Thursday, June 13, 2024

Not every expat came to Mexico lured by a romantic image

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and the munchkins sing with glee about having killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Suddenly, a startling explosion of green smoke appears and reveals yet another evil witch.

“I thought you said she was dead!” says Dorothy.

Glenda the Good Witch replies: “That was her sister — the Wicked Witch of the East. This is the Wicked Witch of the West, and she’s worse than the other one was.”

“Geez,” I think every time I see that scene. “Glenda could have at least warned her about that ahead of time.”

The thread of a recent Facebook group I’m in got my attention the other day, and the responses from its members have been rolling around in my head ever since and reminding me that not all of us arrive in Mexico under circumstances that seem to make our worlds change from Dorothy’s depressing sepia to Technicolor.

The group is mostly made up of U.S. and Canadian women who have moved to Mexico, with a handful in other Latin American countries. While they all technically came voluntarily, it wasn’t the lure of a magical and romantic Mexico that brought them; it was their deported spouses.

These women are the on-the-ground results of one of Obama’s more unfortunate legacies – deportations increased exponentially under his presidency and are still going strong.  Many of them packed up their and their children’s lives overnight and headed to Mexico or other parts of Latin America in order to keep their families together.

This particular thread in the Facebook group posed two questions: what advice did they have for others making the move, and knowing what they know how, what would they do differently — or would they even do it again?

The responses were a compilation of life experiences very different from my own: many talked about arriving in Mexico and not having things like running water or a refrigerator in whatever small, rural hometown they wound up in because their husbands were from there.

Others talked about husbands who’d been perfectly fine spouses in the U.S. but who became abusive, or lethargic or “entirely different people” once back in their natal environments. There were stories of family members and friends who were suspicious of them, stories of relationships that seemed to be friendships but were really others taking advantage of their fish-out-of-water status and (relative) wealth. Many struggled to learn Spanish as they continued to keep up their families’ lives in a new, sometimes hostile environment.

They learned the hard way that most people in Mexican culture, including their husbands, don’t like saying no when asked for favors, even huge ones (it’s true: there are many great things about the Mexican psyche but setting and respecting clear boundaries with those close to them is not one of them). Heartbreakingly, many learned that once their husbands’ families were around, they no longer seemed to occupy the “number one most important person” position in their spouses’ lives.

More than a few saw that the money they had been sending down weekly or monthly had, in fact, not been going toward buying land and building their future homes as they’d intended but pocketed or directed elsewhere. Wherever it had gone, it certainly wasn’t there waiting for them.

Many of the people who contributed to this thread said that if they had the chance to make the move again, they would have done it very differently or not at all, opting to cut their losses and stay home.

As for advice for those who make the move?

“Try to get a remote job in the U.S. before coming so you don’t live in poverty once you get here and aren’t stuck being dependent on a possibly hostile united front of your husband plus his family.”

“Make sure your husband works, even if he makes a fraction of what you do.” Several had realized that a reversal of traditional gender roles often didn’t work out here, the dominant cultural script for masculinity here not conducive to their husbands taking over homemaking duties in any truly effective way, even when the wives were the main breadwinners.

“Don’t live with his family.”

“Never, under any circumstances, hire family members for jobs.”

“Don’t lend money if you ever want to see it back in your pocket.”

“Have an exit plan: don’t be afraid to simply give up and go home. Accept the help of your family back home if you need to, even it if hurts your pride. Don’t put up with abuse that’s surfaced since arriving. Here are the Embassy numbers; they can help get you and your children out even if you’re missing paperwork. Here’s my cell phone number; call me if you and your kids need an emergency place to stay.”

All this reminded me that not all our immigrant experiences are the same. Experiencing the delight of living inside an expat travel blog’s Instagram companion account takes a lot of money, after all.

Some people’s experiences are just rough. And plenty of new arrivals come to one conclusion only: “Please, I just want to go home. I want my life back.”

So, this Independence weekend, I’m thinking about what the phrase “independence day” can mean on a personal, evolutionary level. I’m thinking about that ‘90s Martina McBride country song “Independence Day” that’s part of the “old country” Spotify playlist I listen to on Sunday mornings while I make pancakes and cry about missing my mom (the car radio as a kid was always turned to a country station; it’s hardcore nostalgia for me).

I’m thinking about how freeing it can be to give up and say, “Okay, I accept it; this isn’t for me, after all. I’m out of here.”

To move to a new country is, in a way, to be born again; it’s to become a brand-new person, or at least a version of yourself that looks very, very, different than the old one.

For some (for me), it feels like Dorothy emerging from her black-and-white house onto a colorful, magical landscape. The evil witches are peripheral and at a safe distance, and the overall experience is still worth it, even knowing that they’re around.

For others, it’s scary — not something they’d planned. It’s a feeling of unease, recognition on a gut level that the particular circumstances they find themselves in are not ones that are doing them any good. The truth strikes like lighting: “There’s no place like home.”

Whether freedom for you means a joyful rebirth into an entirely new world or a clear realization that where you belong is back in your old, beautiful garden, I wish you a happy Independence Day.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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