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Gringos Invade Mexico!

The following excerpt is from a recently published book on immigration titled, No One Is Illegal by Justin Akers Chacón and Mike Davis. We find it interesting and thought our readers might as well, as the authors purportedly have researched a lot of recent data and trends that apply to gringo immigrants to Mexico. Much food for thought.

The Baby-Boomers Head South 

What few people – at least, outside of Mexico – have bothered to notice is that while all the nannies, cooks, and maids have been heading north to tend the luxury lifestyles of irate Republicans, the Gringo hordes have been rushing south to enjoy glorious budget retirements and affordable second homes under the Mexican sun.

Yes, in former California Governor Pete Wilson’s immortal words, “They just keep coming.” Over the last decade, the U.S. State Department estimates that the number of Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (or one-quarter of all U.S. expatriates). Remittances from the United States to Mexico have risen dramatically from $9 billion to $14.5 billion in just two years. Though initially interpreted as representing a huge spike in illegal workers (who send parts of their salaries across the border to family), it turns out to be mainly money sent by Americans to themselves in order to finance Mexican homes and retirements.

Although some of them are certainly naturalized U.S. citizens returning to towns and villages of their birth after lifetimes of toil al otro lado, the director-general of FONATUR, the official agency for tourism development in Mexico, recently characterized the typical investors in that country’s real estate as American “baby boomers who have paid off in good part their initial mortgage and are coming into inheritance money.”

Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, “The land rush is occurring at the beginning of a demographic tidal wave. With more than 70 million American baby boomers expected to retire in the next two decades… some experts predict a vast migration to warmer – and cheaper – climates. Often such buyers purchase a property 10 to 15 years before retirement, use it as a vacation home, and then eventually move there for most of the year. Developers increasingly are taking advantage of the trend, building gated communities, condominiums, and golf courses.”

The extraordinary rise in U.S. Sunbelt property values gives gringos immense economic leverage. Shrewd baby-boomers are not simply feathering nests for eventual retirement, but also increasingly speculating in Mexican resort property, sending up property values to the detriment of locals whose children are consequently driven into slums or forced to emigrate north, only increasing the “invasion” charges. As in Galway, Corsica, or, for that matter, Montana, the global second-home boom is making life in beautiful, natural settings unaffordable for their traditional residents.

Some expatriates are experimenting with exotic places such as the Riviera Maya in Yucatan or Tulum in Quintana Roo, but more prefer such well-established havens as San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta. Here the norteamericanos make themselves at home in more ways than one.

An English-language paper in Puerto Vallarta, for instance, recently applauded the imminent arrival of a new shopping mall that will include Hooters, Burger King, Subway, Chili’s and Starbucks. Only Dunkin’ Donuts (con salsa?), the paper complained, was still missing.

The gringo footprint is largest (and brings the most significant geopolitical consequences) in Baja California, the 1,000-mile long desert appendage to the gridlocked state-nation governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, Baja real-estate websites ooze almost as much hyperbole as those devoted to stalking the phantom menace of illegal immigrants – just in a far more upbeat tone when it comes to the question of immigrant invasions.

In essence, Alta (Upper) California is beginning to overflow into Baja, an epochal process that, if unchecked, will produce intolerable social marginalization and ecological devastation in Mexico’s last true frontier region. All the contradictions of post-industrial California – runaway land inflation in the coastal zone, sprawling suburban development in interior valleys and deserts, freeway congestion and lack of mass transit, and the astronomical growth of motorized recreation – dictate the invasion of the gorgeous “empty” peninsula to the south. To use a term from a bad but not irrelevant past, Baja is Anglo California’s Lebenstraum.

Indeed, the first two stages of informal annexation have already occurred. Under the banner of NAFTA, Southern California has exported hundreds of its sweatshops and toxic industries to the maquiladora zones of Tijuana and Mexicali. The Pacific Maritime Association, representing the West Coast’s major shipping companies, has joined forces with Korean and Japanese corporations to explore the construction of a vast new container port at Punta Colonel, 150 miles south of Tijuana, which would undercut the power of longshore unionism in San Pedro and San Francisco.

