A Few Books American Expats in Mexico Should Read

A few months back, an American friend who was thinking of moving to Mexico’s Baja California region recounted her experience of home-hunting with a real estate agent.

She’d explained to the agent in advance that she is the kind of person who really immerses herself in local culture, so she wasn’t looking for a luxury condo or a gated community.

Nonetheless, when she arrived in Baja, my friend was given a tour of condos where Mexican maids come in and fold towels in elaborate shapes– swans, flowers, and all manner of objects that appear impossible to my own fumbling fingers. The agent explained, with some degree of pride, that American expats had created these lovely gated communities where they could “be assured of water and electricity.”

The local Mexicans, meanwhile, had to haul buckets to a water truck a few times a week–if it came rolling through town at all–to source water, as the American expats had diverted the water to their own neighborhood.

My friend talked about her meeting with the expats, who complained about the loud music of locals, explained that their community policy prohibited Mexicans from living amongst them because “they have a ton of people in one home,” warned about going to the “Mexican” store for food rather than the “American” store, and who proudly flaunted the fact that they spoke little or no Spanish.

I’ve been thinking about these folks as I immerse myself in Mexico’s classical and contemporary literature, which has a rich, respectable, and long history. If I could recommend a few books American expats in Mexico should read, they’d include:

Instrucciones Para Vivir en Mexico: by Jorge Ibarguengoitia
Translated literally, the title means Instructions for Living in Mexico. Far from being a how-to book, the late Ibarguengoitia, a journalist, brought his astute and acerbic wit to the page in order to offer a close-up examination on Mexican life. Though many of the short essays (most no more than 2 pages) were written in the 1970s, they remain powerfully relevant today. My favorite essays are in the section about bureaucracy and an essay about Mexican car horns. This book is great for the American who really wants to get beneath the surface of Mexican social and political life; it’s historical without being overly didactic, and it’s often quite funny.

The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers): This anthology, published by Duke University Press, is a sweeping yet comprehensive overview of some of the most important historical and literary documents from Mexico’s history. The book is great to pull off a shelf and open to any page; consider it your daily lesson in Mexican history and culture. It’s also in English, so you’ve got no language barrier excuses!

Africa en Mexico: by Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas
Not all Mexicans know about the Afro-Mexican populations that live in Mexico’s coastal areas, but Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas, a professor, specializes in the subject and has written several books about Afro-Mexicans. This one, in Spanish, is a great primer on the subject.

There are numerous other books I’d recommend, including cookbooks, art books, and memoirs, but these are a great start for the American who has recently arrived in Mexico. With the exception of The Mexico Reader, these books can be tough to find in the U.S. and online. In Mexico City, check the bookstore in the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the bookstore at the Cineteca Nacional, both of which have an extensive and impressive collection.

Are you an American expat in Mexico? What books would you add to this list?
Photo: Texas to Mexico (creative commons)

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Julie Schwietert Collazo

Julie Schwietert Collazo and Francisco Collazo. For more information, please contact us: e-mail: collazoprojects@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “A Few Books American Expats in Mexico Should Read”

  1. Julie this is so timely for me… I will definitely have to pick some of these up. I think it’s a form of imperialism, to buy your way into a country, use up it’s resources and return nothing– all the while ignoring the local culture. Sadly it’s one of the uglier aspects to Americans, this unwillingness to try anything new, to surround themselves only with what they are comfortable with and to forget that their luxuries come at others prices. If the US wasn’t so isolated geographically it might be different. I’ve noticed the difference in Europe, but on the other hand, if you drive two hours you’re in a new country with a new language. Delving into other cultures is more often a survival technique than anything else.

  2. Christine-

    Thought you might find this list useful! 😉 If you read Spanish well, then Ibarguengoitia’s book is a must, but The Mexico Reader is just a great, great overview.

  3. Julie

    It looks like a few gringos need a lesson about how to enjoy the delightful Mexican culture. Sadly these gated communities protected from the realities of life are how they are forced to live back home.

  4. I would like to add On Mexican Time which is considered classic among many in the Ex Patriot community within Mexico. Very informative & rather timeless adventure of Americans moving & getting used to life South of the Border.
    *Also, imagine my shock to see the photo of myself & my Ex Patriot friends within your Collazo Project. I can & will give my permission to utilize this artistic property…if you request it. All rights to this photo belong to me personally. Thank you.

  5. Hi, Dee-

    Thanks for adding “On Mexican Time.” It is definitely considered an expat classic. In my list, I really wanted to convey works by Mexicans that Americans living here could read in order to understand Mexico better.

    And that coincidence about your photo is interesting! I pulled it from Flickr and thought it was a creative commons licensed photo, meaning anyone could use it. I’d be happy to give you credit; please feel free to send the photo credit information to me at writingjulie@gmail.com

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