Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2022
Fernando Bustos Gorozpe was sitting with friends in a cafe here when he realized that — once again — they were outnumbered.
“We’re the only brown people,” said Bustos, a 38-year-old writer and university professor. “We’re the only people speaking Spanish except the waiters.”
Mexico has long been the top foreign travel destination for Americans, its bountiful beaches and picturesque pueblos luring tens of millions of U.S. visitors annually. But in recent years, a growing number of tourists and remote workers — hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., Silicon Valley and points in between — have flooded the nation’s capital and left a scent of new-wave imperialism.
The influx, which has accelerated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely to continue as inflation rises, is transforming some of the city’s most treasured neighborhoods into expat enclaves.
In leafy, walkable quarters such as Roma, Condesa, Centro and Juarez, rents are soaring as Americans and other foreigners snap up houses and landlords trade long-term renters for travelers willing to pay more on Airbnb. Taquerias, corner stores and fondas — small, family-run lunch spots — are being replaced by Pilates studios, co-working spaces and sleek cafes advertising oat-milk lattes and avocado toast.
And English — well, it’s everywhere: ringing out at supermarkets, natural wine bars and fitness classes in the park.
At Lardo, a Mediterranean restaurant where, on any given night, three-quarters of the tables are filled with foreigners, a Mexican man in a well-cut suit recently took a seat at the bar, gazed at the English-language menu before him and sighed as he handed it back: “A menu in Spanish, please.”
Some chilangos, as locals are known, are fed up.
Recently, expletive-laced posters appeared around town.
“New to the city? Working remotely?” they read in English. “You’re a f—ing plague and the locals f—ing hate you. Leave.”
Clear financial incentives are drawing Americans to Mexico City — where the average local salary is $450 a month.
For the cost of a $2,000 one-bedroom in Koreatown, an Angeleno can rent a penthouse here.
The dynamic playing out here is, in many ways, an old-world problem colliding with tech-age mobility, one that is forcing Mexico to confront its own history and traits.
After his revelation at the cafe, Bustos uploaded a video to his popular TikTok account, complaining that the influx of foreigners in Mexico City “stinks of modern colonialism.” Nearly 2,000 people posted comments in agreement.
His critique is multilayered and speaks to generations of injustices. There’s the problem of newcomers’ “indifference as to how their actions are affecting locals,” he said, but also the fact that Mexicans cannot migrate to the U.S. with the same ease. He also believes that Americans, many of whom are white, are reinforcing the city’s pervasive — if infrequently discussed — caste system.
Indigenous Mexicans are more likely to be poor than lighter-skinned Mexicans and are largely unrepresented in film, television and advertisements. A growing social movement called Poder Prieto (“Brown Power”) has demanded that Netflix, HBO and other streaming platforms feature dark-skinned actors.
“Mexico is classist and racist,” Bustos said. “People with white skin are given preference. Now, if a local wants to go to a restaurant or a club, they don’t just have to compete with rich, white Mexicans but with foreigners too.”
The flood of American visitors began in earnest around 2016, when the New York Times named Mexico City the world’s top travel destination, and magazine writers wondered whether it was the “new Berlin.”
The pandemic pushed it into overdrive. As much of Europe and Asia shut their doors to Americans in 2020, Mexico, which adopted few COVID-19 restrictions, was one of the few places where gringos were welcome.
Making it easier: Americans have long been able to stay here up to six months without a visa.
The State Department says there are 1.6 million U.S. citizens living in Mexico, although it doesn’t know how many are based in the capital. Mexican census data track only foreigners who have applied for residency, and most remote workers don’t.
But the anecdotal evidence is compelling. In the first four months of the year, 1.2 million foreigners arrived at Mexico City’s airport. Alexandra Demou, who runs the relocation company Welcome Home Mexico, said she gets 50 calls a week from people contemplating a move.
“We’re just seeing Americans flooding in,” she said. “It’s people who maybe have their own business, or maybe they’re thinking of starting some consulting or freelance work. They don’t even know how long they’re going to stay. They’re completely picking up their entire lives and just moving down here.”
Lauren Rodwell, 40, also moved down in January after spending several months here last year.
A marketer who works a tech job that is remote, she was tired of living in San Francisco, where every conversation began with, “What do you do?”
“I like being in vibrant cities that have multiple cultures that mix well, where there’s good food and good energy and dancing and art,” she said. “It reminds me of being in a more friendly, more clean at times, Brooklyn.”
Rodwell, who is Black, said she doesn’t feel guilty.
“I kind of feel like, as a person of color from America, I’m so economically disadvantaged that wherever I go and experience some advantage or equity, I take it,” she said.
In Mexico, which has a relatively small population of Afro-Mexicans and abolished slavery decades before its northern neighbor, Rodwell said she does not experience the same racism as she does in the U.S.. “Being Black in America,” she said, is exhausting. “It’s nice to take a break from it.”
Omar Euroza, a barista at a coffee shop in Roma, said rent for his apartment in the city’s historic center, another place where foreigners are flocking, has more than doubled over the last five years. Nearby, renters have been pushed out as entire buildings are turned into upscale apartments.
Euroza said he was sick of feeling like an outsider in his city. Around 60%-70% of his clients are foreigners, he said.
“Some people order in English and get mad when I don’t understand them.”
A chef who had just taken a sheet of warm cookies out of the oven shook his head.
“That’s unfair,” he said. “If we go to the U.S., we’re expected to speak English.”