Editorial Note: Of late many message boards are abuzz with the ideal that with the American Dream or Way of Life collapsing what needs to be done is to pack up shop and leave for another country. A simpler country. Most of this talk revolves around South American Countries and South Pacific Islands. After all our American dollars will go a long way there! What we were left wondering is how well this actually works in practice. Are Americans absorbed into communities? Or does their American-ness exclude them?
So, we asked someone with some expatriation experience and our own Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda helpfully shared with us some of her experiences. We would invite anyone else with experience relocating to other countries to chime in, even send us submissions about your experience. With the world both getting smaller and more polarized we think it’s a good time to investigate relocation.
By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda
At the end of 2009, my husband was deported. When he arrived in El Salvador, we decided to get him out of the country. He boarded a King Quality bus and headed to Nicaragua, to begin a new life. Supposedly, the asylum policies of LEY 655 in Nicaragua were supposed to welcome people like him. They didn’t. In the process, I met many expats online, asking advice about moving to Nicaragua. This is the story of American expansionism in Latin America and the type of people performing this mission.
Expatriation the new Expansionism?
While waiting to join my husband in Nicaragua, I joined a site for expatriates in Nicaragua. It wasn’t long before I met a few of the characters at Nicaragua Living – “a site for expats to share ideas and the experience of living in Nicaragua”.
Wow! This site made the expatriates living there look even worse than in many other parts of the world. And I didn’t expect that.
All I wanted to do was learn how to ship my furniture to Managua. I was planning to ship a container of furniture and personal effects to Managua, along with our SUV; so that we didn’t have to buy our things all over again. I thought I had a brilliant idea that would save a fortune in expenses — shipping things I enjoyed living within the U.S. and Mexico, like my Bose Wave Radio that I can’t live without, and a comfortable bed and sofa.
Having lived out of the country, I knew there were some things I might have to pay three times as much for, if I could even find them in Nicaragua at all to purchase them, there. So, I could justify the cost of paying to ship a container for about $3500 to $5000, or so. Inside, I could also ship our SUV.
Let’s define expansionism, so we are all on the same page:
Expansionism is a nation’s policy of expanding its territorial or economic boundaries.
I always wondered why so many corporate types and business leaders moved to third world countries. I have a friend who suggested this had something to do with U.S. Expansionism. And to be honest, I wondered too.
I knew there were the usual perverts who felt more at home in third-world countries, where they felt safe violating young girl’s bodies. But, the extreme right-winged ideas of these rabid nutcases led me to wonder many other things.
I expected to meet progressive people with a degree of intelligence on the Nicaraguan sites. After all, I thought, they had moved to a Socialist country; so we would likely share like ideologies. Not so!
The Reality of Expats
At first, I saw people building dome homes and some rather creative housing solutions that appealed to me. But, the racist comments in the forums were a turn off. There was a woman, I’ll call her “RJ” who proved some of my assumptions about Americans moving south based on some intrinsic racism. See if you don’t agree:
RJ stated: “As for the other part of my argument you supposedly found so disturbing, I never argued that machismo doesn’t occur in the US. Sure it does, particularly within certain subcultures. You argue the black culture which is over-generalizing, but it is true that in some portions of the so-called “black culture”, i.e., mostly poorer populations, you do see elements of machismo, but it by no means occurs at the same level or universality as you see it in Latin America, and I’m not the only person to have noticed this by far, there’s an extensive literature documenting this as well.”
Yes, there’s variation everywhere, and “good” and “bad” people everywhere (though I’m not the one who applied those judgmental terms), but the distribution of given cultural and character traits is by no means equal around the world.
This same RJ, explained in another post that she had been jilted by her Nicaraguan husband — a man (probably in a long line of poor choices) who this scholarly woman had chosen to fall in love with. She was the classic case of a lonely white woman moving to a foreign country seeking some ideal of what her racist assumptions provided that Latin Lovers were; and because of that, she chose the first cheating, alcoholic, loser that came her way to bilk her out of her American dollars. And she blamed all Latin men all over the world for that choice, by the time I met her. So I read her hateful xenophobic rants and grew angry.
