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.

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

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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.

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