The Gringo Invasion

A really interesting article by the US-Mexico border wire service, Frontera Norte-Sur, came across my radar today. It deals with a phenomenon that has not been given enough attention in the US press: the reverse migration of middle class Americans to Mexico. According to this article, a record number of Americans are moving to Mexico to escape high healthcare costs and life under the Bush administration. Their lifestyle in Mexico represents an ironic mirror of the culture of Mexican migrants living in the US. Here is an excerpt of this piece, which is not available online yet:

…A recent, path-breaking article published in Dissent magazine described a group that doesn’t learn the new language, displays its native flag, maintains its traditional customs, and even celebrates its old holidays in the new country. “Some live and work without proper documentation and have even been involved in the illegal transport of drugs across borders,” stated the piece. Sound familiar?

Written by Sheila Croucher, a professor of political science at Ohio’s Miami University who is studying US migration to Mexico, the article delved into the complex aspects of the new Gringolandia south of the border. Professor Croucher found that many of the same issues which surround the Mexican immigrant community in the US ring true with the US immigrant community in Mexico as well. As Croucher summarized it in an interview with Frontera Norte Sur, “The precise things that politicians and pundits are railing against in the US.”

Nobody knows for sure how many people of US origin reside in Puerto Vallarta and other regions of Mexico, but Croucher said that one US State Department estimate made several years ago pegged the number at about 600,000 souls. Since 9-11, the US government has become reticent about disclosing information concerning US citizens living abroad, Croucher added.

In addition to the older haunts of San Miguel Allende and Lake Chapala in central Mexico, newer gringo “clusters” are emerging in the Baja Peninsula, in Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) in Sonora, around Banderas Bay in Jalisco and Nayarit, in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa and Troncones in Guerrero, and along the Mayan Riviera on the Caribbean Coast.

Mirroring Mexican immigrant communities north of the border, US migrant communities in Mexico boast their own social and civic organizations, participate in the political life of the old country and enjoy access to native-language newspapers, radio programs and cablevision.

The 2004 US Presidential campaign signaled the new importance of the US migrant population in Mexico. Speaking by telephone from Mexico City, Croucher recounted how the Democratic Party dispatched former Clinton Administration official Ana Maria Salazar to round up the expatriate vote, while the Republican Party sent President Bush’s nephew, George P. Bush, to rally his party’s faithful. In the town of San Miguel Allende alone, the Democrats raised $10,000 dollars for Kerry’s bid, Croucher added.

“After 2000 it became clear to people how close the elections could be and the importance of the vote abroad,” Croucher affirmed.

A good percentage of the US migrants complain about the drift of politics as well as the propensity for overregulation back in the states. A young woman from the United States who preferred to identify herself only as Denise, has tasted the world from Pakistan to Puerto Vallarta. The world traveler contended that the strict security measures on US borders symbolize the end of liberty as we once knew it, and represent a closing window on the rest of the global community.

“It’s a freedom thing, nobody likes to be controlled,” she said. “In the states, it’s black and white. Here there is a gray area. If you get stopped in the states, you always get a ticket.”

For Croucher, economics, specifically health care costs, are far more influential in driving US citizens to Mexico than either George W. Bush or the local street cop. Many Mexican dental clinics and doctor’s offices in the border region and points south thrive on a growing US clientele. Fees are reasonable, prescription medicines are affordable, appointments are given in minutes or hours instead of weeks or months, and the quality of service is good, “Americans I talk to have nothing but positive things to say about health care in Mexico.” Croucher said.

Considering that the looming mass retirement of the baby boomers coincides with the growing melt-down of the US health care system, Croucher noted a certain irony in the snappy remarks of commentators who accuse Mexico of exporting its problems to the US. “We’re exporting our problems abroad,” Croucher contended.

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