"Oaxaca, Mexico: An

Expatriate Life"

Writing by Stan Gotlieb

Pictures by Diana Ricci

I'm not the person I used to be.
Arrocita beach, one of many in and around the area known as Bajias (bays) de Huatulco. Situated near to Tongalunda bay, infamous for its "resort hotel" developments, Arrocita is a spot that is known only to local residents (and an occasional acquaintance like us). Now you know about it too. [Photo by Diana Ricci]

In my first "Letter", I wrote about my initial reaction to the seemingly snooty long-time residents (see this column, "Do You Live Here?"). I wondered how they could be so cold, so unfeeling and unwelcoming to a new convert to Oaxaca like me. I determined that I would never be like "them", and for over three years, I did my best. Today, I looked in the mirror and my haunted, sunken eyes stared back at me, and in a beautiful, myopic epiphany, I realized that I have slowly, inexorably, become one of Them.

I am not saying that there is a single persona which "we" carry, or that we all necessarily get along with one another at any level deeper than polite cordiality (although some of us certainly do); only that there comes a time when we find we (last week it was "they") have more in common with each other than with (last week it was "us") them.

Let me give you some examples:

When "we" are together, we rarely talk about what bus to catch to get to Mitla, or where to find a city map. Instead, we grouse about inflation and resent the tourists who think that a Negra Modelo is cheap at $1.25 dollars; we pass information on who's in the hospital and when so-and-so is due back; we argue about what standard we should use in the annual library book cull.

When I get together with "them", they hardly know any one of "us" other than me. We talk about bus routes and maps, tourist visas and restaurants, and what the Mexicans are "really like".

Of course all this angst might be easily resolved if only "we" remain "us", and "they" remain "them". But ooooooooooooh nooooooooooo! People, not content to leave well enough alone (and, trust me, the ones who come here are more changeable than most), keep switching sides. Makes it hard to know who anyone is, comprende?

Take me, for instance: last week I was an "us" with "them", and now I am an "us" with ... dah-dah ... "us". Last week, one of "us" (then, he was "them") who is ill in the U.S., decided to remain there. Is he still one of us? Probably, though less so. Two days ago, one of "them" (then, she was "us") decided after two months here, to stay. She will be going north soon, to sell her house. While not yet one of "us", she is certainly no longer one of "them".

Please don't misunderstand me. I like them. They have an appetite for tourist Oaxaca that I used to have before familiarity dulled it some. They treat me like I know something valuable, always a positive, not to say flattering, attitude. Sometimes, they even pay me for what I know. So I have no intention of ever snubbing them, or ignoring their presence, or even resenting them, as some of us do.

But I am thinking of moving to another part of town where there are fewer foreigners; to a house where I can have a little more privacy and a garden, away from our current (mostly transients, very nice, but here and gone) apartment house; where the streets I walk to the Zócalo are lined with houses and hardware stores instead of restaurants, galleries and craft shops.

This is not a whimper, but a report. I'm doing fine, as are us, and them. We are all - us, them, and me - contributing our steps to the dance that is Oaxaca. C'mon down. I may be a little harder to find, but I'll be around.
(September, 1998)


[Read a selection of "Letters From Oaxaca, Mexico"]

[Read a sample "Oaxaca / Mexico Newsletter"]