Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another DR follow-up: Younger Expats

When I started working in SMA, I jokingly referred to the project as "The Old Gringos." That was before I hit the field for the first time and realize that the expat community consisted of a variety of age groups, and not necessarily all were retired.

Earlier today I received this comment about the show:

It was only mentioned in passing on the show but I was wondering if you would have any information on how many young individuals (couples) (20-40)are moving to Mexico. Is there a community in SMA, and are many people coming with young children? Do you know of any other cities (except for Gdl and D.F) which are seeing the immigration on younger peoples from the North? Are there jobs available for academics in smaller cities?
My fiance is Mexican ( I met him in Mexico 6 years ago) and we have been living in Canada for the past two years. I hold a MSc from Mcgill University in Montreal and did my research in Latin America.
I have lots of friends abroad and in Mexico but am curious to know if many couples from Canada and the US have made the move and how there children manage with such things schooling in the public school system?
(It is hard to leave family isn't it?)

This is a good question. I have not done research in other Mexican cities yet, but I know of a few places where expat immigration is common, even younger expats. The first is the city of Puebla and the nearby village of Cholula are another place (and both are among my favorite places in Mexico). Cholula is the home of the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA), a bilingual university that has a substantial number of expat faculty. If you are an academic, UDLA would be a good place to start looking for a position.

If you are thinking about making the move south, I would strongly suggest that you take an extended vacation to the place(s) you are considering first. If you and your kids speak Spanish, there are many good options available to you, especially larger cities that have more educational and job opportunities. SMA does have a good elementary school system, but parents were pretty honest about the fact that they know there are trade-offs raising kids in Mexico. They are bilingual and grow up in a supportive, friendly environment. But they will not get the same types of educational opportunities (i.e., fewer computer classes), but that is not to say that the educational opportunities are inferior. They will be different, but I have yet to meet an expat family that regrets their move to SMA.

One thing that really bothered me is the fact that you really have very little time to make a point on a program like this. I guess this is why the "sound-bite" is so essential. One thing I would have liked to discuss is how easy it is to develop friends and social networks among expats. True, it would be difficult to leave one's family and friends in the U.S., but as I've mentioned here before, many expats in SMA see their friends as pseudo-family. I cannot tell you how many times older expats have talked about the care and support they receive from others in the community. So in a way, the network can mitigate the difficulty of being away from one's extended family.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Diane Rehm Show follow-up

It was an interesting experience being on the Diane Rehm show this morning. I enjoyed talking with Diane, who is always an engaging and intelligent host. I was also pleased with the response to the topic--during the show there were a large volume of calls and emails about expatriate experiences. This is not surprising, considering the traffic I see with my blog.

There were a few frustrations about the level of conversation that is possible on a radio show like this, however. First, it felt like we were moving too quickly from topic to topic, so many of the issues discussed were inadequately addressed. This is not a surprise, as we only have about 40 minutes to discuss a complex topic. However, the time constraints between breaks, announcements, and introductions really limited what we could cover. Second, I came away from the program concerned that some listeners might have an incorrect picture of expatriate life and experience.

One example of this is the issue of friends. Diane was correct to inquire about leaving friends and family behind to live in another country. Caren mentioned that she was able to maintain connections to her friends in the U.S., but neither of us were able to talk about the close-knit nature of expatriate life, and how easy it often is to make friends in abroad.

Another is the nature of expat-Mexican relationships in SMA. Caren mentioned that Mexican families rarely look to the expat community for friendships, as most of their social lives are based on family and long-term friendships. I would have like to add that native San Miguel residents often consciously separate their social lives from the expat community as a means to limit U.S. cultural influence. Mexicans who move into SMA from other parts of Mexico, however, are much more likely to initiate friendships with expats in SMA. The reason for this is that both groups are newcomers to SMA, and in many cases, they are looking for the same things: to build a new life, form a community, new friends, etc.

Because I am an academic, I (obviously) prefer to communicate my research through means that allow time to develop an idea or argument. Nevertheless, it is always good to get one's ideas "out there," and the Diane Rehm show is probably one of the best venues in journalism to do this. If you were able to listen to the show and have comments, I would be interested to hear them. If you were not able to hear the show live, you can download it as a podcast at the link above.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Gringa Wireless

The Gringa will be appearing on the Diane Rehm show on Tuesday November 6 from 11-12 noon. I'll be talking about my research in San Miguel de Allende. For my readers in Mexico, you can listen to the show on-line if you follow the link above.

Digital Immigration Debate

For the past few weeks I've been tuning into 9500 Liberty, an "interactive" documentary filmed and produced by Annabel Park and Eric Byler about the immigration controversy in Prince William County Virginia. The film is an independent documentary, but instead of editing, cutting and otherwise shaping the film (as most filmmakers do), Park and Byler decided to post raw footage on Youtube immediately, with the hope of encouraging open debate on the issue. Linked here is one of the most frequently watched clips. I encourage you to visit the 9500 Liberty site to see more. Park and Byler have attempted to engage the complexities of the controversy, and so far, have succeeded.