Column: Smug American Expats in Mexico Must Face the Truth

The dusty truck bounced through the narrow streets of Jomulquillo, the village in the Mexican state of Zacatecas where my father was born. He sped past vacant houses, slowed down in front of the church and finally stopped in front of the rancho only convenience store.

There I stood with my father and a group of older men – what was left of Jomulquillo’s population since almost everyone had left for East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley of the decades earlier.

We watched as the man slowly emerged from the van – middle-aged, white, wearing sunglasses, a polo shirt, jeans and a smile. He asked no one in particular in broken Spanish if there were any houses for sale. Everyone was so stunned at the sight of a gabacho in a small hamlet in the mountains of central Mexico where we remained silent for a while.

Then came a polite but firm chorus of “No.”

I asked in English what he was doing so far from the United States.

“I want to settle here,” said the man, who never gave his name. “It’s too expensive for us.”

Uninvited, he continued to complain about liberalism, that the United States was a bankrupt country, and that he wanted to retire in peace. He asked if we knew of any houses for sale in Jerez, the town to which Jomulquillo belongs.


The man got back into his truck and fled. I didn’t even say thank you.

Although the encounter was 22 years ago, I remember Ugly American Like It happened yesterday in my front yard.

Whenever even my own friends talk about moving to a foreign country because the United States is too much, the image of this guy’s smug face and waiting for a dying town to welcome him always comes to mind. in mind.

I tell my friends not to succumb to this most American religion, seemingly more popular than ever, its figurative pews filled with followers both conservative and liberal, young and old – but all with the money to move around.

In Portugal, my colleague Jaweed Kaleem found former residents of the Golden State enjoying the temperate climate of the Mediterranean nation and benefiting from the economic situation of the country, one of the poorest in Europe. This week, my colleague Kate Linthicum filed a similar dispatch from Mexico City.

In both places the natives complained loudly that these new Americans are pushing them out of their homes and not bothering to learn local manners and traditions. Jaweed and Kate have documented protests against newcomers through internet shaming campaigns and calls for local governments to intervene. At the very least, the elders argued, Americans should understand that their presence does not automatically improve life wherever they are.

The response of many Americans Jaweed and Kate have interviewed? Not just indifference, but defiance.

“Things were getting too difficult at home, but I didn’t want to leave everything behind in LA,” a transplant told Jaweed of Portugal, adding, “we could keep the parts we liked and leave the rest” – as if we were navigating society is as easy as changing shoes.

“Reminds me of being in a friendlier neighborhood, cleaner sometimes, Brooklyn,” another told Kate from Mexico City – as if one of the world’s great megalopolises was no better than a New York borough .

The Ugly American trope isn’t new, of course. So-called snowbirds long ago turned San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato and Zihuatanejo in Guerrero into suburbs south of the Leisure World border. New York hipsters have long haunted Mexico City as much as Los Angeles. Half of San Diego’s middle class seems to have retired to an apartment in Rosarito or Ensenada.

I have no problem with people leaving their homeland for a better life elsewhere – go with Dios, and all that. But that’s not what’s happening with this new generation of expats. They are emblematic of the type of people I call California quitters: privileged people who want everything easy and nothing difficult and who drop out for what they think is the best life at the slightest inconvenience.

That they end up in foreign lands and live in crowds while their new neighbors struggle is terrible, but so fitting for the guy.

And they are completely different from immigrants, which some of these expats insist they are. But the differences between the two seemingly similar groups are as varied as those of a refugee and a tourist.

Expats have the financial capital to pursue the good life. Immigrants never can. Expats know that if they fail, the cushion of their home country will cushion the fall; immigrants know there is no turning back, so they must dive forward.

Expats can travel when and where they want. Immigrants cannot. Expats connect to the countries in which they live in the most superficial way and add little to it; immigrants become part of their new homeland and fundamentally change its course.

Extract from expatriates; Immigrants are getting better.

The movement of Americans to Mexico in particular reminds me of what happened in the early 20th century, when American industry moved en masse and usurped billions of dollars of wealth while adding nothing to the country, except operation. So after reading Kate’s article, I called Adrián Félix, professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside and scholar Jerezano who specializes in the study of Mexican migration, particularly from Zacatecas.

He laughed when I told him my anecdote from Jomulquillo a long time ago and said he had heard similar stories in recent years from other ranchos around Jerez. And he admitted to hating the term “expatriate”, which for him is “radically different from forcibly displaced people”, whether for economic or war reasons.

Felix pointed out that Americans who arrive with their money are fundamentally changing local economies, making them more dependent on dollars that can easily leak into what he calls an “extractive industry.” But what’s even more muted, Félix argues, is that these new residents cross Mexico in a mobile cocoon that largely shields them from the real world around them.

“Surrounding areas and permanent residents are hard hit by violence and poverty,” he said. Overall, “expats are immune to this.”

It’s playing the game of life on someone else’s server with cheat codes.

It’s a privilege granted to American expats, and allowed – but they should at least be honest about their damned advantage.

Los Angeles Times

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