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Discomforting privilege and a warm welcome to Mexico

I lived in poverty or scrapped by barely making it from pay check to pay check for most of my adult life. I lost everything multiple times and had to rebuild. For years, my daughter thought we ate rice and beans almost daily because it was part of her cultura. She didn’t know until years later that it was all we could afford. In Seattle, I worked hard to make ends meet. I did ok and was relieved that when the bills came I could actually pay them. My family’s lifestyle was incredibly modest; all our furniture was second hand as were the majority of our clothes. Our house needed many repairs but it was home and I loved it. As a single mom, I felt extremely fortunate that I was able to buy a house in one of the most expensive cities in the US. Every day, I passed by people struggling with homelessness and living in tent cities. I also knew that if I lost my job and didn’t find another within a few weeks we could very easily end up on the streets too. There was no nest egg, rich family members, or trust fund to turn to in time of need.

Luckily the housing market in Seattle is absurd and for once in my life, I was at the right place at the right time. Selling the house gave us options beyond my wildest dreams and as soon as we crossed into Mexico our privileged position screamed loudly. After years of struggling to just get by, I gave myself permission to live in luxury for a few months. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable I feel living in a gated community above the town where so many people live in poverty. I feel and I am separated from the poor like never before. People tell me that my good fortune was because I worked really hard. Although it is true I worked my ass off to obtain my PhD, if the real estate market hadn’t exploded I would have continued to live pay check to pay check for many years to come (the pay in my field is not great)! It really is by chance that I have this opportunity.

Now, I am trying to find my place in this very weird and uncomfortable position of privilege. Like many of the rich areas in the US, empty houses surround me. Some of the owners come only for vacation; others not at all. The disparity is mind boggling. I do not for a moment believe that I deserve to live in luxury and others deserve to live in poverty. I understand the structures that created and maintain the disparity in the US, now I want to understand the systems here. I also want to make sure that I am doing everything possible to not cause further damage. Although I am painfully aware that I cannot single handedly solve injustice, I make the commitment to at the very least not cause harm. I am a guest in Mexico and I want to experience all the beauty and culture it offers. I also want to be of service and am looking to connect where my skills can be the most useful.

Unfortunately, many gringos here don’t seem to have the same approach. On online forums and in interactions I observe the same entitled behavior and racism that I saw north of the border (NOB). Especially on the online forums there seems to be a general overtone of superiority and an us vs them mentality. People are constantly writing comments about how locals are short changing them and trying to scam them. These comments are made with little to no evidence that their assumptions are correct. I am not saying that bad things can’t happen or that dishonest people don’t exist in MX, I am just saying that everything that people worry about happening here definitely happens in the US too. Gringos also get frantic searching for the same brands as home, like “tide pods” (yes, really!). C’mon on people, you were adventurous enough to move to MX how about trying a different kind of detergent? They also bring with them their harried way of being in the world. Horn honking, huffing and puffing when waiting in line… What is that all about? Most of these folks are retired. Where the hell do they have to be that they can’t stand in line a few extra minutes for dirt cheap organic veggies bought directly from the grower?

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In stark contrast, the locals are extremely kind and welcoming. Everywhere I go, smiles and “Buenos Dias” or “Hola” greet me. I have not once felt unsafe or unwelcome. As an educator that works mostly with youth, I am blown away every time a teen looks me in the eye, smiles, and says “Buenos Tardes” as they walk by. That certainly wasn’t the teen behavior I saw in Seattle; friendly teenagers that WANT to talk to adults? Wow! And the children… they are often eager to try out any English words they know. Their smiles melt my heart. The vendors at the markets we frequent are also incredible. Today, we even got hugs and kisses from our favorite baker! These delightful interactions make getting our groceries fun, instead of being another chore on the to do list. Even when I visit communities that people from NOB don’t often frequent and I struggle trying to speak Spanish, people always respond with patience and kindness. Never once has anyone said, “SPEAK SPANISH, you are in Mexico” or shouted at me to go back where I came from. What if in the US “foreigners” were welcome the way my family has been here? I think the people of Mexico have a lot to teach those of us from NOB. I look forward to learning all I can during my time here.

Comments (5)

  1. What a well-written, well-considered piece.

    I’ve struggled to articulate how I can intentionally take my family to a place where classism, entitlement, and corruption are so prevalent. I appreciate your perspective and look forward to you putting into words my own thoughts.

  2. Very interesting and personal view on moving to Mexico! I think you are so right! One really get things into perspective, when moving somewhere as Mexico. For sure, the “latinos” are a lot more “culturally developed” (if you can say it like that 😉 ) than some of us economically developed countries (me being from Denmark, Northern Europe). I also completely adore the fact that people start greeting you with kisses and hugs so quickly. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article. We are planning to head to N.Europe next. Although we have been there before, I suspect leaving MX for Scandinavia will give us a lot more culture shock (at not just because of the change in weather)!

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