Sometimes a change in scenery is exactly the right move, and increasingly more American women looking for a change of scenery choose Mexico.
For author and Mazatlán expat Janet Blaser it was. For many other American women too, Mexico beckoned with its culture of warmth and extravagant manners, delectable cuisine, a more relaxed pace of life there for the taking and its ever-pulsing vibrancy.
In Mexico, you can take your pick. Mountains or beach? Small, sleepy town, or bustling urban center with an event calendar stocked with a hundred options every day? The reasons given by the women who contributed to Blaser’s exceptional new book, “Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats,” are as varied as the communities in which they have made their homes.
We spoke recently with the author about her inspiration and process for writing, and the compelling essays contributed by a wide variety of both single and married women who moved to Mexico.
Like all of her collaborators, Janet is an American woman who decided to make Mexico her permanent home after living for many years in the beach town of Santa Cruz, California. Long accustomed to questions from curious visitors and locals alike about why she decided to live in Mexico, she knew there was an appetite for not only her story, but the stories of other women who have found themselves making Mexico their home.
To find contributors, Blaser posted on Mexico expat Facebook groups looking for authors. From the 80 who responded with interest, she worked hard to select a variety of women to include in the book. Some lived in small towns, some big cities. Some were young and single, others raising families, and still others retired. Several had just arrived, and others had lived in Mexico for years or even decades by the time they connected.
Blaser herself, like various other women who write in the book, considered Mexico to be an ideal place to make one’s income stretch much further than it would in the States. Many also discovered that it was an ideal place to start a business. A general theme throughout the essays, in fact, is the wonder and freedom of starting over in a new place: recreating oneself just feels easier when you’re out of your comfort zone. You grow in small ways you might not notice because it happens so gradually, but also in large ways that feel like a clear tectonic shift. Before you know it, you are a brand new you, shedding your old worn-out skin and sporting brand new colorful scales.
Like Blaser, many of the women who write for the anthology are either single or arrived single. Mexico has a reputation for being very “machista,” and while some experiences seemed to prove it, others were surprising. For several women who started their own businesses, for example, having men “under” them proved to be a challenge to the culture’s unofficial macho structure of authority.
Another challenge for both single and married women is loneliness in a family-oriented culture when one does not have family around her. The idea of making a family from a hodgepodge of close friends is alien to most Mexicans, and even for some Americans. It’s not quite the same when there are people being missed back home.
But what about romance? While Mexican men have a reputation for being womanizers, it has not been the perception of most women that they are much different than Americans in that respect. Susie Morgan Lellero from Mazatlán put it best: “As much as many of the men like to think of themselves as progressive and open-minded, the macho mentality is in their DNA, bless their handsome, charming hearts.”
Most women were immediately charmed by Mexico and its culture, but like many things in life, it is all in how you react to things. The combination of culture shock and the language barrier, however, is a considerably larger hump to get over, especially if you do not speak the language. Fitting in to one’s community without speaking Spanish is only possible up to a certain point. Many other things also are bound to cause frustration, like the blasé attitude toward punctuality in Mexico.
But trying to fix things or criticize is an exercise in futility, and it is best to remember this gem of wisdom from Lisa Lankins, another contributing author from Mazatlán: “Mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.” Kerry Watson from Lake Chapala also had a unique way of thinking about and unhooking oneself from the emotional responses to these differences: “Living in a foreign culture is like holding a mirror up to your own culture. Each discovery in the new place also teaches you about yourself, about your old place.”
Having collected the stories of so many women, what advice does Blaser have for those considering a move to Mexico?
Number one, learn Spanish ASAP (this could very well serve as numbers two and three as well). Also, do your research. The news media in the U.S. gives an extremely narrow – and not very flattering – impression of Mexico. Check online sources like Expats In Mexico and other publications, blogs and Facebook groups that tell a different story and are backed with facts. If you are interested in a certain community, or even trying to figure out where you want to go in the first place, talk to people who are doing what you want to do, and living where you might want to live. Every town and city in Mexico with an expat community has a Facebook page, a great way to find information to help you decide.
When it comes to safety, it simply makes sense to take the same precautions you would in any place. Do not walk by yourself late at night in an evening gown through the shady part of town.
If you are brand new to Mexico and its language, try finding a place with an active expat community. It is not about hanging out exclusively with them, but they can certainly help you get acclimated and serve as a nice transition from one culture to another. Volunteer work can also be a great way to get to know people.
Finally, be excited. The Mexican people are curious about us, and they are open to us. This openness combined with their reputation for excellent manners make them the ideal hosts. You will find there is so much to enjoy in your new home, and so many wonderful experiences to be had. If you take the leap, be open and anticipative, not scared.
D’Ana Baptiste from Puerto Vallarta put it well: “Maybe we’re all craving a respite from surety. A rest from our guardrails and safety rules. Maybe we crave an opportunity to fall, even to be seen falling. We’re living. We’re falling and we love it.”