Abandoning America

I left America on January 19, 2000.

I did it on an airplane from Atlanta with just two suitcases. The future was an open book I had yet to read or write. A murder mystery, a romance, an historical tome? I had no clear notion. But I was sick of the past, and that can make even a cliff look sweet.

Most Americans who relocate south, from what I read on the internet, do it halfway. They return often, and their minds remain up there, which is understandable. Most arrive in Mexico as the un-young, having already packed one mode of perception into their hearts and heads over a near-lifetime.

I have slowly chipped away at my American connections. Today, I have almost none.

First, in 2002, I married a Mexican who does not speak English. I quit speaking English almost entirely. Then, in 2005, I became a Mexican citizen and won a Mexican passport.

More on passports down the line. In 2009, I made my last trip above the border. I don’t anticipate making another.

Financial institutions

In 2014, my U.S. bank — Banamex USA in Los Angeles, an outpost of Mexico’s Banamex, an account I opened before leaving Houston — abruptly dumped me due to Obama-era legislation called FATCA.*

My sole bank now is Spain’s BBVA, previously Bancomer BBVA. When I arrived in Mexico, I had four U.S. credit cards. They have fallen by the way due to various problems. My credit cards now are BBVA.**

Though I no longer had a U.S. bank, I had IRAs at the U.S. investment firm Vanguard, which had no issue with my living in Mexico, but with the advent of FATCA, that abruptly changed.

I quickly switched my address to a Miami mail drop so Vanguard would not cancel me like Banamex USA did.

I opened an account at Actinver, a Mexican investment firm, and put it in my wife’s name. In 2014, I began slowly moving Vanguard money to Actinver. Moving it slowly reduced the annual tax bite. I finished the switch just this year, so I closed the Vanguard account.

I have no financial accounts now in the United States.

Paypal

I had a PayPal U.S. account but, yet again, things started getting dicey due to FATCA. I canceled my PayPal U.S. account and opened a PayPal Mexico account using my Mexican passport and linked to my BBVA account and credit cards. Works great.

Passports

In 2016, my U.S. passport expired. I considered not renewing, but I did it for some goofy reason. I am now good till 2026, when I’ll be 82. I will not renew it at that time, so bye-bye U.S. passport. My Mexican passport will take me anywhere except the United States.

Amazon

I read a lot, entirely on my Amazon Kindle. When Amazon opened a Mexican outpost a few years back, I opened an account there too, but with a different registration. I continued buying my books at the U.S. site because there were few English books available on Amazon Mexico. That has now changed. There are thousands.

All too often, BBVA takes issue with my credit card on Amazon USA, and I have to phone the bank to straighten it out, which is very complicated due to Mexican banks’ hysteria on security issues. They are so hysterical that they inconvenience their customers more than the fraudsters. BBVA is not alone in this.

The bank did it again last week. Oddly, I buy things with the same credit card on Amazon Mexico with never a hitch, so I reset my Kindle and registered it with Amazon Mexico on Sunday. I lost some books in that process, but I’ve purchased three more.

Identical books often cost more on the Amazon Mexico website, but I don’t care. Bye, bye, Amazon USA.

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Do I miss America?

Considering the idiocy happening up there, not much.

When I think fondly of my American past, it usually focuses on my youth and adolescence on our family’s farm in southwest Georgia. I lived there fulltime until I was 7, and I continued to visit often into my early 30s when my parents sold it all.

The best memories, however, come from early on, walking through cornfields, looking across vast vistas of peanuts and cotton on the 540-acre farm, paddling the rowboat on Wavering Pond amid tall cypress trees, the walk down the field in front of the house to a narrow creek hidden among trees, the red-clay roads, my grandfather’s Ford pickup truck and gray tractors, the goldfish pond in the yard.

My grandmother’s 15 or so cats, and the dog named Pepper. The general store three miles down the dirt road where everyone was nice.

Frigid, winter mornings before the blazing, kitchen fireplace, eating eggs, grits, fried cornbread and redeye gravy. The main meal at noon with lemonade or iced tea beside vegetables and beef or chicken grown and raised just beyond the screened-porch door.

Willie the maid, Cap the bourbon-boozing handyman, and my pistol-packing grandmother’s real-life ghost stories.

But you know what Thomas Wolf said, and it is so.

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*FATCA is a law passed during the Obama Administration that purports to crack down on money-laundering. What it does primarily, however, is to clobber Americans living abroad by placing onerous paperwork on financial institutions with American customers with foreign addresses. The financial institutions often choose to just cancel those accounts.

**Interestingly, your credit history does not cross the border, so you must start fresh here. Whether you were a deadbeat or a stellar risk above the border, it means squat in Mexico. When you get a credit card from a Mexican bank, it will begin with a very low limit, and you take it from there. My limits now have been raised far higher than I need. Mexico has a credit bureau.

