Run for the Border
I was somewhat disappointed this exchange in Salon.com between interviewer Katie Ryder and Steven Bender, the author of Run for the Border: Vice and Virtue in U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings (New York University Press, 2012).
Many U.S. citizens go to Mexico to retire, which, as you discuss, has a complicated effect on the Mexican economy. There are benefits to an influx of relatively wealthy people, but there are also very specific ways that it harms the Mexican economy.
Yes. Like the maquiladora experience in Mexico, the influx of U.S. residents as retirees, or even as buyers of second homes and vacation homes, really leaves a conflicted economic record. Certainly there’s a boost to the local economy, with the initial building of these retirement and other homes, but that tends to be a fleeting economic presence, and if anything it drives up prices and really excludes Mexican residents from the prime real estate. You have this dichotomy then between the sort of walled-in southern-California-type oasis that’s inhabited by the retirees and the working-class housing of the laborers on the other side of the walled-in community. And that’s a dichotomy that we find in the United States as well, but it’s a particularly stark contrast in these Mexican retirement havens.
My disappointment isn’t that Bender appears to cover areas we don’t usually think about when it comes to discussions of U.S.-Mexican economic and social relationship I presume Bender goes into more detail that just making the superficial observation that low-wage service workers generally don’t live as well as those they serve and that can cause resentment, and that rich people drive up the cost of housing.
I’d be much more interested in knowing what effects those retirees are having on things like the social fabric of their communities.
The “gringo enclaves” mentioned by Bender are only a part of the foreign retiree story. Steven M. Fry (Surviving Yucatan) posted on a gruesome incident in his part of the country (where the retirees are thick on the ground) of what appears to be the result of cultural “interactions” gone horribly wrong. The victim of what appears to have been a murder was a foreigner not well likes, nor known, to his neighbors. An acquaintance of mine… an octogenarian retiree… died at home, and the body wasn’t discovered for several days, which might not happen in one of those enclaves that Bender mentions, but is part of the retiree story here… U.S. and Canadian retirees — for whom ignoring the neighbors is considered part and parcel of “independence” are perhaps setting themselves up for this kind of incident (not that it would matter to them if they’re dead), but it raises an issue that I don’t see much addressed. As these foreign retirees become debilitated, how will society deal with them? Care for the aged is largely a family matter in Mexico, but it is good business to cater to “independent” living for the aging. Since these retirees are not voters, nor really part of Mexican culture, I’m not sure whether they would be in a position to “demand” facilities be made available for the dependent, nor will they be in a position to expect much in the way of social support.
In less life-changing matters, the social implications are also in need of discussion. While I make fun of the foreigners who spend their waking hours in search of Canadian coffee brands, or some exotic appliance like a toaster (though I’ve seen them sold here in Mazatlán, I’ve never seen one in a Mexican kitchen), the gringo ghettos seem to have been the wedge for the entry of U.S. chains into Mexico. Stores like “Costco” don’t often find their way into places like Itzapalapa, but you will find them in Puerto Vallarta or Morelia… and in places that have always had consumers oriented towards the U.S., like Hermosillo or Monterrey. Whether this is a retiree effect or something else, I’d like to know.
And, while I’m technically an “assimilated immigrant” and on the pathway to citizenship, I’m obviously a foreigner, and getting to that age where I’m often mistaken for just another gringo retiree (what’s retirement? I doubt I could afford it on a Mexican income). Whether there are enough of us to have any sort of macroeconomic impact I can’t say. Certainly, I wouldn’t have the impact of, say, Reuben Creel, the Lincoln Administration’s consul in Chihuahua whose marriage to Angela Terrazas launched a political and economic dynasty that has dominated Chihuahua for over a century. Individual foreigners, or adopted Mexicans, like silversmith William Spratling or artist and novelist Leonora Carrington… or even temporary residents like William S. Burroughs… made their mark, and in some ways changed the culture (or the Mexican perception of their own culture). Spratling did have some micro-economic impact, and I know a few people who turn a few pesos out of Burroughs aficionados but do we — and should we — expect to have a “macrosocial” impact?
And do the retirees?
I would hope Run for the Border: Vice and Virtue in U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings would consider these issues, but from the interview, it appears the usual “drugs, oil and Mexican workers in the U.S.” dominate the conversation.