December 27, 2022

The online paper Mexico News Daily recently ran an article on why more gringos than ever are moving to this country. I was surprised at the numbers of young families coming here, but since this area has a lot of older expats, the overall trend wasn’t surprising.

Expatriates form slightly uneasy communities. Many are people who have always been relative outsiders. This can help in dealing with cultural and linguistic difficulties, since oddballs expect to be treated oddly. The famous Mexican politeness helps smooth over a lot of the tougher moments.

Sometimes though, our bigger problems are with each other, rather than with the society around us. Ardent libertarians whose ideas never took root in the US after the end of the Sixties come here for another kick at that cat, and of course clash with people who prefer the idea of large, stable governments. This area around Tepoztlan draws a lot of seekers who, under their New Age exteriors, often harbour a lot of moralistic attitudes that can sideline their best values. 

The mountains of Tepoztlan, with their many legends and stories, draw seekers and would-be mystics from all over.

People who insist on extreme tolerance can be, in my experience, the least tolerant people of all. Anyone seeking capital-T Truth has trouble with the other such Truths popping up around them.

My own loose community here has faced a crisis recently when one man, someone a number of us liked for his intelligence and worldly knowledge, underwent a form of psychological break. He threatened a couple of women in my circle, and there was a protective closing of ranks against him. At one point, he got into a fight and the police were called. But the somewhat efficient local police were absorbed into the mistrusted State police a year or two back; a squad car never showed up. 

Several of us felt he should go on antipsychotic meds, without having any idea how to force him. One or two thought he could be talked down from his paranoia, a method they’ve tried without success so far. He knows he’s fine, and like the New Agers, but in exaggerated form, he thinks the problem is everybody else. 

The eternal question posed by people who don’t know Mexico is about how we expats deal with the cartels. The answer is, we don’t. They tend to avoid us, preferring to extort their own people except in certain high-end resorts, where there is occasional violence against tourists. Yes, we all learn certain street-smarts, particularly when we go to large cities. But being overcharged for a cab ride is the extent of the crime I’ve personally dealt with here.

But we are often dependent on each other or our Mexican neighbours when things go bad. Our disturbed friend is still somewhere around, doubtless suffering and possibly homeless. And we’re all reminded that we chose Mexico because, while government agencies are always difficult and sometimes (like the State police) pretty useless, the willingness of people here in helping others is the social safety net. 

But at some point, as illness, physical or mental, arises, sometimes we look fondly at the more effectively bureaucratic societies we’ve left. I hope the young families coming here understand this.

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