'They Love Us Here': American Migrants in Mexico

Americans go south in search of a house, a maid, and a gardener

| March 8, 2007

In the hysteria clouding the immigration debate in the United States, some shrill refrains are heard over and over again. 'They don't respect our culture!' 'They don't assimilate!' 'They don't pay taxes!' Plenty of experts have debunked such myths, but there may be some truth to them south of the border, among Americans living in Mexico.

Writing for Dissent , Sheila Croucher spent time with a growing American community in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, and asked, 'To what extent do these American migrants assimilate into Mexican society?' She discovered that 'the answer is minimally.' Of the 80,000 inhabitants of San Miguel Allende, an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 are US citizens. Money is one of the biggest factors leading so many southward. Croucher quotes one luxury migrant as saying, 'In the United States I could not sustain the lifestyle to which I was accustomed.' Such lifestyles often include a maid, a cook, a gardener, and a lavish colonial estate at a fraction of what it would cost in the United States.

Many Americans are able to stretch their American dollars and Mexican pesos even further by not paying taxes. Christobal Finkelstein Franyuti, director of international relations for San Miguel, estimates that the local government loses more than $360,000 (or 4 million pesos) each year in unpaid taxes from unlicensed businesses. Foreigners, Franyuti says, 'are not paying income tax or lodging tax. They are typically not paying Mexican Social Security to their domestic help.'

One reason why so many Americans aren't paying their Mexican taxes is that they don't think of themselves as Mexican, Croucher writes. Americans in San Miguel enjoy American products (like soy milk), watch English-language films, and typically don't learn Spanish. Croucher reports that many continue to keep a permanent address or PO Box inside the United States, so they can 'maintain Medicare benefits, access to US financial services, memberships with Netflix, and eBay, and the timely arrival of their favorite US magazines.'

The American southern migration has begun to spark tension in San Miguel. 'We should forbid gringos from coming into Mexico,' says local merchant Sandra Galicia, 'just as they do with us.' Croucher predicts that a widespread backlash against Americans is 'unlikely,' even in the face of anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States. What is questionable, though, is what effect the Americans will have on San Miguel. Croucher quotes Americans saying, 'They love us here,' and, 'Forty new Americans here means forty new maid jobs.' In the long run, however, the author questions if those jobs will truly benefit the Mexicans of San Miguel. -- Bennett Gordon

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