Last week I did, I don’t know, nearly 20 interviews. I talked to expats, I talked to children of expats who grew up here in SMA. I talked to Mexicans from SMA and from afuera-=usually Mexico City or other parts of the republic. One thing came through from most everyone I talked to: many expats live in a self-imposed bubble. Yes, they’re living in Mexico, but it’s Mexico as a concept, not as a reality.
What do I mean?
Well, if you’ve lived anywhere in Mexico, particularly here in Western Mexico, you know that life runs a particular way. This is the most conservative region in the nation, sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Bible Belt.” It is populated by the PAN, the former Church party, and devout Catholics are common. I could go on and on about expectations for women and their behavior, but I’ll spare you that (I’m sure you could figure that out for yourself). Economically, most Mexicans have to live cautiously. They know that water is in short supply, so they use it sparingly. Electricity and phone service is expensive, so they are also conserved or used with caution. Their houses are often comfortable, but not luxurious. They are constructed of poured concrete and rebar, iron doors and gates, and bars on their windows. They have dirt, cement, or if they can afford it, tiled floors. Washing machines are luxuries that few Mexicans will ever know. Most Mexican women wash their clothes by hand, or if they have washers they will be the old fashioned ringer washers, because they use much less water. Probably most importantly, Mexicans speak Spanish.
I could go on, and I do go into great detail in my forthcoming book, Beyond the Borderlands about the ways typical Mexican in Guanajuato live. For the purpose of this conversation, however, I’ll stop here, because I know that you know that this is not how most expats live here in SMA. Many Mexicans, including some of the children of former expats who are now Mexican residents of SMA, have told me “the gringos here live in a bubble,” and this is what they mean. Expats, particularly recently arrived U.S. expats, are not “living in Mexico,” but is a micro environment where they have imported their lifestyles to Mexico. They have the same amenities here that they would have in the U.S., including gating communities, pools, large bathtubs, and so on, and live within Mexico the concept, not the reality. This, of course, is not true of all expats, even the newly arrived. It seems that the younger expats, those in their 30s and 40s, are learning Spanish as a rule, not an exception.
Nevertheless, the “bubble” trend is a concern for many in the Mexican community here. While they understand, for instance, living in Mexico so that you can teach your kids about another culture, they think that is best accomplished by actually living in that culture, as the “natives” would do.
I met a man in an art gallery yesterday. He had been here for decades, and when I explained my research project, he gave me a strange, but knowing smile. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, “You know, the older expats came here and purposefully tried to have no impact on this community. They wanted to blend in. It’s only recently that you could even consider how expats influence local culture here.”
That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement. Expats, whether they intend to or not, have always changed this community, even if those changes were minor. They did try to blend in, however, and live as the San Miguelenses did. Apparently, it is a recent, and some say growing, phenomenon to have expats transport their American lives and conveniences with them to SMA, and many here wonder what the long-term effects of this will bring.