Tag Archives: expatriates in Mexico

Expats in Mexico: Ann Mikkelsen

Ann Mikkelsen is a teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She “Friended” me on on Facebook, connecting through   Sheri Brautigam, another friend.  “I just “met” Sheri on Facebook! A mutual friend, Anaceli Coyoc, is teaching in the same program. Anaceli and I worked together at Emerson Spanish Immersion in Minneapolis. She’s from Belize and that’s where my husband Roberto was born. This is really fun to get to know kindred spirits from so far away,” Ann says. Sheri taught ESL in Mexico, and I met her in Teotitlan last Christmas, introduced her to Roberta Christie at Las Granadas B&B, and Sheri is now house sitting at Las Granadas while Roberta is in Florida doing home repairs. The world keeps getting smaller.

Ann and I are both interested in the expat experience in Mexico, so when I asked her why she chose Xalapa (pronounced HA-Lah-pah) in the state of Veracruz to plan retirement, she shared her story and this is what she told me.

Ann’s husband, Roberto, grew up in Xalapa and they bought a house for his mother there 10 years ago, just two doors down from a sister in an Infonavit (government financed housing for workers).  Roberto’s mom  had been living in a condo they got for her some years ago that was about a 20 min walk away. It was a three-story walk up, which was becoming too difficult for her to negotiate.  Ann and her husband spent two years remodeling the house, long distance (I’ve talked about how difficult that can be!), to make it big enough for her, Ann, Roberto and their friends.

Ann loves Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz situated in the mountains about 1-1/2 hours from the more humid coast.  She’s gone there for 23 years and feels she knows it.  She and her husband had been looking for land outside town for a couple of years, thinking they’d like something quieter.  Infonavit houses are very close together and this didn’t suit them. Every summer that they’d visit, they’d get phone numbers and drive around the countryside with a brother-in-law scoping out what was available.

In summer 2008 they took the huge step and got a $30,000 home equity loan for 3,600 sq meters of land which is a tad less than an acre.  There are cows on it now, which is dandy, Ann says.  There are sheep next door and a beautiful view.  We’ll see what happens, she continues.  She is thinking about starting a B&B in Xalapa when they retire.  Ann has just one more year teaching in the public schools and says there are Americans who would like to “experience” the real Mexico apart from the beaches. We have a great place, Ann says, and encourages people to look up Xalapa to get  lots of info.

I’ve not yet been to Veracruz, and I want to go.  It is the largest Mexican port and was vital to the export of cochineal during the Spanish colonial period.  Much of the pineapple that we buy in Teotitlan comes from Veracruz.  Xalapa is also home to the Jalapeno pepper — that spicy morsel that fires up the palate in Mexican cuisine.  As Ann and I continue our conversation, I will be sharing it with you.  Meanwhile, you can find us on Facebook 🙂

Expatriates in Mexico

Why do Americans and Canadians flock to Mexico?  Is there more than an economic incentive to making this decision?  What are the motivations and desires behind choosing to move to Mexico?  Were expectations met?  Was the vision of  a life imagined reality or romance?  These are some of the questions we will ask of several expatriates who make their home in the village of Teotitlan del Valle as one topic to explore during the documentary filmmaking workshop we are holding in the village starting January 31 (there are still three spaces open).

When I first visited Cuernavaca in the early 1970’s, I was vaguely aware of wealthy expatriate communities living there in gated communities.  Now, many retirees are choosing San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic on Lake Chapala near Guadalajara because of lifestyle and affordability.  These are isolated, gated communities, enclaves of expatriates who live separate and apart from the local people.

This is a different experience from the one I know in Teotitlan del Valle, where the few Estadounidenses residing there are fully integrated into the lifestyle and commerce of the village, living simply and sustainably in small homes or apartments on land or in family compounds owned by their Zapotec hosts.   They keep a low profile, walk softly, pay attention to local customs, participate in local observances, give English classes or Shiatsu massage in exchange for food or services, and are friends and good neighbors.  Most have come for the natural beauty, the peace and quiet, the call from a traditional culture that is family centered and respectful of the earth.  Their expatriate status does set them apart (it is difficult not to stand out when you are a 5’9″ anglo woman, for example) but this is not a deterrent.  These expats I know worked as social service or education professionals in the U.S. for many years, accumulated a small retirement fund, and determined that they could live a better quality life — for a longer period of time — by moving to Oaxaca.  They make one or two visits a year back to the U.S. to visit family and friends.  Most often, the family and friends come to Oaxaca to visit them, too.

It’s a relationship and a system that works well for a few.  There is a significant expat community in Oaxaca city.  I’m told that more than 300 people from countries outside of Mexico live there.  You will find expats who own restaurants, bed and breakfast lodges, who write and make music and create art.

The key to enjoyment and satisfaction for this life, I believe, is integrating where you have come from with where you have chosen to live now — exploring and adopting the culture and people of your new home and making it your own.