Secondly, tens of thousands of gringo retirees and winter-residents are now clustered at both ends of the peninsula. Along the northwest coast from Tijuana to Ensenada, a recent advertisement for a real-estate conference at UCLA boasts that “there are presently over 57 real-estate developments… with over 11,000 homes/condos with an inventory value of over $3 billion… all of them geared for the U.S. market.”

Meanwhile, at the tropical end of Baja, a gilded gringo enclave has emerged in the twenty-mile strip between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo. Los Cabos is part of that global archipelago of real-estate hot spots where continuous double-digit increases in property values suck in speculative capital from all over the world. Ordinary gringos can participate in this glamorous Los Cabos real-estate casino through the purchase and resale of fractional time-shares in condominiums and beach homes.

Although Western Canadian and Arizona speculators have taken large bites out of Baja’s southern cape, Los Cabos – at least judging from the registration of private planes at the local airport – has essentially become a resort suburb of Orange County, the home of the most vehement Minutemen chapters. (Many wealthy Southern Californians evidently see no contradiction between fuming over the “alien invasion” with one’s conservative friends at the Newport Marina one day, and flying down to Cabos the next for some sea-kayaking or celebrity golf.)


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22 Responses to “Gringos Invade Mexico!”

  1. Interesing reading. I came to Mexico through the automotive industry 15 years ago. In the town where I am at, I have never seen sweatshops or toxic industries. The Mexico Government has strict rules like OSHA has in the US. Also the Labor Conciliation takes care of the workers rights. I am one of the rare gringos that moved into Mexico instead of living on the US side of the border. That is one decision I will never regret.

  2. Seems to take the bleakest possible view of events. Is Baja being “informally annexed” by the state of California? Many Californians might counter that their state is being annexed by Mexico. In truth, the increasing international currents help both regions: more investment dollars in BC, and a greater labor pool in the US. And that last paragraph just makes no sense at all.

  3. Maybe that last paragraph doesn’t make sense because we “excerpted” a bit too aggresively, Dan. I think the point is being made ironically (or sarcastically) that folks who fly south via private plane do so without visas, so they are undocumented aliens, too.

    The book in this chapter is arguing a reverse polemic to show how the standard anti-immigration polemic is a foolish double-standard. As you suggest, when we stand back and look at the big picture, it would seem both countries benefit from migration. As gringos move south, they create jobs and as Mexicans move north, they create consumers. We bring our money (which is labor in another form) and they bring their labor (which is money in another form). It would be very interesting to see what happened in a truely free market between our two countries.

  4. How sad that something that should be a reason for rejoice (source of foreign currency by Americans coming to live in Mexico) originated such an angry and inaccurate article! I was born in Mexico but I am also an American citizen since seven years ago. Threfore, I have lived in both countries. About the article, I have some things to say: First of all, if in fact people flying in private jets to Los Cabos do not have to show visas or any legal documentation, whose fault is that?
    If this is true, I know for a fact that this is not being the case for illegal immigrants coming from Central and South America. Mexican authorities make sure that ALL people who cross the southern border has proper documentation or they are not welcome with open arms.
    Maybe a double standard is taking place in our beautiful Mexico among its northern and southern borders. Second of all, there is no point of comparison (legally and economically) between the American people who choose to live in Mexico and our Mexican people who cross the border to live in the United States. Two significant differences come to mind. One is that American people live legally in Mexico and most Mexican people cross the border undocumented. Another difference is that legal American retirees living in Mexico do NOT receive free health care. Conversely, undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S. receive free health care and free school for their children. Finally, I would like to advice all my people in Mexico that instead of wasting their time and energy thinking and writing angry lines, they should use their time in working hard and trying to make out of our country a safe and beautiful place where Mexican people want to stay and live in peace.

