Archive | March, 2018

The Gringa-Costeña Neighborhood Invasion

28 Mar

Look out, Puerto Escondido! The Gringos are Taking Over! They’re not just using your beaches anymore! They’re stealing your jobs, marrying into your families, and taking over your neighborhoods. Not just the expensive beach-side neighborhoods, either….

My friend (also white and foreign) and I shared a taxi from the touristy beach / nightclub part of town one night. We dropped her off at her house, in a nearby area of town mostly occupied by tourists, immigrants (mostly white Canadians, Americans, some Europeans), and wealthy / well- established Mexicans. Then I told the taxi driver where to take me.

“How is it that you came to live in that neighborhood?” the taxi driver asked me, raised eyebrow and all, in that tone of voice between polite and astonished. It was that tone that parents use when kids have done something astounding like clean their room of their own accord- like, “That’s wonderful, but more than a bit on the suspicious side.”

“Because that’s where my house is,” I responded, laughing. I’m used to folks being surprised, and I’ve had many variations on this conversation in many a taxi. “Do you rent or own it?” He wanted to know, looking for more clues about how a foreign white girl could possibly live where I live.

The other thing that usually happens when I take a taxi to my house is that once we get to my street, the driver automatically tries to stop in front of my closest neighbor’s house. It’s a bigger and prettier house. It’s painted, unlike my gray house still in need of an extra coat of cement before we could ever think about painting it. The neighbors have a big concrete fence around their house. Ours has an aluminum garage with a beat up door where I accidentally ran into it with the car one time. But surely the gringa has money. Surely the white foreign woman has the nicest house on the block, right? Bwahahaha.


My fabulous house! Not the fanciest on the block, but it’s ours. And it’s pretty sweet.



view from the back yard

Granted, I do have money, compared to my neighbors with slats of wood for houses, or compared to my neighbors with one room for a whole family. I’m not the richest person in the neighborhood by any stretch, but I am light years away from the poorest, too. “Do you rent or do you own your house?” the taxi driver had asked. “We own it.” I tell him, and then I offer a giant crumb, a big clue: “My husband had a plot of land here he bought years ago.” My Sherlock Holmes driver politely refrains from shouting, “Aha!” Instead, he asks, “Is your husband Mexican?” He is already sure of the answer, though. Because obviously, just some regular white foreign person couldn’t possibly end up in this area of town on their own. And they don’t; it’s true. Nobody recommends it as the spot to folks arriving from other countries. Even all the foreigners in the English Department of the University down the street don’t live in this neighborhood.

It’s not like my neighborhood is awful, by any stretch. There’s almost no crime. It’s not yet densely populated, so you can see plenty of stars and actually hear yourself think at night. There are still no bars nearby to blast their songs of heartbreak, and I only have one neighbor who sings loudly when he’s drunk. Kids can play in the street without much worry of traffic. There are plenty of señoras producing fresh tortillas within walking distance, and there are even little store fronts in people’s houses nearby, in case we have some urgent need for rice or potato chips or something. And it’s only a fifteen to twenty minute drive to most other places in town, including downtown and the beach. It’s a little inconvenient without a car, in that it’s a ten to fifteen minute walk to the nearest public transport. Even with a car, it’s crazy far from my kids’ school (nearly 30 minutes drive- gasp!). Much of my neighborhood is made from dirt roads, and it gets bumpier and harder to navigate in the rainy season. Really that’s the case in many neighborhoods in Puerto, though, not just in mine. It is inconvenient because folks in other parts of town think fifteen to twenty minutes is so dreadfully far away. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

Also, it’s still a developing neighborhood without great internet access nor a view of the beach. Beyond that I can’t really see any reason why it should be so shocking for me to live here. Except that it’s not one of the white* / foreign people parts of town, and I am indeed white and foreign.

