Yesterday I had several interviews in different parts of SMA. It was a good day, exhausing, but still very good. In the late afternoon I headed to the Bibloteca Publica to see Lost and Found in Mexico on the big screen. It was interesting to watch it in a group, even more so to see the response of the people who are represented in the film.
Overall, most of the comments after the film were very positive, and the long-term expats in attendance felt like Caren had accurately represented their experiences. One of the major themes in the film is what I would characterize as finding your authentic self in that most everyone that Caren interviewed for the documentary stated that they were not able to be their “real” selves in the U.S. They stayed in jobs that they really did not like for years because they felt that was what it meant to be successful, they lived up to other’s expectations in regard to how to dress, what it was important to know, and what was a productive way to spend one’s time. They also found freedom in their gender role (as women) that they believed impossible in the U.S., and they found it easier to grieve the loss of a loved one in Mexico because here there is no expectation to say, “I’m great!”‘ when someone asks, “how are you?”
It would be a mistake, I think, to read these narratives as simply commentaries on life in SMA, although obviously that is what the film is about. But even more important, the film is about what, at least for many of the expats here, is not possible in the U.S. My question here is, why? Why is it that so many people who come here feel like this is the place where they can be their authentic selves? In a couple of interviews I’ve done here with gay couples, they tell me that the expat community is so accepting that there is no GLBT support here–they simply do no need that type group here. That is exceptional, but at the same time, most of the folks here are not members of a group that is often stigmatized in the U.S. They are white, middle or upper middle-class, and highly educated.
The film and this group represent a distinct period in SMA expat immigration. The older generation of expats came here for very different reasons, and I expect that the next generation of expat will come for different reasons as well.
Yesterday during the film Q & A , a woman raised her hand and said, “I’ve been in SMA for less than a week, and I already feel like I’m back to being the woman I was at 19.” In other words, there was a real self she left behind, someone who re-emerged when she got to Mexico.
I find this interesting, mainly because I have no desire to be the young, inexperienced and not self confident 19, 20 or even 28 year old I once was. I was recently tenured at my university, and frankly, I look forward to being post-tenure Deb. When I have an opinion, I can express it with no worry of losing my job. If I have an educational cause to persue, I can go for it. Obviously, I have no intention of being rude or boorish just because I don’t have to worry about job security. I still want to conduct myself as a civilized person. But there is no way I’d ever want to go back, or recapture my old self. She was a good friend, but I’ve outgrown her.
So the question I would like to pose today is this: what is your (the reader’s) authentic self? And is it possible to be that self in the U.S.? If not, why is that?
I look forward to hearing your opinions.