YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Claudette: I’ve only been here since November 2009 and we moved from Dallas, Texas.
YL: Why did you move?
Claudette: Where shall I begin? Like most other expats, I discovered Merida while on vacation. I never thought we would end up dreaming about our return for about 5 full years. During that time, I became more and more disillusioned with my career in jewelry design, while my husband struggled with finding a job in the textile industry, despite his 15 years of experience. We soon started a family and raising our kids in a Spanish-speaking country became a priority. I am Mexican-American and speak Spanish fluently but my kids were now being raised in a home where English was the preferred language, cartoons were all in English and no Mexican grandparents were nearby. I knew we had to do something and quick!
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Claudette: We were instantly enchanted with Merida, and no other country was ever considered. It had to be Mexico. I wanted to go back to my roots and my husband, Lars, wouldn’t have it any other way. It was an instant decision that would take us years to finally accomplish.
YL: How did you come to Merida in the first place?
Claudette: My mom was the one to make the suggestion. She is from Northern Mexico and she had never been Merida but she simply suggested it because she heard it was a nice place to visit. Never in a million years did she think we would end up moving here.
YL: How does your family in the United States feel about your move here?
Claudette: My parents are still in Texas and approval of our move was extremely difficult. I think they finally accepted it when they came to visit us a few months ago. They saw how happy we were and my mom got to experience Merida first hand. She finally understood that this move was a positive thing for our family.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the
Claudette: We are currently renting because we really did not have a choice. It’s not like we had 100K laying around but even if we did, we are glad we are renting because we are getting to learn what works and what doesn’t for our particular needs as a family. This will certainly come into play when we finally get to build our dream home.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Claudette: Yes… and then some! I knew I was burnt out on design and never again wanted to work for another company. I was ready for something completely different and so far I am doing it. I have just launched a group travel company that caters exclusively to women. My fun getaways are currently focused on art, food and language. In my short six months in Merida, I have made great friends with whom I am happy to collaborate. So I am also involved with an underground restaurant called Remixto. We hope to host a different culinary event once a month.
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Claudette: The constant holidays. There is a celebration day for pretty much everything you can think of. Who doesn’t love a day off?
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Claudette: I call this the land of opportunity. If you have an idea and are passionate about it, chances are your going to be doing something that is still considered fresh and much needed in Merida. I hear the city has come a long way in just the last 5 years and yet there is still plenty of room for innovative thinkers. I absolutely love that you can make your dreams a reality here.
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Claudette: I can’t say I miss much except for a good mani and pedi. I have been to several fancy places in town and I’ve come out of there with my toes bleeding or in pain.
YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?
Claudette: I don’t miss the isolation of suburban life. I don’t miss the dull and long commutes. I don’t miss my former job or life one bit.
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Claudette: I love chorizo. I love it in all its incarnations from Cantimpalo style to Longaniza de Valladollid.
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Claudette: I’ve only been here for six months, from November until now and I have to say, I didn’t care for the crazy cold January we had. We were not ready for that at all.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Claudette: I recently discovered Izamal and has become THE place I will take my visitors in the future. It is such a picturesque little town and it is full of history and charm.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Claudette: I had dinner at Santiago Park tonight. Why? Because the middle stall has the best tacos al pastor EVER and they are only two blocks away from my house.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Claudette: I was just pondering that today and I am amazed with the variety of Yucatecan dishes my housekeeper has prepared for me in the last 4 months. She has repeated dishes a few times, only because I liked them so much I wanted to eat them again. Yet most tourists think that Yucatecan food is limited to about ten items because they usually see the same assortment on restaurant menus. If they only knew!
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Claudette: I definitely have both but an overwhelming majority have turned out to be from the expat crowd. That’s because I’m a lot funnier in English.
YL: How old are your children and where do they go to school?
Claudette: I have two children, Paulo 5 and Sophia 3. The decision on Paulo´s school was easy. We wanted to find something within walking distance and a school that offered classes in both Spanish and English. We found several but settled on Colegio Americano and we are happy with that decision. He absolutely loves it! As for Sophia, we had to be patient with our little one; adjusting to her new city and home has been a difficult process for her. Even now after 6 months, she is still adjusting. We eventually enrolled her in a different school than her brother’s. It is within walking distance but we found this one was ideal for her because of the small class size of ten and her teachers have been wonderful with her. She is attending Educacion y Patria.
YL: How do you feel about raising your children in the Centro?
Claudette: We love it and we wouldn´t want it any other way. Gated communities or suburban living is a thing of the past for us. We left that isolated existence behind in favor of a place that truly feels like a community.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Claudette: That is an interesting question because I have never been in the tourism industry before so, I have no idea what that would be like in the States except I could assume you need a degree, lots of contacts and you have to work your way up. Here…not so much.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Claudette: A new business venture requires hard work and long hours no matter where you are. This will be our primary source of income, so as Tim Gunn of Project Runway would say, "Make it work!"
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Claudette: No. I work hard no matter where I am.
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Claudette: My mother is from Northern Mexico and my father is from South Texas, the part of Texas that never bothered to adopt English, when they became part of the US. So we spoke Spanish at home and I learned English as a second language at school. I now speak both fluently and I would like to think, without an accent. That is until you ask a Yucatecan and they are quick to notice I sound like a Norteña.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Claudette: What I find interesting in the Spanish language is the poetic quality and formality of a business letter. This is something I intend to master someday. I get some notes from my son’s school that are just so beautifully written that it puts anything that I could ever write to shame.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Claudette: I am a dual citizen thanks to my mom being from Mexico so I hold both a US and Mexican passport. I claimed my right to be a Mexican only a year ago as I was preparing for my move to Merida.
YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?
Claudette: I have traveled all over Mexico but I still have much to see. I have to say Guanajuato is one of my favorite places. It is a very romantic city and it reminds me so much of Spain. I happened to visit both Mexico and Spain during the same summer back in college. My parents went there on their honeymoon and I would like to go there with my husband Lars someday.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Claudette: I get asked "’Where are you from?" a lot. I’m 5’9 tall so I’m not blending in too well. I have never felt resentment in anyway, but I dont feel like I’m pulling off ‘Mexican’ successfully quite yet.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Claudette: I’m passionate about the conservation of historical homes and I recently read that there is a group trying to do just that on Paseo Montejo. I hope that they are able to accomplish what they are setting out to do. That would be a wonderful thing for the city and its tourism of course.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Claudette: I am very optimistic about our future here. I have big goals for my travel business and I have every intention of staying and raising my family here.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Claudette: Based on my experience of living in a rental and getting to learn what works and what doesn’t for my family, I would recommend others do the same. The climate is very different here and you have to account for that and your needs when designing your new home. Its not enough to know you want a 3 bedroom/ 2 bath house. There are many other factors like climate, bugs, air flow, solar direction, busy street noise to consider when planning. I highly recommend renting before buying.
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Claudette: Que orgullo ser Mexicana. Viva Mexico!
YL: If there is anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour…)?
Claudette: This message is intended for any potential expats pouring over this interview now as they try to get a glimpse of life in the Yucatan. If they are not here yet because of fear of the unknown or simply because they are doubting themselves, I say to them…BELIEVE! If you really want a different life for yourself, whether it is here in Merida or anywhere else in the world, focus on your goal and don’t let any obstacles stop you. Expect family and friends to call you crazy for it but in the end, its about making yourself happy first. Believe in your dreams and go for it!