Except for the one guy from Arkansas who no longer lives here, I’m the only foreign person in this area of town, as far as I know. And I certainly would’ve heard about it from the gossip mill by now if there were other foreigners in my area. (He was also the spouse of a Mexican person, for the record, and from a poor state in the US like I am. In case you’re collecting your sociological data also.)

As the lone white girl in my neighborhood, I am a minority. But instead of facing discrimination and danger, which is the typical case when people of color are the minority in white areas, I end up with better treatment and positive stereotypes. At least if you think being pegged as a wealthy person is something positive.

I could tell you again all the general privileges that come with being white and foreign in southern Mexico. For example, I can walk into some bar’s bathroom in the tourist area and folks assume I belong there (and let’s be clear, by “belong” I mean “have money and am going to buy something there”) and thus, they don’t charge me for the bathroom or tell me to go away. Another white immigrant said she won’t ever bother to obtain her local driver’s license, because after several years of driving here she has never once been stopped by the transit police. Immigration officials are the most helpful folks in the world to you here. We are a minority, and yet it somehow only translates to more benefits. This is white privilege in action, even in a foreign place where brown skin is the norm, even though discrimination is the norm when folks from here go to my country.

Aside from the general white privilege aspect, though, by living in a non-white neighborhood, I not only don’t have any problems, I not only get more privileges, but I also get cool points. After the initial distrust and disbelief, people typically move on to assume that I’m somehow more a part of their culture. That I’m a little less foreign. So I know the best restaurant for fish (it’s not beachside, y’all). I get invited to quinceañeras and prayer circles for the dead and do all the other traditional celebrating and important life moments around here. I have a near-constant stream of neighborhood kids selling me their mom’s tamales at my front door. The list of benefits goes on and on. It’s totally worth having a longer drive to the beach, in exchange for all this.

I’m still a white girl, but I’m, like, a semi-official-part-costeña now too (from this coastal region). It’s a sociologists dream. So look out, Mexico, the gringas are taking over, and they’re even blogging about your culture. Too bad your lovely, polite, sane immigration officials give out green cards so reasonably! Bwahahahahahaha!


*I’m using the word white to describe both skin color AND foreign nationality. There are Mexicans with white skin too, and they also have some added privilege from their skin color, but it’s not the same as being white and foreign.

Cyber Purgatory

16 Mar

What’s life like without home internet? Imagine trying to get motivated for your 5:30 AM workout, five days a week, with only access to the same small handful of perfectly motivating songs to keep you going. Imagine having to pack up your small kids and drive to some public place and spend money to justify occupying their business, crossing your fingers that the connection is good and the kids stay in their seats, so that you can Skype with your family that lives in another country. Imagine having to wait days after someone gives you a book before you can read it, because you need to find time to get to some internet access to download it to your Kindle. Imagine trying to decide between your spending money going to, say, a family trip for frozen yogurt, or enough megabytes for a handful of youtube songs.

If you’re rolling your eyes at my “Developing World Problems,” rest assured you’re in good company! I’m even rolling my eyes at myself. It’s pretty absurd. My family is not starving. Our house hasn’t been destroyed by any of the earthquakes thus far. My children have shoes, even if the little one only carries them to school and back in his hands and never actually puts them on his feet. No terminal cancer happening. We even have a car that works more often than it doesn’t. All of these annoyances that come from not having internet at home are not even a step down from all those funny non-problems that people call “First World Problems.” (Just google it if you’re not familiar. You won’t be disappointed.) It’s silly, it’s minor, and yet sometimes it’s go-outside-and-hack-at-the-weeds-with-the-machete level frustrating. “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” my Dad would have asked me, but in this case, yes I do! Thanks! So grab some cheese and a glass for yourself, because I’m going to lay it out for you.

“First World” Problems*


You would think I’d be accustomed, to not having home internet. I didn’t have it in the US until 2008. And I haven’t had it here in over four years. Plus I spent that year in Juquila when we theoretically had internet but it was so slow you couldn’t do much on it except from about 3am-7am when the rest of the town was sleeping.

