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The Gringolandizing of Mexico

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by Doug Bower

The literature that exists in book form and especially in online newsletters and magazines presents to the "Move-To-Mexico Wannebee" Mexico as an Image and not Mexico as it Really Is.

I found an excellent example of this in an email featuring a popular living-in-Mexico magazine that appeals to the potential expat to Mexico. And, let me emphasize the point is to attract potential expats to Mexico who have lots and lots of money to invest in real estate. This is the draw. The Mexican picture that is painted is done so for one reason only: to attract the moneyed that can buy up the houses and the land.

These advertisements try to draw you into contacting their list of Real Estate agents who can show you all the Sugar and Spice and everything nice things that await the potential expat of means in Mexico. They present an Image or Concept of Mexico that will not only draw you in but will convince you that a Shangri-La is waiting for you. Move here! Now! Buy! Buy! Buy!

Mexico as an Image

The writer of the prose in this online magazine said that living in Mexico is easy. She went on to define easy as: your maid will cost you only a couple of American dollars per hour; you can get a doctor to come to your house for only about thirty dollars; dinner and drinks will run you about thirty-five dollars. She said living in Mexico is so easy and is just like life was like in America in the 1950 and 1960's. She goes on to say that you will find a strong family-centered life and a tightly focused community. Life, she claims, will be a daily enjoyment in paradise. She then invites you to a seminar in Puerto Vallarta to learn more.

An article that appeared in the L.A. Times described one lady's experience in another Prime Living Location, San Miguel de Allende. The time she spent on the San Miguel de Allende Tour of Homes is interesting to note.

"It was at this point that I realized that if I really wanted a taste of Mexico, I might as well go home to Echo Park. The tour wasn't so much a backstage pass to aspirational cultural immersion as it was an English-only how-to guide for getting away from it all without giving anything up. Each dwelling was mostly notable for just how thoroughly the householders had managed to bring the comforts of the north into the wilds of the south."

Do not miss the point here. What the moguls of the various Gringolandias all over Mexico present is that you can move to Mexico without giving up anything you had in America. You can bring all you had at home in America or Canada to Mexico. Life will not only be easy but it will also be just like life was in those days everyone seems to agree (a mass delusion) were the best decades of Western Civilization, the 1950's and 60's.

For the record, I remember the 60's well. Who, I am forced to ask, in their right minds would want to have that all over again?

But, that is the pitch, the spiel, and the screed of unbelievable propagandizing proportions. It is to sell real estate and make money. Mexico as an Image is presented as a heaven on earth, a virtual nirvana!

Mexico as it Really Is—the Truth

All of these hoodwinking bamboozlers fail to tell you that the areas to which they are trying to attract you are the Prime Living Locations in Mexico. Areas like Puerto Vallarta, Lake Chapala, Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende, to name just a few, life is not cheap but will cost you dearly to buy property and live. We've not only spent time in those areas with friends but also paid dearly for meals in restaurants. Some of those we know in these cities no longer go out to eat because of the tourist-priced restaurants. We know one or two who are contemplating a move to the highlands of Mexico because of the increased price of living and the car congestion in these cities. We met these refugees in Guanajuato who formerly lived in these overpriced locations. They were trying to find more fertile grounds in the highlands.

The Prime Living Locations are easy to live in because you never have to utter a word of Spanish to live there. Much to the locals' credit, they've managed, without the money for classes or to study in an English speaking country, to do what the collective masses of American and Canadian expat claim they're not able to do. Another thing these used-car salesmen masquerading as real estate agents fail to tell you is how genuine Mexican towns are unalterably ruined by the formation of Gringolandias by their monolingual inhabitants.

An ethnographer I know is doing research for a book in which she examines the effect of Gringolandians on the culture of the Mexican towns Gringos infect (my word, not hers). Of the town she is concentrating, she says it is no longer Mexican, it is not American, but is some sort of hybrid. This is what happens. A cultural hybridization occurs that destroys a precious and ancient culture and changes it into something favoring the culture of the infectors. Truly, it is an infection that eats up that which it has invaded. And, as the lady in the L.A. Times article quoted above said, "It was at this point that I realized that if I really wanted a taste of Mexico, I might as well go home to Echo Park..."

A Bamboozling Side Effect

The Gringolandia infection is spreading. Something that is good for our bodies, does not take away or eat up that which is good and pre-existing in our bodies. We eat protein and that helps and does not subtract. But if we drink Guanajuato water, or eat on the street from a dirty vendor, we are likely to contract something not good for us. It gives us a fever, makes us throw up, makes us not be what we were meant to be. It might even kill us. It is something bad--an infection. Infection is bad and can create changes by eating up that which is good. Cancer eats up the good cells.

Gringolandizing, while good perhaps for the Gringo, it is an infection in the Mexican culture. It is not normal. It is not how things were meant to be. It is a foreign body in Mexico and just as cancerous cells are foreign bodies in a human body, so is the Gringolandia. It ends up eating up that which is pre-existing in the Mexican community where it is operative. It subtracts. Just as cancer cells replace the good cells in its infectious workings, so does Gringolandia.

I am speaking of Gringolandia as a concept or principle and not of all individual gringos.

If a Gringo comes to Mexico and assimilates as closely as is humanly possible, learns the language the portal to the culture, then the gringo does not become an infection. When that gringo begins clumping with other gringos, as do cancer cells when they clump together in masses, then all hell is about to break loose. It replaces what should be with something entirely new. To hell with culture. To hell with culture is what has happened in the locations to which Gringos have traditionally been attracted.

The traditional Prime Living Locations (and you should see the houses!) are now far too expensive for the retiree. They are, therefore, beginning to flood into non-traditional living locations in Mexico and are attempting to "Gringolandize" these areas.

