One of the most interesting features of being an expatriate is the possibility of change. Living here side by side with the ordinary citizens of Colima is practically a guarantee of transformation. In my new world, English is infrequent and as an expatriate you will either bend/adjust to the local customs and manners or you will be miserable and quickly depart. In my discussions with other expatriates, I call it the expatriate life cycle. You arrive, you learn to survive, then the old you withers away and dies. You will experience resurrection – the process of being born again as a different person.
Over these past nine months, I have changed immensely. To my surprise, I have grown distant from the US. My love and pride for the US have not diminished, but my direct connection with current events, local news and culture has been severed. Now, I mainly read about America from afar. Trying to remain informed is a challenge. I use social media platforms and my beloved New York Times to stay informed, but still I feel distant and strange.
A Friend Comes to Visit.
On the other hand, my basic knowledge and understanding of Mexican culture, history and food have increased. My taste palate has changed as well and now I wonder if I will be able to survive when I return to the US. I have become accustomed to the food of Colima. I can’t imagine going through the day without a tortilla or hot pepper. It’s impossible.
I recently invited my old friend Tim Shaughnessy (Shauno as he prefers to be called) down to visit me and Carlos. I’ve known Shauno for nearly two decades now and he’s my closest friend (and roommate) and a big influence on me. Shauno is the consummate baby boomer. He has and continues to travel the world. In the early ’80s, Shauno lived as an expatriate in Japan and Europe – long before it became fashionable. In many respects, it was listening to his stories about living abroad that inspired me to do the same one day.
Tim has been back home at the condominium for over a month now. I wanted to phone him and ask him to reflect on his trip here to Colima and I also wanted him to help me reconnect with home.
All Expatriates Need A Home Anchor.
I want to validate that what I am reading is true. If I base my opinion, on the news I’ve read, America is an almost unrecognizable place to me. Here in Mexico, there is a level of obsession with Donald Trump and American politics that borders on unhealthy. The portion of morning and evening news devoted to the American spectacle is stunning – at least a third to half of newscasts are devoted to every tweet and twitch of this presidency.
As an expatriate I am stunned by the articles I read and overwhelmed by the hyper coverage of the mainstream Mexican media. I often wonder if I am overstating the chaos swirling through the States. Folks here in Colima seem to have moved on from the shock and disappointment the election. Every expatriate needs a home anchor, a friend or family member who can reconnect you with a land and a space that sometimes seems distant – home. For me, Shauno is the best.
Phoning Home For Clarity.
“From a distance, the United States appears to be a country on the precipice of disaster. What is your opinion? Is all of this true or an overstatement? What do you think Shauno?”
Shauno replied, “Well, Sid, here in the US, I feel it’s a sort of wait and see attitude right now. Maybe it will not be as bad as we initially thought. Don’t get me wrong Trump is a disaster for us. But fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be able to get things done. I am now optimistic he will not be able to implement the worst aspects of his agenda. I think it’s calmed down a lot.”
Take A Deep Breath.
Tim especially dislikes this dark mood. As the former owner of a rope factory with branches in Mexico, he takes the mean-spirited insults and slurs personally.
“Our employees were like family to me,“ Tim said, “This is what I don’t understand. Why can’t we see each other as friends and neighbors?”
“Walking around with you and Carlos in Guadalajara, I never felt any antagonism towards us. I did not sense resentment. I was amazed by the number of families and young people. Lots of energy.”
A Sigh of Relief.
“What’s your perspective from Colima?” Shauno asked me. “Based on my interactions over the years, I would say that President Obama was respected in Mexico. By contrast, Donald Trump is openly ridiculed as a racist and a boor. For a while it seemed as if Mexico was girding for the worse,” I said.
However, recently it seems as if Mexico has started to recover from the initial shock. Carlos Videgaray, the foreign secretary of Mexico, is no longer as desperate as he once seemed. President Pena-Nieto appears firm; Mexico will no longer suffer the insults.”
I continued, “It’s good to see Mexico act from a position of confidence. Objectively, I feel that Mexico, like Brazil and South Africa has the right stuff for future success. It’s that youthful energy you saw in Guadalajara. Just like you, I haven’t felt any resentment or anger. All of my neighbors know how I feel. I also think that the average Mexican distinguishes Americans from the government and Donald Trump. I think he alone will remain the focus of Mexico’s anger.”
That phone call home was just the thing I needed. My anxieties can subside – a little. It was good to confirm that home is still home and not some strange parallel universe. Despite the eruptions of chaos, listening to Tim’s descriptions of politics and civil life in the States sounded reassuring, like returning to your bed after a long vacation – comfortable.