I should be unfazed by my lack of convenience, after spending a year and a half without electricity, but I am fazed as f@*#. On a bad day, I am mad about it like a determined two year old whose parents just won’t let him eat the cat food. I mean, I just spent months in the US with unlimited internet access! Even in a car, driving on an expressway in the middle of nowhere! You people not only have phone signals, but also wireless on the phone! It’s unbelievable! The injustice of it all! (Okay, insert a little auto-eyeroll here)

Meanwhile at my house, which is only about a mile from “downtown” of my fair adopted city, we can’t get a half decent signal. Our neighbors across the street got the fancy antennae and all that jazz and tried last summer. That’s how we know it’s not worthwhile. I have slightly more than zero knowledge on technological functions of internet signals, so I can’t explain why it doesn’t work in my neighborhood. Because the gods of capitalism hate poor people? Wait, no, that’s the wrong answer…. I don’t know why; I just know that’s how it is.

By extension, don’t bother trying to tell me all the reasons why you, in some other town or some other country or even some other neighborhood, believe that we should be able to have home internet. “But this (insert name of wireless technology) exists now! It’s everywhere! I’m sure you can get a signal via (insert name of some other internet service) if nothing else.” No. Just stop. This is my neighborhood, run mostly by chickens, goats, and small children, and therefore I’m sticking to my empirical evidence: the neighbors tried and it didn’t work. That is all. We just have to wait until things… develop more, I suppose.

For now, however, this is my big chance to complain about my limited internet access, so here are a few other annoying inconveniences:

-I can’t answer calls when people try to video message me on facebook. I can’t video call people. Which means my kids  and me keeping in touch with family members is really tricky. My biggest just lost her first tooth, but did she get to call any of the grandparents to show off? Nope, not a one.
-I can’t instantly show my kids pictures of prehistoric giant crocodiles that they’re curious about. I can’t take advantage of satisfying our quest for knowledge right away. All that info “at our fingertips,” and yet, not now, guys, sorry.

-I can’t let them watch videos so I can take a brief nap. (Apparently our DVD selection is boring them these days) Sleep is a human right! My kids are also pretty sure that a better selection of programs is in order.

-I can’t do workout videos beyond the ones I have on DVD. Health is important! I need new ideas!

-I can’t type out my electronic correspondence. I have to poke at my phone to try to send my long-winded messages back and forth to friends and family. I don’t know how people tolerate that pecking at the letters all the time.


-I can’t post my blog from home when I finish it at midnight (so often the case since that’s my only chance at private writing time).

-I can’t get updates on my computer or my phone.

-I can’t put on any song I want whenever I want. (Seriously, not having unlimited youtube might be the biggest crime, as far as I’m concerned.)

-I can’t apply for jobs, because I can’t upload my resume and all that from my phone.

-I can’t do any sort of general internet-based work nor fun when my kids are asleep or when they’re occupied playing nicely with a friend.

-I can’t practice and learn more American Sign Language.

-I can’t do research for my book. (YES you read that right!)

-I can’t take an online course or even watch my friend’s youtube videos on parenting.


That’s just the short list! Obviously, I can do all of these things when I’m somewhere with internet access, but that time is limited. Some of these things I can do somewhat on my cell phone, assuming I have internet megabytes or whatever left on my plan or from my internet-megas top-up. But anything involving video is too much for my plan for more than a few minutes.

I am glad that at least I have a Smartphone now. I am grateful for some access to the worldwide everything. I’m grateful for having a Kindle in the first place in this land of such rare access to books. I’m grateful for a computer where I can draft things and then post online. I recognize all of the things that I have going for me in this scenario, trust me. But sometimes it feels like giving me two chips out of the bag. Who the hell is satisfied with two chips? It puts the taste in your mouth and then rips it away from you! It is a limbo land of semi-access to the cyber-world. It’s an internet purgatory. I have some access; I’m not like in some technology-free hell. But I can see all the things I could be doing, just over the horizon, and I can’t quite get there.