In my usual way, I — the newbie to the site — responded:
“If one knows of Bell Hooks, (which one should if studying any type of feminism) a person should understand why I came to feel feminism in the U.S. ceased to meet my mandates as a Latina. Bell Hooks felt (and I agreed at the time) that white feminists were more concerned with white morality than the conditions involving (name the minority) equality issues. And furthermore, she believed (as I did then) that many white women stereotyped themselves as the “pure goddess virgins and viewed others as seductive whores”. And I would say that some of what has been posted in these debates demonstrates this type of thinking, especially when a person says that “99% of the couples I know in Nicaragua stray” as done here.
Generalizing that Central Americans display more machismo in some posts, and defending ideas by saying that “machismo…or the so-called ‘black culture’, i.e., mostly poorer populations,” have elements of machismo, “but it by no means occurs at the same level or universality as you see it in Latin America,” is such a narrow view, IMO.
I find this extremely offensive and see it as a complete fallacy. I’ve demonstrated through various known personalities, this behavior crosses cultural lines. This type of thinking is exactly what Bell Hooks addressed in her book, “Ain’t I a Woman?: Black women and feminism.”
And it is these types of stereotypes that continue the oppressive view of many countries in Central America. I’m in no way denying that machismo is absent from Central American cultures. It isn’t. Instead, I’m asserting that machismo is a behavior that exists worldwide and that the denial of this enables this behavior in many countries, where it is also a problem.
And for me, personally, “scientific observations” lack a great deal of credibility when based only on a person’s observations of two years. Maybe a more accurate interpretation would include the observations of people born and raised in Nicaragua, who bring no cultural bias to their studies, completely understand their countrymen, and Nicaraguan tradition?
Here’s a quote that I found interesting in my studies of feminism and it represents my current views:
“When it defines man as the enemy, feminism is alienating women from their own bodies.” –Camille Paglia
And maybe some disagree with this…but I found it to be a very real interpretation from my relationship with my husband.
I was shocked to learn that anyone as red-necked, racist and provincial would move to a Socialist country, like Nicaragua. And I was shocked to learn that they survived there with the Sandinista cadre. The experience left me wondering if the American C.I.A. had planted operatives there, under the guise of moving them in as expatriates.
Meeting ‘Nicas’ not Numbskulls
I was out to meet actual Nicaraguans, not Americans who were trying to pretend they were Nicaraguan, by claiming they were “Nicas.” Not people who had never lived as a Latino in their life; or had led mostly privileged lives and now felt a need to live as the “big fish in a small pond,” by building nice homes on a protected beach, in Nicaragua.
I found a few Nicaraguans in these sites. Mostly, they seemed to feel a sense of tolerance when the expats move in and became the territorial experts. I knew what I was wondering about was true. Could it be that the citizens of these countries we move to, resent our self-serving attitudes? My question was answered when I read this:
“And so the foreigners that have become experts on our ways by living among us are equally repulsed and attracted to us as any budding young explorer is equally enthralled by the new and alien. So much like us physically, yet so different from us on the moral and civil planes.”
