What is your authentic self? And why is it easier to find in San Miguel?

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.

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2 thoughts on “What is your authentic self? And why is it easier to find in San Miguel?

  1. jennifer rose

    Stepping back from old roles and moving to a new environment can do that to anybody, whether they’ve moved to Mexico or to Aiken, South Carolina. “You have to disconnect in order to reconnect,” was something I used to parrot in my early years of living in Mexico. But after a while, long past the honeymoon stage, you being to realize that Mexico isn’t the magic bullet that builds souls. Disorientation, re-orientation, making a new home in a new environment, and simply getting older all contribute to the process. If the “authentic self” is the grail, it can be found anywhere from midtown Manhattan to Mozambique. While San Miguel de Allende is a lovely venue, it’s not the only show in town. Stella may have had to go to Jamaica to get her groove back, but she could’ve just easily done so right in San Francisco. You can read my review of “Lost and Found in Mexico” at http://tinyurl.com/yo2hou.http://www.staringatstrangers.com

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Debra,I have been reading your blog but didn’t get a chance to respond. I however can’t resist to this question about authentic self. To be honest, I really can’t tell what my authentic self is. I think I know who I really am, but then again I keep adding more small pieces to my identity everyday. I strongly believe that people can multiply their identity; I, however, wonder if one can abandon his old identity or transform to be a new person. After all, Lord Jim can’t start all over with a clean slate. Well, I got distracted with the first question here–obviously. I intended to respond to your second question, which seems more or less familiar with my current situation. I don’t think migrants can maintain their “authentic” selves in the US. Back in Thailand, I said I am from Singburi, and everyone know exactly where I am from. But when I came to the States in 2003, I could feel the difference. When I said I am from Singburi, I had to explain that Singburi is a tiny town north of Bangkok, a capital of Thailand that many people know. In the worst cases, I had to explain that Thailand is not Taiwan and where they are located. The point that I am trying to make here is that when locals go global, I guess they are expected to abandon minor details about themselves that still remain unknown to the majority of the new society/environment or at least the locals have to explain them in relation to a more well-known or centralized idea, for example Bangkok in my case. I usually am patient explaining where I am from. I sometimes get tired doing it all over again and again, so at some point, I simply say that I am from Bangkok to make it easy for people to realize I am from Thailand, at least–let alone that I am a native of this tiny town called Singburi. I just wanted to share hoping that this might be relevant to what you have been observing. Win

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