Memo From Mexico | Drawing The Wrong Conclusions About The San Miguel, Mexico, Gringo Colony

Like all VDARE.Com writers, I receive my share of angry letters. Specifically, some of my correspondent-critics think it's terrible that I live in Mexico and promote patriotic immigration reform in the United States. I've responded to that argument in a previous article: "How can I live in Mexico and write for VDARE.COM?"

We American expatriates in Mexico are a mixed lot. Some of us, such as myself, want the U.S. to get control of her borders. Many Americans here don't really care. But some are open border promoters. One of the angriest letters I've ever received was from a fellow gringo in Mexico. Nevertheless, in my case, living here inspired me to be an immigration restrictionist

Nor are my views based on an anti-Mexican perspective. (Some other correspondents have criticized me for not being hard enough on Mexicans).

I also think today's mass immigration is bad for Mexico.

As for Mexicans, they hear a lot about U.S. immigration policy, but most Mexicans don't know much about Mexican immigration policy. So they often think that Mexico has an open border policy. (It doesn't).

The argument that American migration to Mexico is somehow equivalent to Mexican migration to the U.S. has been presented before, including a September 25, 2006 TomPaine.com article by Mike Davis, (author of No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border) about "hordes" of gringo retirees. I responded to that here: Gringo Hordes Invading Mexico? Yeah, Right.

Now Sheila Croucher is echoing that point of view in her recent article They Love us Here: American Migrants in Mexico (Dissent Magazine, Winter 2007).

Dr. Croucher [Send her mail] is a professor of something called "Ethnic Politics, Politics of Identity, Globalization, Gender and Politics" at the University of Florida, and is the author of Globalization and Belonging: The Politics of Identity in a Changing World (2004), and Imagining Miami: Ethnic Politics in a Postmodern World (1997.

Her Dissent article begins with a paragraph designed to trick the reader into equating Mexican and American immigration:

"The town I was destined for is full of immigrants, and over the past decade they have arrived in increasing numbers. Most do not learn the local language and reside and socialize within an isolated cultural enclave. These immigrants practice their own cultural traditions and celebrate their national holidays. Grocery stores are stocked with locally unfamiliar products that hail from their homeland. Few choose to pursue citizenship in their adopted land, and most follow closely and participate in the political and economic life of their homeland. Some live and work in the new country without proper documentation and have even been involved in the illegal transport of drugs across state borders. Their presence is so pervasive that local governments have been forced to adapt by providing services to address the needs of this growing foreign population. They are U.S. citizens living in Mexico."

So there you go. Sheila Croucher's article is a study of the American expatriate colony in San Miguel de Allende, a charming mountain resort in central Mexico. She likens these Americans to the Mexican colony in the United States.

In the next couple of paragraphs, Coucher contrasts American xenophobia with Mexican hospitality:

"…. During the weeks prior to my departure (to San Miguel) in June 2006, anti-immigrant hysteria swept the United States. Republicans in the House called for making undocumented [sic] residence in the United States a felony. The Senate declared English the official language. Immigrants [i.e. illegal aliens] and their supporters took to the streets. So did the Minutemen Militia. The day I flew south across the infamous 2,000-mile border, in the comfort of an air-conditioned plane, George W. Bush ordered National Guard troops to deploy along that border, in an effort to stop the desperate thousands arriving from the other direction."

"Meanwhile, San Miguel prepared for its second major tourist influx of the year. January through March, the town is packed with snowbirds escaping the frigid winters of the northern United States and Canada. In July and August, Texans arrive seeking reprieve from the sweltering heat of the U.S. Southwest. In addition to climate, people flock to San Miguel to enjoy the scenery, colonial architecture, art galleries, and cultural festivities…"

In case you missed it, she's trying to make a contrast: inhospitable Americans vs. hospitable Mexicans.

In her last paragraph, Dr. Crowder reports that in May of 2006, the English-language newspaper in San Miguel carried out a survey about the proposed wall on the border. Here were some Mexican responses:

"They know we Mexicans and other Latinos do the hardest jobs gringos would never do. Here in San Miguel, there are plenty of gringos, and we treat them politely. They should do the same with Mexicans."

"We are neighbors, and they should not take such measures against us. Why do we Mexicans allow them to come to our country and treat them politely, and they instead treat us like that?"

"We should forbid gringos from coming into Mexico, just as they do with us."

To say that the U.S. forbids Mexicans to enter its territory, or treats them badly, is ridiculous. Mexicans are the largest source of legal and illegal immigration into the U.S. But this claim is standard fare here in Mexico.

I've been to San Miguel, and it's not hard to see why so many Americans would want to live there.

The town has a pleasant climate, and a colonial Spanish downtown, with cobblestone streets. When my wife and I visited, we didn't even have a car, but it didn't matter, everything of interest was within walking distance.

The most famous building is a church called La Parroquia (The parish). You can see a photo of it in the upper right hand corner of my website at allanwall.net The front section of the Parroquia was designed in the 19th century by Ceferino Gutierrez, a self-trained Indian architect, who was influenced by postcards of Gothic cathedrals in Europe. It's an impressive sight.

National Question-wise, here's what's special about San Miguel.

About 15% of the town's population is composed of foreigners. That's small, but for a Mexican town, it's almost unheard-of. Of that foreign contingent, about 20% are Canadians and 70% (about 8-12,000) are Americans.

The American community in San Miguel has a high turnover rate. Some Americans are only there temporarily, some seasonally, while others have definitely put roots down there.

