Years ago, Town and Country
ran a story about San Miguel de Allende,
featuring the town’s beautiful people dressed in the kind of garb that people
who’re featured in Town and Country tend to wear. They’re not the people who
read People, you know. One line mentioned something about the passionate people
of San Miguel, forging an image I could never erase from my mind.
A weeklong vacation convinced psychotherapist Caren Cross
and her husband to move to San Miguel de Allende. Within six months, she wound
down her practice, and they shed themselves of thirty years’ worth of
belongings, sold their house and moved. She figured she’d have a small
practice, work a few hours a day, and counted upon catching up on
long-forgotten reading, but within three years, a recurring fantasy of making a
documentary film hit her. She wanted to explore why all these foreigners were
living in San Miguel de Allende. It’s been six years since her move to Mexico, and her documentary Lost and Found in Mexico has just been released.
Colorful footage of the town’s Centro Historico predominates
in this film, where Cross interviews American expatriates about what brought
them to the town and how they feel about their new surroundings.
who had been a high-powered lawyer in Dallas, said he knew from his first day
of practice in 1976 that he’d made a serious vocational error, but he plodded on
for twenty-five more years. He and his wife Kelly lived in a McMansion straight
out of House and Garden, but one too many bourbons one night led him to ask “Is
this it?” They sold the house, moved to San Miguel de Allende, and suffered
queries about whether he’d gone insane. There were times he wanted to go back,
missing the perks of his old life, but after a year or so he grew to accept
himself as something other than his career. He said that he knew if he went
back he’d end up putting in another twenty-five years and having “He was really
a good lawyer” on his tombstone. San Miguel de Allende changed his relationship
with money, he added, because there was no longer the need to eat out six
nights a week, drive a fancy automobile, and travel to exotic places to relieve
career stress. He thought it telling that none of the people he worked with
have ever visited him. (I guess I should feel honored, because even though no one in Mexico particularly cares that I once was Martindale-Hubbell A-V and one of the Best Lawyers in America, my lawyer friends from the U.S. still visit me.)
Susan McKinney came to San Miguel to write a book eleven years ago, met a cute young Mexican
boy, got pregnant, and stayed on to raise her family. She said she was
searching for a lot of things, attributing the male culture of her childhood to
making her feel like a nobody because of her gender.
After her husband of ten years committed suicide, Nancy
Hooper came to San Miguel to raise her daughter.
All of the expatriates interviewed remarked upon how San
Miguel de Allende had changed their lives. Could their lives just as easily
have been transformed had they quit their old jobs – as a Navy nurse, lawyer,
Levi-Strauss employee, psychotherapist, manager of Latin artists – and packed up
and moved to Aiken, South Carolina or Bariloche? Spiritual
healer Don Jesus would disagree, saying that San Miguel is algo magnetico, and Mayan healer Roland Torikian would agree with
that assessment. The expats all cite the calmness and awareness of their town, the
sociability of the people, and a live-and-let-live attitude.
The expatriates seem to relish living among a broader range of
people, from all age groups and fields. One man likened the experience to jury
duty, meeting people he’d never normally meet. The Mexicans portrayed in the
film were selling flowers, butchering beef, cutting up poultry, caning chairs,
and selling fruit. The absence of Mexicans sharing the same station, education
and income level of the expatriates was noticeable.
Cross confesses that she had no close Mexican friends, just
acquaintances she sees on the streets. She seemed comfortable with that,
recognizing “I’m no longer part of the U.S. culture, and I’m not part of
the Mexican culture.” It’s clear that she feels relaxed, comfortable with and
positive toward her surroundings. She says that she feels free, because being
connected to neither culture allows her to be herself. What she doesn’t state
is that she is part of a culture – an expatriate culture.
The themes of Lost and Found in Mexico aren’t unique to San Miguel de Allende. Many expatriates who move to Mexico articulate the same ideas about finally
finding a place they fit in, feeling out of place in the U.S., marveling at the color and
styles of the indigenous folk. And probably just as many are noncommittal about
where they live, leading hum-drum, everyday existences highlighted by a trip to Costco or Superama. Some of them didn’t move to Mexico to find or repair
themselves. Some of them moved here, because they couldn’t afford to live a
quality existence in the Old Country. Some may simply harbor a passion for bolillos. For every expatriate, there’s
a story behind the move, and frankly most of them aren’t that exciting.
A kind and gentle documentary, Lost and Found in Mexico doesn’t pretend to be the final word on
expatriates in Mexico,
but it’s an entertaining and compelling excursion into the lives of those who
lovingly call this place home.