  5. More than in Baja, Canadians are rapidly populating the Lake Chapala area – Ajijic is perhaps the largest colony of Canadians outside of Canada, or so the embassy in Mexico City says. (Canadians seems to like Jalisco state.

    And with the influx of both Canadian and Americans into Lakeside, real estate prices have also surged. Many people complain that property taxes doubled, jumping from $50 to $100 per year. ;)

  6. Dear Maria,

    Thank you for your comments. We have met several Mexicans lately, both documented and not, who have recently returned from the U.S. to Mexico to start new, productive lives here.

  7. There is so much baloney in the article that I scarcely know where to start. First off, there are nowhere near 1 million Gringos living in Mexico. The only entity that has an official count is the Mexican government, and it puts the number at about 200,000.

    To think that any significant portion of the $14.5 billion in remittances coming south are those of U.S. retirees is absurd. There simply are not that many of us. Remittances to Mexico from the U.S., which is the second greatest source of income in Mexico after the oil industry, is money sent back by Mexicans working in the U.S., mostly illegally. Bet your life on it.

    Starbucks, WalMarts, Subways, etc., are not following Gringos to Mexico, as the article implies. Those and many other U.S. chains are moving into Mexico because Mexicans love to shop and eat there. Go into those chains in Mexico, and what do you find? Mexicans employees and Mexican customers.

    I personally do not believe there will ever be a huge number of Americans moving to Mexico and STAYING. The cultural divide is enormous. The majority of those who do move to Mexico go to Gringo enclaves and circle the wagons.

  8. Michael,

    It seems some of our readers don’t appreciate the “tongue in cheek” nature and attendant irony of this book passage.

    We posted it because it rang true for us. Here’s a small sample of what we’ve observed first-hand here in Yucatan, as well as during our travels around Mexico, and in the press over the past five years:

    The U.S. State Department Online:

    “The scope of U.S.-Mexican relations goes far beyond diplomatic and official contacts; it entails extensive commercial, cultural, and educational ties, as demonstrated by the annual figure of nearly a million legal border crossings a day. In addition, more than a half-million American citizens live in Mexico. More than 2,600 U.S. companies have operations there, and the U.S. accounts for 55% of all foreign direct investment in Mexico…”

    The New York Times:

    “At least 600,000 Americans — again, an acknowledged undercount based on government records — are permanent residents of Mexico. That is by far the largest number of United States citizens living in any foreign country.”

    The Dallas Morning News:

    “The U.S. State Department estimates that the number of Americans in Mexico has increased from about 200,000 a decade ago to between 600,000 and 1 million today.”

    This is a rather telling article from The Boston Globe:

    “President Bush’s young, Hispanic nephew and his bride are on the campaign trail — in Mexico, where they are joining the increasingly vigorous battle for the votes of 1 million US citizens living south of the border.”

    We cannot find the source, but we have read in the financial press that the past five years has seen the largest migration of U.S. citizens to Mexico since the Civil War. The main reason cited for the increase is demographic. The Baby Boomers have seen the future and they can’t afford it. But there are many other factors, including the modernization of Mexico (Gringos apparently follow Walmart), investment and other business opportunities, and lifestyle choices (remember many of the new arrivals wore tie-dyed t-shirts when they were younger – some still do :) ).

    We can find no source that disputes the significant increase in money sent to Mexico from the U.S. over the past five years in the form of direct investment by private U.S. citizens, be they Anglo or Latino, mostly for real estate purchases, business investment and lifestyle maintenance. We have read anywhere from $3 to $5 billion. This investment is not restricted only to retirees.

    Cultural differences aren’t what they used to be, either. Is is our experience that educated, urban Mexicans have much more in common with us than they do with indigenous Mexicans like the Mayans. That said, Mexico’s cultural diversity is – at least for us – one of its attractions.