Dr. Croucher reports that, among Americans in San Miguel, Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. In 2004 Democrats Abroad raised $10,000 dollars there for John Kerry. (Notice though, that this political organizing was directed toward U.S. politics, Democrats Abroad was not meddling in Mexican politics).

Dr. Croucher makes the curious comment that gringos in San Miguel de Allende "enjoy English-language films at American-owned luxury hotels." I don't know why that's a big deal. All over Mexico you can watch English-language movies (with subtitles) at regular movie theaters. Did she know that?

Croucher equates the experiences of Americans in San Miguel and Mexicans living in the U.S.

Certainly there are some parallels. Americans have their reasons to go to Mexico, Mexicans have theirs to go to the U.S. Money is a big motivation for both groups.

And, as Dr. Croucher points out, both Mexicans in the U.S. and Americans in San Miguel cluster in linguistic enclaves, and maintain communication with the home country.

It's absolutely true that many Americans in Mexico don't assimilate or meaningfully integrate into Mexican society. Many live here for years and never learn Spanish.

Not me. I have integrated into Mexican society more than most Americans here. I speak Spanish, I work in a Mexican university, I live in a Mexican middle-class neighborhood, and I'm married to a Mexican (and thus have Mexican in-laws).

It's also true, as the article points out, that some Americans work illegally in Mexico. They are in the country legally, but not authorized to work. But some work illegally as  English teachers (I work legally as an English teacher and professor). Some Americans even exercise such professions as architecture or financial consulting.

Some Americans even operate a business without paying taxes. Of course, with tax evasion being so common in Mexico, I guess in that respect, tax-evading gringos are assimilating into Mexican society!

The Mexican government tolerates such behavior, and is not too concerned about it. Why? The money.

These wealthy American expatriates pump a lot of money into the Mexican economy.

Besides, Mexican immigration law is set up in such a manner that it's not necessary for immigration authorities to carry out witch hunts against Americans working illegally. They have better ways to control the situation.

Plus, they don't have to worry about Americans being a burden on the Mexican welfare system. That's because Mexican immigration policy is carefully designed to keep out immigrants who will be a drain on the system.

If a foreigner wishes to reside in Mexico, he must either (1) have a job (like me) or (2) be financially independent—an American wishing to retire in San Miguel (or anywhere else in Mexico) must prove that he has an income from abroad (in pensions or investments) of 400 times the minimum wage in Mexico City per month, plus another 200 times the minimum wage for each of his dependents. (Currently, 400 times the minimum wage would be about $1500 a month.)

Americans in Mexico aren't storming Mexican emergency rooms for free. In Mexico, an emergency room is really an emergency room, unlike the United States, where an emergency room is a de facto free health clinic. (Last year I had a bad case of colitis and had to go to an emergency room in Mexico—it wasn't free).

And a population of retirees doesn't have many children to flood the schools at taxpayer expense—and perhaps one day vote themselves into political power.

Another topic Dr. Sheila Croucher totally ignores is citizenship. In Mexico, very, very few Americans become Mexican citizens. It's almost unknown. Maybe they imagine the U.S would punish them—although in fact nowadays, nothing is ever done. Maybe they know that naturalized Mexicans are still second-class citizens.

But this means that nearly all those thousands of Americans in San Miguel de Allende, or in other gringo enclaves, could be deported instantly if the Mexican government saw fit. And the Mexican government would have every right to do so.

Not that I expect it anytime soon. The Mexican government is glad to have resident gringos pumping money into the Mexican economy.

That's why Mexico tolerates infractions such as illegal labor and tax evasion, because there is still plenty of money being made.

Nevertheless, let's not forget that, as non-Mexicans, all of us gringos in Mexico are not permitted by Mexican law to meddle in Mexican politics.

According to Article 43 of Mexico's General Law of Population (Ley General de Población):

"The admission to the country [Mexico] of a foreigner obliges him to strictly comply with the conditions established for him in the immigration permit and the dispositions established by the respective laws."

Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution specifically authorizes the immediate expulsion of any foreigner whose presence the Mexican government deems objectionable. It states:

Article 33 - Foreigners are those who do not possess the qualities determined in Article 30. They have the right to the guarantees of Chapter I of the first title of this Constitution, but the Executive of the Union has the exclusive right to expel from the national territory, immediately and without necessity of judicial proceedings, all foreigners whose stay it judges inconvenient. Foreigners may not, in any manner, involve themselves in the political affairs of the country.

And, from time to time, my fellow gringos do get booted out of Mexico for violating this law.

In May of 2002, 18 Americans were expelled for participating in May Day marches. In September of the same year 5 more were booted out for taking part in a demonstration in Oaxaca.

And in 2006, three Americans (two lawyers and an activist) working on a child molestation cover-up case involving Cardinal Mahony and the Archbishop of Mexico traveled to Mexico, on a tourist visa, to publicize a lawsuit being brought in Los Angeles. After holding a press conference, the three were expelled from Mexico and banned from returning for 5 years. [ Mexico Bans Lawyer Who Sued Archbishop By John Spano, Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2006]

So anytime things get out of hand, the Mexican government has an ace in the hole – Article 33.

If in the future, the Mexican government decides it doesn't want so many Americans living here, or decides to kick us out, well, that's the sovereign right of the Mexican government.

But let's not have any more nonsense about a few American retirees and art students in Mexico being equivalent to the ongoing illegal Mexican invasion of U.S. soil.

American citizen Allan Wall ( email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.