It’s kind of like when we were living without electricity. It would have been way easier to deal with if I were living the whole-shebang lifestyle of no electricity. Like if I were living in some small old school village where everybody cooked three meals a day and didn’t need to refrigerate leftovers, where it was just the norm to go to bed at dark, or sit around a campfire talking into the night. If I lived in the kind of society where electricity wasn’t an utmost basic necessity, then I would have rocked it. As it was, however, I could see the lights on at a neighbor’s house two blocks directly in front of us, taunting me. Without electricity, but living in a society where electricity is the norm, we spent a ton of excess time and energy buying ice for a cooler and charging lamps to use at night, for example. As usual, it cost more to be poor, to have fewer services.

It’s the same with internet access. No, it’s not as necessary as electricity. But we live in an age of technology. It wouldn’t be a big deal to not have home internet, except that each year the world becomes more and more internet-based. Internet isn’t just a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity in many ways at this point. For example, my whole economic plan for coming back to Puerto post-quitting the university was to teach English online. It’s not actually practical to do that from some beachside bar or restaurant, believe it or not. It’s definitely not workable from the my normal free internet spot where every time there’s a sports event the seating area fills up with drunk cheering dudes and the internet connection slows to nearly negative numbers.

On a good day, my limbo land of partial access is smooth and nearly sufficient, signals flowing to my computer from the place that I’m teaching now, the place where I wait to pick up the kids from school (when there aren’t too many other folks), and a very kind friend’s house. On the good days, I’m stoked that I have some digital devices, and I’m satisfied with long old-school phone conversations with my friends and family. Some days it’s enough to have the self satisfaction of finishing a blog and knowing that I’ll find time and space to publish in the next day or two. Some days I can take a deep breath and roll my eyes at myself and my internet drama.

On the bad days, I console myself with toddler-style tantrums, complete with head-banging and rabid tears (I imagine myself having such tantrums, if nothing else).  Be patient with me and my “Developing World Problems.”  This, like everything else, won’t last forever.



*Yes, the whole “First World/Third World” terminology is really problematic, socially and personally. Here’s a fabulous article from those lovely, brilliant folks on NPR about who the now-never-mentioned Second World was, why these terms are problematic, and possible other descriptions. However, the “First World Problems” memes are hilarious.

The Music Interlude of English Class

8 Mar

Exile to Mexico is proud to present: music exchange week at the university! A new Throw-Back Thursday publication for this humble blog!*

What music represents your country’s culture? This was one of the questions I asked my Level 2 students this week to get their brains relating in English for our music unit. It’s been such a fun discussion and rock-out session the past couple of days of class that I thought y’all might appreciate some of the excitement. Plus I bet you’ve never heard of half the music my students think is important, just like they’ve never heard of half your music. So I’m bringing the music exchange to you.

We were preparing to read an article on hip hop, and its now-international popularity. The article included a history of the roots of hip hop that mentioned genres like blues, jazz, reggae, and rhythm and blues. Most of my students have never heard of any of the styles or artists named there, except maybe for Bob Marley’s reggae. So we spent more than a whole class reading the timeline, listening to music and discussing it. It turned out to be a blast, even if nobody understood more than two words of any song. They foolishly wanted me to sing to them, believing that my singing would help them understand. Bwahahahahaha!

Before we even got to all that music, though, I asked them what music represents Mexican culture. What do you think, dear reader, when you think of music in Mexico? If you said mariachi, some of my students would certainly agree with you. Mariachi is popular- at certain moments, at least- all over Mexico and is fairly recognized internationally. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) even declared it an important part of the national culture in 2011.

Other popular answers to this question included banda music and norteñas, which you may or may not have heard of. I certainly hear people playing banda music around here about a thousand times more often than they play mariachi music, but identity is identity and we all know mariachi is historical and famous. Perhaps it is more relevant on a daily basis in other parts of Mexico than here in coastal Oaxaca.

