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Are We Really A Generation of Smug American Expats?

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pier of the Chapala
Credits: Jose Luis | Adobe Stock images

Are we really a generation of smug American expats in Mexico? Last week my best friend’s wife sent me a link to an article published in the Los Angeles Times. It was a column written by Gustavo Arellano, the son of immigrants from Mexico, and entitled: “The New Generation of Smug American Expats in Mexico Need to Face the Truth.” In the article he also referred to a new article by one of his colleagues, “Californians and Other Americans Are Flooding to Mexico City. Some Locals Want Them to Go Home.”

He began his article by recounting an event that occurred in the State of Zacatecas village his father was from to set the tone of the article. He offered a first-hand account of meeting an American in a village where, apparently, no foreigner had ever appeared before: “We eyed the man who slowly emerged from the pickup – middle-aged, white, wearing sunglasses, a polo shirt, jeans and a smile. He asked in broken Spanish to no one in particular whether there were any houses for sale. Everyone was so bewildered at the sight of a gabacho in a tiny hamlet in the mountains of central Mexico that we stayed silent for a bit.”

He went on with his story: “Unprompted, he went on to complain about liberalism, about how the U.S. was a failed country, and how he wanted to spend his retirement in peace.”

After the man was told there were no houses for sale, Arellano wrote, ”the man got back into his truck and rumbled off. Didn’t even say gracias.”

This story apparently was seared into his head and shaped his view of how most expats in Mexico now behave. He goes on to give an example of the blight of expats in Portugal, another excellent country for expats to live, especially retirees. Another of his Los Angeles Times colleagues discovered expats “lapping up the Mediterranean nation’s temperate climate and taking advantage of the economic situation of the country, one of the poorest in Europe.”

I don’t think I need to get into the smug Americans in Mexico City article…you get the picture.

The thesis behind each of these articles is that American expats around the world are preying upon poor countries like Mexico and behaving badly. The author said, “I have no issue with people who leave their homelands for a better life elsewhere – vaya con Dios, and all that. But that’s not what’s happening with this new generation of expats. They’re emblematic of the type of people I call California quitters: privileged people who want all of the easy and none of the hard and decamp for what they think is the better life at the slightest hint of inconvenience”

Am I going to get to at least some sort of rebuttal? Yes, hang on.

He also quoted a UC Riverside ethnic studies professor who specializes in immigration to put an exclamation point on those horrid expats who live in Mexico: “He admitted to hating the term ‘expats,” which for him is ‘radically different from people who are forcibly displaced’ whether by economics or war.”

Arellano said the professor pointed out “that Americans coming in with their money fundamentally change local economies, making them more dependent on dollars that can easily flee in what he calls an ‘extractive industry.’”

The article’s author went on: “But what’s even more tone deaf, Félix (the UC professor) argues, is that these new residents skip through Mexico in a mobile cocoon that largely protects them from the real world around them. The surrounding areas and permanent residents are hit hard by violence and poverty, he said. On the whole, ‘expats are immune to that.’”

Ahhh, yes. Where to begin. Sure, you can find any number of expats who may live up to this stereotype of the “ugly American expat” but, hey, there are 900,000 Americans living in Mexico as expats with temporary or permanent residence. Mexico is our home. “Snowbirds” dip in for usually six months at a stretch and “digital nomads” perhaps even less.

We have known and interviewed a wide variety of Americans and expats from other countries over the past six years of Expats In Mexico’s existence and are pleased to say that the preponderance are wonderful people who love Mexico and Mexican people and intend to make this country their home, most forever.

Yes, the average American expat lives very well in Mexico, even on a US$1,500 a month Social Security payment. Particularly in comparison with a Mexican middle-class family who lives on an average of US$1,200 a month (according to the latest INEGI Mexican government statistics). But that is just economic reality.

Expats contribute a great deal economically to their local communities by employing service workers, buying and renting homes, enjoying restaurants and attending paid events. Not all Americans are rich. About 20 percent, according to our 2022 Expats In Mexico poll, live on US$1,000 a month. Another 22 percent spend between US$1,000 and US$1,500 a month, and 22 percent have monthly expenses of up to US$2,000 a month.

It’s an inescapable fact that In a country with over 50 percent of the population defined as poor, expats are well-to-do. That’s financial reality.

In Puerto Vallarta, where I live, there are many expats who own businesses and employ local Mexican men and women. Expats operate many of the animal shelters, host events that provide money to sponsor scholarships for local students and contribute generously to local charities. Expats in many cities throughout Mexico do the same.

By far the majority of expats living in Mexico were drawn here by the wonderful, friendly and family-oriented people, the country’s rich history and culture, the warmth of its ever-present sun and, yes, a lifestyle that cannot be had in the U.S. for the same amount of money. Is that selfish and exploitative? I don’t think so, and I hope you agree.

