about how to expatriate to Mexico present the idea that there is a Fantasy Island Welcoming party waiting on you in the town you choose to live. You will be led to believe that moving to Mexico is one of the easiest things in the world you can do, you will be carried around on a pedestal by adoring Mexicans, and that all Mexicans without exception will be waiting to hug you about the knees while kissing your feet.
The vast majority of Gringos, I am convinced, believe that Mexicans are all the same from Sea to Shining Sea in this country. The inhabitants of the Gringolandias will not admit, even under torture, that there exist different cultural variations on the main Mexican theme. They will not like it if you suggest that in different regions of Mexico, Gringos can be treated differently.
I have lost count of the Mexicans who have told me that the further north you go in Mexico (from the Central, i.e. Guanajuato), the “nicer” the Gringos are treated. I would add that the further west you go in this country, the more “approachable” Mexicans seem to be.
Look, to make this observation is not to hate the group I am making the observation about nor is it bitterness. Living in Guanajuato, for example, being right smack dab in the center of the country is different!
San Miguel de Allende is an anomaly in the center of this country. It is an artificial situation. You will find there, as in the other Prime Living Locations for Gringos, an easy life. You never have to speak Spanish. The Gringos have shaped the place into their American image and life will be a breeze. Living in the other Prime Gringo Cities, you will find the same thing. You will have little to no adjustment to the culture to experience because the town is no longer Mexican but some sort of hybrid (http://livingethnography.blogspot.com/).
But, if you want to live in a town where you can experience an authentic Mexican culture, you have to look elsewhere and then, you have to learn Spanish. The linguistic gig is not on the typical American Gringo’s radar.
To put it as simply as possible: In the Prime Living Locations in Mexico, the Gringo will be treated and regarded much, much differently than in the non-Prime Living Locations. The reason is very simple.
In those towns in which the local economy is dependent upon the Gringolandian’s wealth, the locals will treat them differently than in cities where the locals’ livelihood has NOT been dependent upon the Gringolandian’s money. And these Mexicans, the ones in the non-Prime Living Locations, can be rude, indifferent, or simply act as though you don’t exist. Some will embrace you and call you friend. Most will not.
It is just that simple, and yet, have you ever in your life read this view in any of the online or print expatriate materials that are available? I am willing to bet you haven’t!
The Second Group of Gringo Expatriates
They learn Spanish and integrate into the local Mexican community: End of story!