I am the worst in the world at describing music, so I will spare you my pathetic attempts and give you examples instead. This is some of the music that my students feel like is important to and representative of their lives and culture in Mexico.

This is Conan’s favorite ever corrido, one style of music that a lot of my students mentioned as being important. A corrido is a Mexican folk ballad that narrates something like a historical event or another important topic. It was a style that started in the gruesome, ten year long Mexican Revolution. I was much more impressed with the argument for corridos being Mexico’s music rather than mariachi music. Corridos explore a whole gamut of topic including but not limited to infidelity, immigration, poverty and oppression, folk heroes and historic events, and even violence and drugs. Norteña music, at least as far as my gringa understanding goes, is in the same style as corridos, still a narrative ballad style, but more about love and romance and cheating and all that stuff, and less about popular stories and oppression and revolution and the like. The most famous Mexican group that is classified as “norteña” music is Los Tigres del Norte. Here’s a song by them, and another, because I got a lot of recommendations by them.

Banda music is something it seems like everybody listens to around here, so of course that was named a lot as well, although I feel like that’s like saying “pop” is the national music of the United States. Here’s an example of something that I suspect is supposed to be romantic but the video itself is creepy, in my humble opinion. I can’t even listen to the lyrics. That’s how I feel about most pop music- especially “romantic” stuff, though, so it’s nothing against banda music itself. Here’s another example, just in case it’s your thing.

Not one person named mariachi when I asked what music represented culture in Oaxaca, of course. There were some more mentions of corridos and banda music by a couple people, but overall the clear consensus was a regional style of folk called chilenas, which I bet you’ve never heard of. Here’s an example of a chilena, along with the dance, at a yearly festival called the Gueleguetza that takes place in Oaxaca City. And a chilena about Puerto Escondido, my adopted town. And another popular chilena, because, really they are a major part of the culture in this state.

So does everybody here love chilenas and listen to them daily? No. But they’re guaranteed to be played at a wedding or other major party, at the town’s festivals, etc. They are THE regional folk music. Everyone knows how to dance to them, at least on the basic level, at the very least if they’re tipsy at a big party. Chilenas are heard throughout Oaxaca much more than mariachi, hands down. (I like it much more than mariachi music, too.)


People dancing a chilena in Oaxaca. (Google image, definitely not my photo)

Also, in case you’re curious, there is indeed a link between the country of Chile and the music called “chilenas” here in Oaxaca. It is a bit similar and surely comes from the folk dance in Chile called the cueca. You can see a cueca for comparison here. The little bit that I’ve been able to research about it says that chilenas probably came here through Chilean sailors and immigrants heading to California during the gold rush, stopping off and maybe sometimes staying on the coast of Oaxaca. It’s a small world! (Especially since I also used to live in Chile.)

These music discussions were extra delightful for my students because, in addition to goofing off and watching their teacher lip sink to strange music, it turns out they had a very easy time with the vocabulary and translation part. There’s no English translation for Mexican music styles. Mariachi is mariachi. Chilenas are chilenas. You just have to experience it…. and pronounce it like a gringo. “Teacher, how do you say, ‘música banda’?” “Banda music!” I tell them happily. It’s just like my Level 1 students’ joy when we talk about food. “How do you say ‘enchiladas’?” “Enchiladas,” I tell them, and they sit there and blink at me. “It’s the same?” they ask. “Not exactly,” I say, and they giggle hysterically when I pronounce it like we do in the states.  Another win for the students!

Hope you enjoy the music half as much as we did in class! Salud!

*This is a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, and failed to publish. Whoops! But look how social-media savvy I am! Finally using the term “Throw Back Thursday” just before it goes out of style! Yay for taking advantage of procrastination!

Also, thank you, YouTube, for helping out the international sharing!