  9. I live in the Philadelphia area, hoping to retire either in Mexico or Panama in 2 years. We have a large influx of Mexicans. One couple I literally pulled off the street who were having a very difficult time. They have lived in our house now for almost 2 years. We are about to have our second Mexican born in our household.

    What I will say about the Mexican problem is this:

    1. Mexicans do not want (in general) to be Americans. They want to earn enough money to return and live OK in Mexico.

    2.Politicians of both parties are trying to make voters out of them, which is what has the American citizen aghast. If they were allowed to work, without being criminals, and have easy passage back and forth, the problem would disappear to a large extent. Because of the current situation, many are trying to have all their babies born in the US, entitling them to dual citizenship.

    3. Although most Mexicans want to return to Mexico, it is not happening in large numbers. They like our social service network. Their healthcare is mostly free. Their babies are born for free. Usually the babies qualify for welfare, since the parents are not documented workers without real social security numbers. Once the babies start school, their lives are here. When the families were centered in the Southwest, travel was easy. From Massachusetts? Different logistics.

    4. Problems? Take driver licenses. When an American gets stopped with an expired license, what happens?. Nothing good happens. A Mexican with an expired Mexican license? What can the police do? Nothing at all.

    5. What angers me is if you are against this migrant scheme the government proposes, you are called a racist. All we hear about is the “path to citizenship.” Like the Mexican government allows Americans to be citizens. The American people can see through these schemes as political self-serving. Unfortunately, the Mexican aliens take the brunt of it.

  10. Hola Tim,

    We really appreciate your experiences and observations. The most amazing thing about this debate is how every statement can be true and false at the same time. We suppose this is why it is a controversy.

    While we can agree with many of your points (in one context or another) as expatriates from California, we have another perspective:

    1. Historically, Mexicans were Americans before Anglos were Americans. California was a state in Mexico before it was, uh, “purchased” (at the point of a gun) by the U.S. All the Mexicans who lived there did not move south to the new border. Mexicans have always been a part of the history and development of the U.S. This is most obvious in the Southwest and Gulf states. We grew up watching Mexican immigrants in the fields work their way up to achieve the American Dream. To understand our perspective of Mexican immigration to the U.S., read anything by Victor Villasenor.

    2. Still true technically, but the laws entitling immigrants to citizenship for marrying a U.S. citizen or by having native born children were changed after 9/11. These conditions no longer provide an automatic path to citizenship. Now you have to return to Mexico and apply at a U.S. consulate. And wait. And wait.

    3. Mexico has an even wider social services system than the U.S. But if you’re stuck in the U.S., you have to use the services you can. We know several families in Mexico who haven’t seen their relatives living in the U.S. for years because they are afraid if they return to Mexico they will not be able to get back into the U.S. and will lose everything they own there.

    4. Any local law enforcement agency that chooses to can be empowered to detect and deport anyone without a license who cannot prove citizenship. See this latest article on the subject in the Washington Post. The climate of intimidation in the U.S. has compelled a growing number of Mexicans to sell out and return to Mexico.

    5. It’s very easy for a U.S. citizen to live in Mexico legally, and after living here for five years, taking a Spanish language and Mexican history test and paying a small fee, a U.S. citizen can become a Mexican citizen. Meanwhile, the U.S. has some of the least inviting immigration and naturalization laws of any country. It is very difficult to obtain a residence visa there.

    The easiest way to obtain a visa or become a U.S.citizen is to be wealthy. In this sense, government policies seem to be based on class.

  11. I’m an American born baby-boomer, and a yankee living in Texas. It seems to me there could be work for all, but what do I know? The idea of living in Mexico is appealing in two ways: I like the culture and people (what I know of them). And since I had the misfortune to have worked for WorldCom, I really need to stretch the remainder of my retirement savings. I’ll be lucky to have one home. So how does one find out about such places to retire in Mexico? Not jet-setter enclaves but regular communities for people with very modest resources who don’t necessarily need to have Americans for neighbors? But at the same time, places where Americans are well received.