A decade gone by

2014-01-10-The-TENIT WAS 10 YEARS ago about now when I was last in the United States. I don’t recall if it was just before or just after Obama’s first inauguration. I prefer to think it was before, so I can say I never set foot in Weepy Barry’s America.

There was no Black Lives Matter or Antifa, and SJW had not been invented yet. There was social strife and victimhood because multiculturalism had been boneheadedly promoted long before I departed, but nowhere near the absurd level that now exists. But I had never voted Republican.

My Democrats were not rioting in the streets. Nor were they prone to hysterics. They were more sensible people.

Visiting outside your native land is a strange sensation. Living in a world so different than that which sprouted you is odder still. Though I’m a Mexican citizen and almost never speak English, I don’t fit in below the border.

I just have to live with that. A price to pay, well worth it.

Quite a few Americans live in Mexico. The Mexican government puts the number at around 750,000, though you see much higher numbers on the internet, stated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

From what I read on internet forums, etc., most Americans (expats, a term I never apply to myself) in Mexico visit their homeland on a regular basis, as do Canadians. It’s like a siren call, but I’m deaf to it.

There are reasons. One is it’s very expensive up there. Two is that America has become a disappointment to me. (Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently described contemporary American culture as vulgar and slipping into moral relativism.) Three is that it’s dangerous up there. Four is there’s nothing above the border that I need.

The last time I left Mexico was in 2012 when we flew to Cuba, which is a miserable place, but it was interesting. We’ll never do that again.

The last time I was in my old hometown of Houston was either 2007 or 2008. It had changed a lot since I left in January 2000. I imagine I would be flabbergasted to see it now.

Like San Miguel de Allende, where no more Mexicans live, Houston might be the flip side, where no more Americans live, just Mexicans.

And the last visit to another old hometown, New Orleans, was 2006, about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The city was a mess.

There are some things I miss about America. Fall foliage in Atlanta. Floating in the crystal clear Sabinal River in the Hill Country of Texas not far from the town of Utopia. Hot bowls of Vietnamese pho in Houston.

But America lacks some things I enjoy here. Cows on highway overpasses. The bray of burros in the distance or just down the street. Dogs on house roofs. Real cobblestone streets. Inexpensive living. Gonging of the church bell from the plaza. Hummingbirds sitting on my aloe vera.

Lovely brown-skinned babes. One of whom I married.

I cannot imagine I’ll ever visit the United States again. When I left America I was a youngster of 55, wet behind the ears. Later this year, I’ll turn 75, mold behind the ears. It’s been quite a ride.

Refugee, not an expatriate

EXPATRIATE, OFTEN misspelled, has something of an exotic ring to it.

It can conjure up images of Hemingway in Paris, Lenin in Switzerland or Felipe in Mexico, sitting at sidewalk cafés with steaming cafecitos, plotting revolutions, penning pamphlets or simply chilling out.

I excel at that last one.

While it’s common to hear Gringos who’ve moved to Mexico referring to themselves and one another as expatriates, I have never considered myself one, never used the word in reference to myself even though I am one.

I feel more like a refugee.

I didn’t feel like a refugee when I moved to Mexico over 18 years ago, but I feel like a refugee now while I watch my former homeland come unglued.

It’s nice to have found refuge South of the Border.

Any ole thing

john

BEACH DENIZEN and blogger buddy Steve Cotton recently wrote about the tendency of some Mexico expatriate bloggers to run out of material, letting their blogs lie dormant.

When this happens I think it reflects a lamentable lack of imagination and/or lack of a camera.

Just this morning, while resting on the throne in the upstairs bathroom, I noticed this scene, one I spot daily about that hour. But today it hit me that it’s a bathroom scene rarely seen above the Rio Bravo, so I photographed it.

The upstairs bathroom is colonial tile, floor to ceiling. We have two other spaces that are colonial tile, floor to ceiling.

That would be the downstairs bathroom, which is far larger than this one, and the spacious kitchen.

Making this photo black and white instead of color caused nothing to be lost because the colonial tile is black and white, which was my idea. It was a favorite accent I used when I painted art furniture in a previous life.

The mirror over the sink reflects what’s behind me as I shoot the photo. The light in the mirror is on the ceiling.

So if one runs out of good material to write about, just grab the camera and shoot any ole thing. It’s fun, and then you can blab about it down below … or wherever.

* * * *

To  Mexico City!

Switching gears now, tomorrow my child bride heads off to Mexico City for three nights with a nephew, age 13.

I had planned to go too, but at the last moment I changed my mind, plus they will have more fun without the old codger in tow. It will be the boy’s first visit to the capital.

They will ride the Turibus. They will visit Chapultepec Castle. And they will spend nights at the Casa González just off the spectacular Paseo de la Reforma.

I’ve been in Mexico City a million times. It’s a hassle to get there, and it’s a hassle getting around while you’re there.

It will be the first time in almost 15 years that my wife and I have been separated more than one night.

I’ll be like a bachelor again.