Sunday, July 30, 2006


As I mentioned last week, I was able to interview a number of extremely interesting people from very diverse backgrounds. Although each person is fascinating in their own right, my interview with a young couple in their late 30s was by far the most thought provoking. Their perspective on SMA was much like those who have lived here for 30+ years, with a few significant exceptions. Their comments are also revealing about the shifting nature of "community" and local identity in SMA.

The couple I interviewed, who I will identify here by the pseudonyms "Pete" and "Tonya" are former small business owners who decided early in life that they wanted to retire by the time they were 40 (or in their early 40s). With this goal in mind, they worked hard with their businesses and consistently lived below their means in the U.S. (living in a small condo instead of buying a house, driving 10 year-old plus cars) so that they could reach this goal. For years they were moving toward the goal, and each year they would visit SMA because Tonya's father had retired here. The plan was to eventually live in an apartment next to Tonya's father.

Then Tonya's father suddenly died.

Like many people who have suffered a major loss, Pete and Tonya decided that the time to retire was now. They sold their businesses, invested heavily and fortuitously in the stock market (they got out just before the IT bust), sold their assets and bought a pick-up truck and a 30-foot RV and started their retirement. He was 32, she was 30.

Their lives have not been limited to SMA, and their commitment to living her and only here is not nearly as strong as some of the older retirees who live here. They don't have permanent visas to live in Mexico (which is very common here), so they must cross the border into the U.S. every six months to live here legally and to keep their vehicle here. Their extended families are still in the U.S., and although they get regular visitors here, they still go back to the U.S. for 1-2 months every year.

Tonya majored in Spanish in college, so she is fluent in Spanish. Pete learned to speak Spanish here. Both report that they have about the same number of friends who are Mexican and American/Canadian; although they also say they are not "social" and prefer to keep to themselves. In this respect, they differ markedly from other expatriates from the U.S. and Canada. They did not come here to find a community, but they just like living the way they want to without any particular obligations to anyone but each other, and living in a camper in Mexico allows them to do that.

Like many of the "old timers" in SMA (those who have been here 20 years or more, Pete and Tonya aren't overly pleased with the mass in-migration of extremely wealthy North Americans. They have many Mexican friends here who live in and around the jardín, and many of them are selling out because Americans can offer them outrageous prices for their properties. Their major concern is that the center of town, which is by far the heart of any Mexican community, will soon be a Mexican-free zone. No one is being pushed out or gentrified out of his or her neighborhood, however. Mexicans generally own their properties outright (mortgage loans are still relatively uncommon here) and taxes are extremely low. But the pressure to sell and make a profit that might equal 4-5 times a typical Mexican lifetime salary is enough to encourage Mexicans to sell their properties.

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