  12. Dear SR,

    In our experience, you will be well received in any part of Mexico. There are some areas where it may be more difficult for some to live, due to social unrest (such as Oaxaca) or due to isolation (like Chiapas), but generally speaking, much of Mexico is more modern and friendly than U.S. citizens are lead to believe. We obviously have a bias toward the Yucatan Peninsula, but many other areas of Mexico are enjoying an influx of expatriate migration.

    You have the best resource for finding a place for yourself in Mexico right in front of you: the Internet. With Google, you can search a wide assortment of websites dedicated to helping you find a suitable destination in Mexico for relocation. To start, try our companion website, Mexico in English.

    Thousands of U.S. citizens like ourselves are moving to Mexico every year, and if they can do it, so can you!

  13. Lots of folks have started wonderful lives in Mexico and all of central america. You can’t beat the prices. AND I’m finding DSL in places like Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta is more reliable than in the U.S.?

    Don Pato
    San Jose

  14. You write a very positive and informative website. Thank you

  15. Sorry to dredge up this old issue, but I just noticed your reply to my original comment while I was Google-surfing. Do forgive.

    The fact that some “prestigious” newspapers claim there are half a million or a million Gringos living in Mexico is not convincing. Where did they get these figures? Certainly not from the U.S. government because the U.S. government does not collect those statistics. There was a U.S. plan about three or so years ago to count the Gringos here, going through the U.S. Embassy somehow, but it never got off the ground. Did not happen.

    I like it that the NY Times cites these nonexistent government records. The Dallas Morning News cites “estimates.” Estimates based on what? Gringos moving to Mexico do not have to inform the U.S. government. I never did. Who does?

    Where do these newspaper figures come from? Glad you asked. I was in the newspaper business for 30 years. Way back when, if a reporter was writing a story and needed some detail, he would go to his “morgue,” the newspaper´s library where they keep old clippings. And he would find his info in some previous story, the assumption being the previous writer actually knew what he was talking about, had done some research.

    These days, reporters go to the internet, a vastly larger “morgue.” But they do the same thing.

    If some cub reporter on the Ledger in Barefoot Bottom, Georgia, wrote a story on the same subject, it often is taken as gospel, yes, even at the “prestigious” papers, and details, “facts,” are repeated, often without attribution.

    There is a snowball effect. Now, it´s the NY Times that reports that such-and-such is a fact, even though it is not. The internet has resulted in millions of incorrect “facts” being repeated over and over. Not good.

    But, let´s look at this from another angle. What are the big Gringo havens in Mexico? San Miguel, of course. And around Chapala. Lots are in Mazatlan, upper Baja, Yucatan, too.

    The Gringos in San Miguel number about 8,000-10,000. It would take 100 or more San Miguels in Mexico to total a million. Fifty San Miguels to total half a million. Where are these Gringo havens hiding?

    The only official record of Gringos in Mexico is that of the Mexican government. None other exists. None. Zip. Cero. Zed. And they, last I checked a year or two ago, put the number at about 200,000. And that sounds right to me.

  16. Wow…. well, I don’t really care how many Norte Americanos live in Mexico. I mean, it isn’t an emotional issue for me at all. But, Mexico is an enormous country (3 times the size of Texas – source CIA World FactBook) and has a population of 108.7 million (source – same, July 2007 est).

    One million gringos in Mexico would be less than 1% of the population; whereas 20 million Mexicans in the USA is over 6% of our population. So, the numbers don’t seem so hard to believe to me. Less than 1% would scarcely be a visible number on any given day. It’s not like all 1 million are heaped up in a trailer court someplace – they are spread over a million square miles. (speaking figuratively)

    There are many retirement developments in Baja California. There are many gringos living in Guadalajara, in Mexico City, Monterrey, in lots of border areas, in resort areas, etc.

