I wrote the piece below last year but it was never published due to closures in the magazine industry.
Headlines warn to stay away from Mexico, telling of drug cartels that roam the streets, killing anyone who gets in their way… including tourists. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported the violence has escalated. With killings in Acapulco and the bombing of a Guadalajara nightclub, the message is clear: visitors are also in danger.
Yet Mexico remains a popular destination for those relocating from the United States. I spoke with a number of expats to get their feelings about the dangers of Mexico. Did safety concerns play a part in their decision to move to Mexico, or their choice of location? Has the violence created any problems in their daily life? Their answers offered an interesting contrast to what the media has been saying.
|Baja California (Photo courtesy of www.morguefile.com)|
When people think of Baja, they think of Tijuana. But author Melinda Bates has lived in Baja California since 2006, and loves it: “It's beautiful, affordable, and has a different rhythm of life.” Baja California Sur is one of the lowest crime spots in Mexico. In addition to the tourist spots of Los Cabos, the region offers art, history, diving, hot springs, and hiking. Is there crime? Of course, but not enough to interfere with Melinda’s enjoyment of Mexican life.
Then there are the expats who have chosen to live in Tijuana itself. Mary-Ellen* moved across the border from San Diego just six months ago. A single female, nearing sixty, many would say that she is mad, but Mary-Ellen doubts that she will ever return to the States. As for safety: “I drive a car and use public transportation and had no problems. I have encountered more weirdos when using the San Diego trolley.”
The sense of safety is universal among the expats I spoke to. Sid Grosvenor, a former Dallas cop, moved to Guadalajara after the death of his first wife. He remarried and moved to Lake Chapala where he works as a realtor in the expat community. He comments, “As a former police officer I was impressed with the low crime rate at Lake Chapala. I spend more time explaining that the Lake Chapala area is still very safe. Our ladies here feel safe to walk in our towns and villages alone (even after dark).” Most locals he knows are horrified by the violence in the US, and he recalls how his Mexican mother-in-law would insist on praying over him before he traveled north to visit family and friends.
Michele Kinnon and her husband felt safe enough to move their entire family to Mexico. In 2004, they came to Playa del Carmen with their young children. The attractions were numerous: an investment in a growing city, a global atmosphere in which to raise their children, and an overall higher standard of living. Years later, they still do not regret their decision. “As a woman and a mother, at no time have I felt unsafe or concerned for the well-being of my children.” Michele works as a realtor. Although she has seen a few people decide against relocation to Mexico, the effect on her business has been minimal. “Most of our buyers are already familiar with this region and realize that drug violence in Monterrey will have no impact on their lifestyle in Playa del Carmen.”
|The Mayan Riviera (Photo courtesy of www.morguefile.com)|
Everyone I spoke with agreed that the media has failed to put the crime in Mexico within any larger context. Melinda Bates says, “The media has been very irresponsible in their reporting of violence in Mexico. They seem to think all places are the same, when in fact Mexico is a very large country. There is crime where I live now - just as there was crime where I lived in Washington DC - but no one says ‘don't go to Washington 'cause it's so dangerous!’”
There is also a sense that they are not at risk from drug cartels: “Since I'm not planning to be in East Tijuana at 3am in a Hummer trying to score dope, I feel quite safe!” (Melinda Bates)
Michele adds, “Is there violence in Mexico? Yes. Thinking that crime does not exist in any country would be naïve and unrealistic.” Nevertheless, the crime she has witnessed has been limited to petty theft. At no time has she ever felt that her children’s safety might be threatened.
So what tips would these expats offer to anyone considering a move to Mexico?
Melinda suggests, “We live a low key life, drive an old car, don't flash money around, don't wear much jewelry. That would be good advice for many places.”
Sid Grosvenor agrees: “The usual tips apply here (don't flash money, lock your homes, be alert to your surroundings.) Use common sense, but don't live in fear.”
Michele Kinnon offers the same advice that she would offer anywhere: “Doing your homework before you move your family anywhere in the world is a good investment of your time. Making sure the area you move to is safe and will provide you with the level of infrastructure that your family needs to live happily is essential.”
* Requested that last name be withheld.