7 COMMENTS

  1. What you have written is true.
    BUT the Smug or Ugly American is everywhere and is what the people see and hear and witness.
    I, and everyone can give many examples that will want you to pack them up and move them out.
    My experience is the problem is with the snowbirds and many that live yearly. They are mostly older and or retired. They want to bring what they left and have it here and are not excepting that doesn’t work here. Or they want to be the ‘saviors’ and want to help. But they do not help in the way that is needed, only the way their ‘club’ wants to help and then they give themselves awards and dinners to show how much they ‘care’.
    Yes, the Smug or Ugly American might be small part of the expats but they are the ones that the country knows.

  2. I agree, the smug or so called ugly American are ruining Mexico. These are the same people that for whatever reason believe they are entitled and have ruined the USA.

  3. I am an “expat” but do not live in a coastal, resort area, I live in Morelia, Michoacan which is quite a ways inland from the coast. I have been living here for about 8-9 months and have only been to the coast once so far, to Ixtapa. That has been the only time I witnessed the ugly American(s). My wife and I were at a pizza place and a group of 5 or 6 Americans sat down at the next table. I would say they were all in their sixties, loud, inebriated and they wanted beer first and pizza second. They ordered beers and when the beers didn’t arrive immediately they were angry! Well, the pizza place didn’t normally sell beer so they sent someone down the street to get them. This seemed to anger them further so they all got up and left, yelling their discontent as they left. Which (once he returned) left the pizza place with the beer they just bought and no customer to pay for it. I was truly embarrassed by them and their behavior. So perhaps the ugly American is something much more common in resort towns than elsewhere in Mexico.

  4. I will say that what John, Bob and Dennis wrote is quite true, but the smug/ugly American is the exception to the rule! You can’t condemn all expats Americans or otherwise, because of a few rotten ones! Secondly the writer in LA and the LEFTIST professor are mad, because people are leaving California, because of the bad and worsening living conditions there!
    People are suppose to put up with the leftist UTOPIA and take it!! Many people have left and have come to Mexico others including a cousin of mine have gone to other states in the U.S. like Florida!
    Ask my Mexican employees who work in my microbrewery whether they’d like me to leave Mexico! Ask my gardener, maid and some handy men who help around my house and local hotel I built whether they’d like me to leave Mexico!
    Ask any Mexican who has a job, because of expats who have invested in their local communities, whether the expats should go leave Mexico, you’ll get quite a different response. Altogether I employ 32 people most at my microbrewery and a handful at the hotel! Plus 2 at my house. I pay well above the average pay in the area in which I live. My maid is paid 225 pesos an hour my gardener the same! Top wage at the hotel 18,000 pesos a month lowest 12,000 a month! At my brewery highest 20,000 lowest 14,000!
    Just ask my employees whether they’d like me to go back home to the U.S. I think, they’d want me to stay! Never mind the time I volunteer and my donations I give to various charities!!

    I wish ROBERT that you’d stop listening to LEFTIST writers in California who have probably never been to Mexico or to any other country that has a large expat population. These writers and professors just can’t stand that people are voting with their feet and are abandoning California, whether they are going overseas to places like MEXICO and PORTUGAL or just moving to another state like FLORIDA! Are there UGLY/SMUG Americans?? Yes, but they are few and far between!!
    Look for the REAL MOTIVATION for such SCRIBLINGS and you will find a politically MOTIVATED HIT piece against EXPATS and others!!!

    • Aaron, you need to read the entire blog, not just the first part where I review what was said about expats living in Mexico by LA Times reporters. The point of the blog was to show that you cannot stereotype 1.2 million people, the total number of expats living in Mexico. We all know Americans who behave badly, whether they are tourists on vacation, “snowbirds” or expats living in the country on temporary or permanent visas. The articles were meant to be expository, but chose to focus on a segment of expats who do not represent people such as yourself who have a business in Mexico and have fully integrated into the culture and community. I don’t quite understand where you got the idea that we are listening to “leftist” writers. It’s not a political discussion, it’s a matter of fairness from the media when they write about expats living in Mexico.

      • Hi Robert, I didn’t mean it to be a full blown political discussion, but the quotes you included from the LA Times writer and the professor are political in nature! The tone of both people in my estimation is more moaning and groaning from people who want people to be stuck in California. Their attack on American Expats in Mexico is just a tip of the iceburg. Thanks for allowing my comment. I don’t usually talk politics, but if you reread those quotes they are political as hell and dammed unfair!!
        Thanks, Again..

  5. Gustavo Arellano maintains that when an American moves to Mexico for an easier lifestyle he’s considered an “Ugly American”. Most Americans move to Mexico or specific countries in Central America to improve their quality of life. The American dollar is stronger; therefore, everything is extremely affordable.

    Conversely, when immigrants from Mexico, or a country from Central America, migrate to the United States they also relocate to improve their lifestyle, but they must find a job in order to obtain that improved lifestyle. They’re forced to work while expats have the financial
    capital to find a good life.

    Arrelano is obviously perturbed by this distinction. He labels these expats as privileged Ugly Americans, a pejorative and a stereotype. Undoubtedly he would excoriate anyone who categorized all Hispanics as illegal immigrants; and there is your double standard.

    Giuseppe Mirelli

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