    New York Times from October 26, 2003: “Baja is closer by land and air to the United States than it is to the rest of Mexico; state officials recorded more than 30 million trips by Americans who spent well over $1 billion last year.”

    So, 30 million trips – recorded, government data trips – to Baja, one state in Mexico, in one year. One million people 30 times. Or 300,000 people 100 times. Or 3 million people 10 times each. No matter how you look at it, a lot of people are traveling to Baja California.

    So what does that have to do with the population of gringos in Mexico, you ask? Simply a comparison to show that it is not at all ridiculous to think of 1 million people — gringos — spread over the entire country of Mexico when 30 million entries to Baja California occur in one year alone.

    Where are they all hiding? They are all over Mexico!

  17. More reporting from sloppy journalists for those who enjoy sloppy stuff:

    “Officials at the American embassy estimate that there are “officially” more than 600,000 American citizens living permanently in Mexico, but concede the actual number is closer to 800,000. Treasury Department officials in Washington estimate that the number of Treasury checks — Social Security, Veteran Administrations, tax refunds — sent to Mexico is “in the ballpark of 750,000.”

    In Baja California, an estimated 100,000 Americans have created the first North American land rush of the 21st century. In the Yucatan peninsula, there are more Americans retirees than in some cities in southern Florida.”

    and from 2001, another 7500: (they / we? are scattered all over!):

    “Six years ago, on February 5, 2001, in an article entitled “American Retirees Flock to a ‘Paradise’ in Mexico,” the Washington Post reported that in the small Mexican town of Anjijic, where 7,500 Americans lived, there was a banner just past the Gringo Grill that in English read, “Welcome to your new home.” ”

    well, and this, also from 2001:

    “About 7,500 people from the United States have taken that sign to heart and carved out a little America in and around this fishing village on Lake Chapala, so now there are about as many Chryslers with Virginia license plates as there are burros hauling hay. And this is just one of the gringo-heavy towns around here. About 50,000 Americans live in the Guadalajara region, which includes the resort city of Puerta Vallarta. ”
    “Officials at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara say one of their major interactions with the American community around Lake Chapala is arranging the return of bodies to the United States. On average, about five Americans a week die in Mexico, they say. ”

    Someone could take that figure, apply some mortality tables and come up with the number of living. But, if 5 per week are dying in one community, that’s a lot of Americans.

  18. This is what i think the Mexican goverment/people should do. Leave the gringos that are already leaving in Mexico but not allow anymore in. Instead of burning the drugs sell them to the gringo and therefore make more money and setup schools, hospitals, ect so they won’t need the help from the gringos. Just like the gringo sells it’s food to diferent coutry’s Mexico should united and sell the drung to the gringo. Not use it just sell it and they will be better off.

  19. Amber, I am really sorry that you feel that way. Both the USA and Canada (and for that matter Mexico) have been settled for hundreds of years by immigrants. While I can understand the frustration of seeing housing prices being driven up by a large influx of foreigners it is happening at resort spots all over the world not just in Mexico. In some of these places the staff at hotels and restaurants can’t even afford to live there (Whistler & Banff in Canada are good examples of this).
    I think that most Canadiens and Americans are not interested in buying drugs and most of us would certainly not be purchasing or using drugs in Mexico. The drug trade has done more harm then good to Mexico and the Mexican people. Witness the killings of police officers in the northern states of Mexico. There are a lot of potential tourists that will never get to see your beautiful country and meet the warm & generous people that live there (injecting millions of dollars into the Mexican economy while they are there) because of the drug trade.

  20. HELP! I know i’m going to make this move, i’m single, 62 yrs young, still want to work possibly do a coupon or a home improvement in English BUT how do I compare and find the differences between Puerto Vallerta and for instance Lake Chapela etc without going to them personally.

  21. Like always, Gringos get their way into the better lands anywhere, they are going to trash Mexico’s rich ecological spots and then take the land like they did with half of Mexican land back in the day. That’s how they got Texas.

  22. True that…


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