Mexico’s new wave of expats need to ‘face the truth’

Hostile signs were posted on the streets of a Mexico City neighborhood popular with remote workers from the US. Photo: Facebook

The expat backlash is here. It hit a crescendo in late July, and for wanderlust types who have found their home-from-home abroad, it’s time to take stock of what happened, and why. 

In contrast with retirees moving south of the border for a relaxed lifestyle and cultural immersion, a new breed of arrivals appears frankly oblivious.  

The headline for Gustavo Arellano’s Los Angeles Times column said it all. “The new generation of smug American expats in Mexico needs to face the truth.” 

The pandemic accelerated the trend. Employees told they can “work from home” weren’t told which home. Certainly, it could be in Mexico, where earning dollars and spending pesos proved economically favorable. 

In Mexico City, an insensitive Instagram post from a remote worker caused a huge backlash that seemed to trigger the current round of complaints about gentrification, touristification, and displacement.

Related: Relocation workshop puts the emphasis on a “Mindful Move to Mexico”

It led to where we are today, where flyers are popping up around Mexico’s capital reading: “New to the city? Working remotely? You’re a f—ing plague and the locals f—ing hate you. Leave.”

For a video on TikTok, saying that the influx of Americans “stinks of modern colonialism,” 2,000 people responded in agreement.

Most expats I know see themselves as benevolent guests of this country. We hire locally, we buy locally, and many are active in charitable activities. Many shun the word “expat” because it sounds colonialist and tends to refer to a privileged class.  

But newcomers can be oblivious to how their presence affects locals, who can sometimes feel invaded by white, English-speaking visitors whose manners are brasher than local customs allow. Yucatecos here were taught all about the caste wars and the last thing they want is the withering glance of a perfectly-dressed tourist. (This actually happened to me yesterday, and I’m white, but not necessarily groomed and dressed for Instagram.)   

“Americans can come here, and they can afford everything and live like kings and queens,” said Dan Defossey, an American who moved to Mexico a dozen years ago and owns a popular barbecue joint. He told Arellano that “Mexico is not cheap for Mexicans.”

Apparently, the new wave of Americans came here to escape, not to find and explore. There’s no curiosity or interest in local cultures. Like, whatEVER. 

Meanwhile, while expats are fetishizing Mexico City, San Miguel and increasingly Mérida as amusement parks, poverty in Mexico has risen by 2% between 2018 and 2020, and 44% of the population is living in extreme poverty. It’s a statistic to remember the next time you brag on Instagram about how luxurious your new life is here in Mexico.

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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