As I prepared for my move, people kept asking why I was moving to Mexico, which always surprised me. For me, Mexico seems accessible. It is one of only two nations with which the US shares land borders. My home state of California, in its entirety—along with several other states—was ceded to the US at the end of the Mexico-America War, which ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That was just a year before the Gold Rush of 1849 which made San Francisco, the California city I called home since 1993, a wealthy, vibrant city thriving in the arts, culture, and more recently technology. From my parent’s home in San Diego, Mexico is literally just over the county line, and plainly visible from many parts of San Diego.
Though I started learning Spanish in 7th grade, my interest in Mexico goes back to childhood visits to Kansas City by my maternal grandparents, whose reverence for the California Missions instilled in me a certain romance toward California with its rich Mexican history. During the course of my studies at San Diego State University, I created a multimedia documentary on the topic of the missions, which opened my heart to the suffering of the indigenous people of California. Those who survived exposure to disease were essentially enslaved by the missions, slaughtered by Spanish soldiers, or both.
Did you know?
Mexico is the only Latin American nation to win its independence, on September 16, 1821, in its own revolution against Spain?
I also studied the art history of Mesoamerica and Peru for a year. I would call those art history classes a key educational experience because they started the process of demystifying Mexico’s indigenous cultures, many of which continue to thrive to this day. “Mexico” is the Nahuatl word the Aztecs themselves called their land; they called themselves the Mexica. The modern flag of Mexico bears the prophetic symbols given to the Mexica when they left their ancestral land, Aztlan—today part of the US desert southwest—in search of their home land in the valley of Mexico. As a result, Aztec culture survives to this day, mostly syncretized to Roman Catholicism since the Conquest, along with the Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, and other surviving ancient cultures throughout Mexico and all of Latin America.
I started visiting Mexico more often in 2010, venturing far beyond the border areas, first for a magical trip to Tulum, Quintana Roo where I participated in a Maya temescal ceremony. I had been interested in indigenous spiritual traditions for many years, but it is difficult to access the remaining indigenous cultures in the US due to lingering and legitimate distrust following the genocide of most indigenous nations in US territory, a fact of history that cannot be denied. So the temascal was my first direct experience with indigenous spiritual traditions and proved to be a transformative experience. As I started looking for places a little further off the beaten path to have similar experiences, I discovered Zipolite, a little beach town on the coast of Oaxaca. As an avid naturist since discovering San Diego’s Blacks Beach when my family moved to California, Zipolite totally fit the bill, as had Tulum. It is also a really small town, which made it possible for me to start making real friendships over the course of several visits there. It is almost cliché at this point, but I really believe Mexico’s greatest resource is its people. Their warm hospitality and kindness to strangers are unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere in the US. During my second or third visit to Zipolite, I decided to figure out how to move to Mexico to be closer to its people and cultures.
When I was unexpectedly laid off in January 2017, my next trip to Zipolite was just a week or so away. I decided to expand the trip to a month to give myself some time and space to figure out what to do next. During this trip, I met an Englishman who had moved to Mexico a few years before. I took advantage of the opportunity to pick through his brain to figure out how he did it. I returned home to a job search that proved much more challenging than any previous attempt, even in a city experiencing record-low unemployment. In the middle of all that, my cat got sick and finally died from a pancreatic illness. It was a tough year. But in hindsight, I see the Universe was rearranging things to make room in my life for what was in store, though at the time it felt like my life falling apart in slow motion.
Soon, it was almost my birthday again. At the same time I had booked my February trip in January before getting laid off, I had also booked a trip for my birthday in August. During this visit, I joined a retreat with a group from Mexico City led by a healer. The healing ceremony involving ceremonial medicines, a new experience for me that opened up vast new space in my heart and soul. I’ll write another article about these experiences eventually, which were so powerful that I have struggled to capture their majesty in words. Before going, I discussed the healing ceremony with my therapist back in San Francisco, who encouraged me to journal about my experiences so we could bring them into the scope of psychotherapy. I took him up on that and journaled extensively about my experiences for 10 or 11 straight days. It was a powerful journey of insight into the nature of the soul, the nature of the cosmos, and the interconnectedness of all things. To say I was changed by the experience would be a massive understatement.
In the year that followed that experience, I began to see that there wasn’t much of a future left for me in San Francisco. Eventually it occurred to me I could teach English to Mexican professionals to make a living in Mexico. I started looking into how I could obtain the certification to teach and discovered it’s actually a huge thing. The only thing I was lacking, official TOEFL certification, could be obtained in a 4-week intensive course. Like teachers in the US, teaching will pay me enough to live in Mexico, without much to spare or save for the future. However, this could be mitigated by offering private tutoring, as well as conversational classes online, mostly to Asian or Middle Eastern professionals trying to perfect their conversational ability for the purpose of conducting international business. After four years, I will even qualify for a permanent resident visa. I reached out to three friends who had moved to foreign counties and taught English to support themselves in the past. Encouraged by their feedback, I started checking out different schools. As I continued, doors kept opening to me, an encouraging experience after more than a year unemployed.
After a month or so of really checking things out, I told my roommates, a married couple and two of my best friends, that I was going to make the move to Mexico. I had already planned a trip to Zipolite in August for my birthday back in January, assuming I’d be employed again by then, so I decided to time my move to that same date, August 1. I just had to reroute my return trip to Guadalajara instead of San Francisco. In the four months that followed, I distributed my personal property (furniture, household items, etc.) to family and friends up and down California. I needed to pare down my footprint to fit in 2 large suitcases and a carry-on. It was a big challenge! You really find your attachments when you start giving away your belongings, but it was also a very loving and liberating experience.
I arrived in Mexico the morning of August 2, after a red-eye flight to Mexico City. I spent the first two weeks on the beach in Zipolite, where I was welcomed warmly with so much love by my friends who told me I’m a “wero mexicano” now, a colloquial term for a white Mexican. For my 51st birthday, a friend took me to a town called San José del Pacifico, high up in the Sierra Madre del Sur. There we went to another temascal, this time in the Zapotec tradition, which was another powerful encounter with indigenous spiritual traditions.
This morning, I’m writing from a cafe in the historic center of Guadalajara, a couple of blocks away from the hostel where I am staying for 6 weeks. I arrived two days ago, and yesterday made it out to find my schools, which are a couple of blocks further from where I sit. Today’s big goal is to find the US consulate, so I know where it is in case I need it, and to buy and send a birthday card to my mom back in San Diego. It’s really exciting to be here! It’s my first time to visit Guadalajara, where the people call themselves Tapatio. Guadalajara is often referred to as the most Mexican of Mexican cities. It is the home of mariachi in the state of Jalisco, which is famously known around the world for its production of tequila. Guadalajara, too, will be the topic of a future article.
So ultimately, my move to Mexico is nothing more than a logical continuation of my own personal spiritual journey. This makes it easy for me to accept making and having less. In fact, that already feels very liberating! In my travels to Mexico, making friends with ordinary people wherever I go, I have witnessed time and again that happiness is more about being content with what you have than with acquiring what you do not. So I’m here to live the same way everybody else does. I’ll have a good, humble job and get paid in pesos the same as every one else. I don’t have a pool of dollars born of the investments I had to liquidate just to keep my head above water back in San Francisco, but it really is all good. If anything, I wish I had done this many years ago, but I truly believe that everything has its time and purpose, which is why today I am so happy and grateful to be living in Mexico. ¡Saludos!