“At first I told myself not to pay attention to mujermagnetica post about the “myth of the macho latino” , but when I saw how many responses it elicited I gave in . I’m going to give you the reason why Nicaraguans , both women and men , behave the way we do , although I try my best not to engage in such behavior but since I’m a nica I include myself . Yes we lie , cheat , steal , beat each other up , use people , gossip , father many kids with different women , sleep around with other men , engage in illegal activities , side step our responsibilities , betrayal is our middle name and dishonest our last name . Yes we Nicas are scum. Maybe is something we catch from our drinking water or the fumes from all the volcanoes the foreigner that lives among us would think as the reason for such behavior . Let’s show them how to take care of their natural resources to alleviate them of their malady , some said .Others point to the effect religion has had on us nicas after over 500 hundred years of indoctrination . A new religion is what they need. We’ll send missionaries to show them the real and true religion. That would save them from their damnation. No wait, how about an Ism, that would really do the trick; what better than an ideology that combines the reverence of nature and spirit. Two for the price of one. And so the foreigners that have become experts on our ways by living among us are equally repulsed and attracted to us as any budding young explorer is equally enthralled by the new and alien. So much like us physically, yet so different from us on the moral and civil planes. But what is most puzzling to these well meaning foreigners is that to us this behavior doesn’t seem to bother us one bit instead we, men and women, young and old, alike, we seem to embrace it. From the highest office, the clergy and secular alike, to the lowest post, is all the same. What can you do for us? How can you help us? We are lost and gone. We were born on this land Nicaragua, the cradle of the lie and anything foul. And I look around me and I see how wonderful the foreigners are and behave and how great it must be to wake up and know that you are not like us and by that virtue you suffer our shortcomings and wish you could do more but there is only so much you can give of yourself and not feel that somehow you are becoming a bit like us but fortunately in the comfort of your home surrounded by your own at the end of the day you will regain the strength you need to go out the next day and once again face the horror of what it’s like to live among the Nicaraguan . I’m sor)ry I kind of went off track . Part of being a Nica , you know not being able to give a concise , straight to the point answer and must beat around the bush first ,inconsiderate of other’s precious time . Oops, did it again. Here is the reason why we Nicas behave the way we do: WE ARE HUMANS. Although this coming from a Nica I wouldn’t believe it much myself. Adios Senores y Senoras.”
The Need to BE a “Nica”
The first thing I noticed was something I had noticed a lot with expatriates. They always seemed to move to special protected enclaves when they expatriated. They rarely moved among the locals.
The second thing I noticed is they all claimed to be experts on Nicaragua, even more so than Nicaraguans.
The third was that they all seem to have a need to hire domestic help. And I surmise it was the first time in many of their lives they ever encountered the option to hire domestic help.
Here’s an example of one of the posts asking the other expats for advice on hiring domestic help, in the post entitled, Hiring Domestic Help:
“It is now 11am on Monday and our live-in M-F domestica has not shown up yet. She is the 3rd lady we have gone thru in 5 weeks. I just got a text from her son that she is on the way but I think she is on the way OUT! If this is how she is going to do during her trial period then i can’t imagine how she will be once she feels more secure in her job! She had to leave at lunch the past 2 Fridays also so she is basically working 4 day weeks. She gets room and board (M-F) and 4000 cords a month, there is only 2 of us in the house and I am NOT demanding at all. Perhaps this is my problem? Should I be more demanding (just not in my nature) and pay less?”
OMG, what problems we have! His/her maids aren’t showing up. This person has to clean up their own mess. God has cursed them!
I wondered what the locals thought of this. I knew in Mexico, the general opinion of this was not favorable. But I wasn’t sure about Central American attitudes. So I decided to join a forum and ask innocent questions about my planned move to Nicaragua, to join my husband. I wanted our move to be smooth.
By that time, my husband was already living in Managua on his tourist visa. He had befriended some wonderful Nicaraguan friends, and the things I was hearing these people say seemed so different than what I was hearing actual Nicaraguans saying. I questioned that.
He had rented a room on the outskirts of Managua. His neighbors were well-educated Nicaraguans on a projected career path towards success. One was a pharmaceuticals salesman and the son of one of the most famous doctors in the country who had studied in Russia. Another was a model for a brand of Nicaraguan rum and a student. The other was the son of a retired CEO of a pharmaceutical company who now owned real estate for income. All of them were Nicaraguan born and raised!
This was the Nicaragua that we intended to be a part of, not the exclusionist outposts set up by other expats who wanted the comforts they desired at a cheaper price along with the lack of rules set by their own countries.
To read more from Jennifer on this subject and others, visit her blog @ http://lawsonzepeda.blogspot.com/