What the potential Gringolandians are hearing about the non-Prime Living Locations is the same sales pitch; the same hornswoggling flimflam that life is cheap and easy. In areas of Mexico where life maybe cheap, life is anything but easy. In Guanajuato, I might add, real estate prices have risen at an eye-popping rate over the four years we've been here.

Also, the transition (infection) is beginning. The Guanajuato locals are scrambling to learn English. Just in the past three months, whenever we walk into town, locals who don't know us are now speaking English to us instead of Spanish (they see our Gringo faces and assume we can't speak Spanish). It's begun. The same cultural hybridization my social scientist friend describes in San Miguel de Allende has begun here. We see the difference, both gross and subtle, all over town.

The Plain Truth About Living in the Non-Prime Locations in México is life is not easy unless you set about mastering Spanish. Life considerably improved for my wife and I as we got better and better in Spanish. In fact, the other day I took a look at the more than 450 articles I've written since living in Guanajuato. I saw a trend in my writing that reflected my adjustment to the culture as my Spanish improved. The more Spanish I knew, the more I could ask and understand questions from the locals. This helped (and is helping) me to understand the cultural bumps in the road.

You've got to get this if nothing else rings your bell in this essay:

"Just how is the Gringo going to be regarded, or treated, in a city or town where the locals' bread and butter is not, and has not been, contingent upon the Gringo tourist or expatriate?"

The lady quoted above who said, " will find a strong family-centered life and a tightly- focused community…" cannot possibly be presenting this aspect of Mexican culture as an appeal to move here. Here's why.

The Mexican community is a tightly focused, strong family-centered culture. In fact, one cultural analyst I've read makes the statement that family groups are everything in Mexico.

However, if the writer who invites her readers to come one, come all to Puerto Vallarta to learn more is talking about the Mexican culture when making mention of finding "a strong family-centered life and a tightly-focused community…", and I rather think she was, you are not going to be knocking on the front door of Mexican's homes in the non-Prime Living Locations without possessing the passport to this aspect of Mexican culture: Spanish.

Nor are you, without Spanish, going to get an invitation to be a part of this "… strong family-centered life and a tightly-focused community."

Spanish is the portal to the culture. As almost every researcher who writes about the effect of Gringolandians on Mexico's culture report:

"In other words, to what extent do these American migrants assimilate into Mexican society? The answer is minimally. Few American residents of San Miguel speak Spanish, including those who have lived in the city for ten or more years." (SOURCE)

If American migrants to the Prime Living Locations in Mexico are not assimilating into Mexican society, then what are they doing?

They are Gringolandizing. They build and live in bubbled housing—Little American Enclaves—and look out at the real culture. They are not expatriates. They are Fakepatriates.

Note that contextually, the author of this quote appears to link cultural assimilation with the learning of the language.

Their Excuse?

The typical Gringolandians will offer an exercise in denial about their lack of cultural assimilation by telling you "All my friends are Mexicans." One woman on a Yahoo chat room wrote me to tell me I was an embarrassment (because of my writing) and that all the Mexicans she knew thought the same thing. Here's the kicker that crumbles the Gringolandian's argument: If the average Gringolandian claims to have nothing but Mexican friends, based on anecdotal, historical, and observable evidence, this means all their Mexican friends are bilingual Mexicans.

The problem?

A limited ability to communicate with that unusual and well-to-do class of Mexican, fluent in English, the Gringolandian is going to receive a restricted and often biased picture of the people of Mexico.

Without you knowing it, you are receiving a cultural perspective from the educated, bilingual Mexican that you cannot verify from someone(s) in a different socio-economic class than your well-heeled Mexican pals. If you can't talk to the lady who sits on the street and sells tamales, the woman who peddles the bolillos, the guy who sells the newspapers, then just how do you know if your bilingual Mexican friend, of whom you claim a plethora, is telling you an unbiased and objective viewpoint of the culture and issues that arise?

This question doesn't imply your bilingual Mexican amigo is lying to you. It means that everyone has biases. How can you know what you are being told is influenced by biases or not if you cannot expose the biases by obtaining a complete picture of the culture? Without a facility in Spanish, you will never have anything but a superficial understanding of Mexico and Mexicans. You can never know this culture unless you can talk to the Mexican beggar lady who begs a peso from her sidewalk perch, or to the Mexican man who sits in an office running a university. It is not possible!


As I observe the Gringolandizing of the city in which I live, Guanajuato, I wonder how do they do it? How do they come here and, with no Spanish, manage to survive? If I did know, I could make a killing in authoring an ebook with instructions.

I know of this little old man, his age is a mystery, who tools around town happily but is not able to utter enough words in Spanish to save his life. He found one of the very few bilingual doctors in town. How he functions in the other aspects of this life, I cannot tell you. I know of Gringolandians here who have been here for thirty to fifty years and yet have no linguistic skills in the language.

How do they shop? What happens when the Mexican guys who come with the water and gas don't show up for a week or two and you have to call their dispatcher for a delivery? What if your house catches fire or a car right in front of your bedroom window looks like it is going to explode from an inferno? What do you do when the ATM eats your card and you can't get any cash? What happens when you need to tell your maid or gardener what to do or not to do? What will you do when those bilingual Mexicans you've been hoodwinking into doing all the interpreting for you, finally gets sick of the fact you are never going to learn Spanish and leave you in a lurch?

What do you do without skills in Spanish in a town without a well-crafted Gringo infrastructure like Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, Silao, Guadalupe, and Zacatecas?

I cannot possibly tell you, but they—the monolinguals—are coming in droves.

SOURCE: "They Love Us Here": American Migrants in Mexico
By Sheila Croucher

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