Living Here, Not There

Oaxaca, where I live, is a very transient community. Of the Americans living here, many visit for a few months a year or less, then move back in the summer to enjoy the heat, humidity, and dementia of U.S. culture. Snowbirds, we call them. They come from Canada too.

The transiency of this place also affects Oaxacanians. Over the past twelve years I’ve been here, two of my best Mexican friends decamped to the U.S. and it’s been hard to replace them. Some go there to work and support their local families. Others give up on the basically tourist economy. The pull of family draws others, gringo and Mexican.

For Americans, learning Spanish may just be too big a challenge. Some feel (rightly) that they will never really identify with Mexican culture and mores. Asking gringos why they choose to give up on living here—and how long they might stay—elicits many responses: Mexican culture doesn’t work for them; it’s too remote here, too different; they love the beach but it’s too hot in summertime; medical care is too erratic.

Some can’t stand the frequent bloqueos, where aggrieved social groups halt traffic on major thoroughfares for hours. Or the contrasts between poverty and wealth that abound. Living well here requires at least a modicum of wealth and a sense of history.

But the big draws are the rate of exchange (it’s cheap to live here), the food, and the climate. These can mean a lot. The small talk in my group usually covers all of the above, though conversation with the many resident foodies can get a little tedious—for instance, babbling on about the newest restaurant or the grand molé at Le Catedral.

Personal responses to living here vary considerably. One resident couple I know splits up frequently because she likes her time in the U.S. and he enjoys more time here. Another has a house at the beach but they also want to spend half time at the house in Arizona they are building. Another couple will be moving back to Virginia for better medical care and a more congenial social atmosphere.

Twelve years ago I decided to change my life, live more cheaply, and flee American politics and culture, with which I had been too involved. I told friends I was broke and needed a total change. I’ve explained some of the causes behind my move in a post here last July entitled “Expats Exposed.” Take a look if you are curious about my motivations.

My move here accomplished all I had hoped for. After living in many places in the U.S. and traveling abroad in my younger days, I can’t conceive of a better place to flop and face the bizarre, often desperate world we live in.

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