Saturday, June 22, 2024

Which expat archetype are you? None of the above, of course

Y’all ever run into a fellow paisano in Mexico and realize you have nothing in common with them? As more and more newcomers move to my area, it’s been happening to me personally more often.

One thing that immigrants throughout the world learn fairly quickly is this: just because you happen to speak the same language as someone doesn’t mean you’ll get along with them. Though members of the host country tend to think of same-language immigrants as a rather homogeneous group, there’s quite a lot of variety.

With these differences in mind, and with the disclaimer that this is “for entertainment purposes only” — meant to be humorous and not taken too seriously — I present to you: the types of fellow immigrants you’ll find in Mexico!

Extended Vacation Immigrants

While these types can be fun, they can be hard to keep up with. They like to be surrounded by other partiers and tend to prefer the presence of alcohol, sex and/or possibly drugs in most of their interactions. 

Don’t get me wrong; many of us like these things and simply don’t have the luxury of excess time and money to make their procurement our main priority. Extended Vacationers tend to be concentrated in “party towns” near the beach and typically have little patience for communities where they might be expected to blend in and “live like the locals.” Spanish-learning tends to be limited to asking for/ordering things and flirting.

In-It-for-The-Fight Immigrants

If you make the mistake of saying you’re “from America” around these types, they’ll likely remind you — loudly and not all that kindly — that “we’re all Americans.” Their arguments usually stem from a desire to express loyalty to Mexico, or at least differentiate themselves from the expats that they consider are giving people from their country a bad name.

You can often find them fighting with others in expat Facebook groups about precisely how they (and others) should be behaving or thinking while in Mexico. They know everything, including “what Mexicans are really like.” Any disagreement with them is taken as a grave insult.

They may refuse to speak your shared native language with you in public.

There’s-No-Place-Like-Home Immigrants

Another breed often found in communities with a concentration of other immigrants, they mostly like where they’re from and would like to recreate its image in the new place as closely as possible, but with palm trees and cheaper goods and services. 

Their Spanish skills are typically limited, and they spend more time than others trying to find the same types of things they’d find in their home countries.

An inability to do so is sometimes taken as a sign of their host country’s inferiority, and they’ll easily grow exasperated when things that seem familiar at first (like stays in a private hospital) are shown to have an unexpected twist (being expected to pay in full before leaving said hospital).

While they’re charmed by lower prices and friendly locals, they have little patience for their expectations regarding “how things should be done around here” not being met. 

Unintentional Immigrants

Sadly, this is a group that wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to move to Mexico had their circumstances been different. From the north, many are overwhelmingly female spouses (and often children) of Mexican nationals who’ve been deported from the U.S. They’re usually here because they’re trying to keep the family together. 

They try hard to make the best of it but often have trouble adjusting both to the language and the culture — especially if they’ve wound up in the tiny, poverty-stricken community their spouse’s family is from.

Most small towns (in the world, of course — not just in Mexico) are not known for their cosmopolitan attitudes of openness, and the trauma of a sudden move paired with the financial trauma of lost work opportunities that can follow are a shock to everyone’s systems.

Free-to-Be-Me Immigrants 

This group tends to be concentrated with people who, for whatever reason, don’t feel accepted, understood or unrestricted enough in their own countries. They might be here to start a commune, experiment with “free-range childhood,” or because they’re excited about the freedom to explore alternative medicine from “authentic” sources. 

They tend to have somewhat fringe beliefs and practices that might not be accepted by most in their host country. For this group, the fact that Mexico’s not great at enforcing rules having to do with everyday regulation (like the one that says all children must be enrolled in school) is a major plus, and they praise the country for “giving them” the freedom they feel they don’t have where they’re from. 

Blender-Inner Immigrants

While these folks are clearly from somewhere else, where that “somewhere else” is located is not immediately obvious. They tend to live like the locals in their respective communities and speak Spanish fairly well, making friends with the kinds of Mexicans who haven’t gone out of their way to seek out the newly arrived. 

Giveaways for their immigrant status tend to mostly be limited to their accents or the fact that they’re güeros walking rather than driving around the city. While, like most, they tend to mutter “freaking Mexico, man” under their breath occasionally, they’ve mostly accepted the realities of their new homes.

Rule-Loving Immigrants

Well-intentioned above all else (and perhaps to their detriment), these are the types who show up to the SAT on their second day in Mexico in order to pleasantly ask how they can initiate the payment of their Mexican taxes. 

They highly prioritize transparency and rule-following and tend to be seen by the locals as unnecessarily and naïvely looking for trouble — or at least to be taken advantage of. This group also has a clear counterpart:

Shady Immigrants

These are the ones who have questionable backstories and tend not to reveal too much about what they’re doing here or why they came. Questions are often met with winks and sly smiles rather than explanations. I’d tell you more, but then I’d have to disappear.

So there you have it, folks! Again, allow me to reiterate that this list is meant to be funny and not taken too seriously. If you’ve got a chance, let me know where you think you fall, or if I’ve missed any major ones! 

While some emails might slip through the cracks because I open them right when my kid starts clamoring for my attention, I try hard to acknowledge all of them. 

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

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