Jill in Saltillo: "Even when I've lived here for 50 years, I will still be 'The Gringa'"

Expat interviews
  • Jill in Saltillo
Published on 2014-09-25 at 00:00
A study abroad semester and a long-distance relationship. This is how Jill, Northern Indiana expat, landed in Mexico. She settled in Saltillo 6 years ago with her husband...

Where are you from, Jill? What are you doing nowadays?

I'm Jill and I come from Northern Indiana. I currently live in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico with my family. Xanaidah, my screen name came from my first few months in Mexico when a friend of mine declared that I needed a "Mexican name", as Jill is rather difficult to pronounce in Spanish. He dubbed me Zenida. I didn't like the name until I started spelling it 'Xanaidah'. Then it became my online alter ego--for the sake of preserving some privacy, right? Because that's why I blog and am on online forums. I clearly treasure my privacy.

Why did you choose to move to Saltillo?

I met my husband on a study abroad semester. We continued our relationship long-distance for 9 years (I moved to Mexico for two of those years), and we finally got married in 2007. We lived in Toluca for our first year and have been in Saltillo (three hours south of Texas) ever since. I've been living in Saltillo for 6 years now. My husband is from Mexico City and both our children (5 and 3 years old) were born here in Saltillo.
Beyond that, I love the history of the country - the staggering length of its recorded history, the pyramids to climb, the cities that still boast their colonial origins. I'm constantly awed by the lasting stonework and solid structures that have been in place for centuries. Keep in mind my perspective as a mid-western American, all you non-gringos laughing at me!

What were the procedures to follow for a Northern Indiana citizen to move there?

For two of years we were dating, I was living in Mexico, but officially on a tourist visa, as I was able to go back and forth to the US every 6 months. (Or, better put, I HAD to go back every 6 months, thanks to my tourist visas.) Once we were married, I continued the tourist visa routine for a year, until we moved to Saltillo, which has much nicer immigration offices than Toluca.
Once we moved, I paid a fine for overstaying my tourist visa. We had our US marriage certificate translated and registered at the Registro Civil (so it's officially on the books in Mexico) and started my annual visits to the immigration offices. Five years later, I was awarded my permanent residence card. I believe that the process to obtain permanent residency has been greatly simplified in the last few years. There are fewer hoops to jump through. And I thought it was a fairly straightforward process when I did it.

Are you currently working?

I have a degree in elementary education and am a native English speaker, so it is actually easier for me to find a job here than in the US. However, I have two small children and am currently staying at home to take care of them.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there?

The first month we were in Saltillo, my husband's company set us up in a hotel, and I spent my days wandering the city and my nights scouring the internet for houses to rent. We finally found one as we were driving around downtown in a charming neighborhood. It was for rent by the owners, and not advertised anywhere else.

How do you find the Mexican lifestyle?

I've now spent more of my adult life living in Mexico than in the US, so the comparison is rather tricky. Given where I live downtown, I can walk to corner stores, the market, parks, my children's school, and church. That fact alone makes my Mexican lifestyle less busy and easier to manage than the life I imagine I would lead in the US.
However, most of the expats that I know in Saltillo live on the far north side, where it is difficult to walk anywhere. That, combined with long private school hours and expectations could quickly make my Mexican lifestyle equal to that of any "taxi Mom" in the US. Like any discussion on lifestyles, seemingly small decisions here and there add up to drastically different lifestyles.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Pretty well. I speak Spanish fluently, but, like a neighbor that I met the other night pointed out to me, I will always stand out as 'The Gringa'. Even when I've lived here 50 years, I will still be "The Gringa". But that has its advantages, too. At a neighborhood meeting a few years ago, everyone seemed to recognize me and were interested in me. I'm a bit of a novelty.
When a friend of mine was introducing herself to the group, they were astounded to realize that she had lived there for 13 years. Many of them still considered her the 'new neighbor'! So sometimes standing out with my red hair has its advantages.

What surprised you the most on your arrival in Mexico?

Those four months of my study abroad experience taught me that I'm stronger than I ever imagined. I used to be fearful and filled with anxiety, but those months transformed me. During those months, I was in many situations that I had no control over (given language difficulties) that I learned how to roll with the punches. Now when people tell me that I'm one of the more laid back people they know, I'll reply dryly that I barely have a pulse.

Would you like to share any particular experience with us?

Through the blogging community, expat-blog forums, and the like I've enjoyed reading about the variety of expat experiences in Mexico and have a found it a great, free, way to explore the world! While some of us live in Mexico to leave the gringos behind us, some of us do crave some English conversation and others who understand what it's like to be 'The Gringa'.
For being a fairly small city by Mexican standards, Saltillo has a fairly high expat population, thanks to the automotive industry and Saltillo's relatively short drive to the US.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Saltillo? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

For as much talk as there is among the retiree population about how much cheaper the cost of living is in Mexico, I'm not really buying it. My husband complains of paying Swedish-style taxes and not receiving Swedish style benefits. Our rent is a bit cheaper than it would be in the US. Food is, too. It's been a long time since I paid utilities in the US, but I'm guessing that they're about the same. As for buying a house, real estate prices seem to be about the same as real estate in northeast Indiana.
But keep in mind that wages and salaries are a great deal lower here than they are in the US. So even though things are a bit cheaper here than in the US, it often seems a great deal more expensive when comparing how much more money we could be making, if we lived in the US. And don't get me started on consumer goods.
When people ask me where I buy clothes here, my quick answer is always, "Texas". (I do buy clothes here. But it is hands-down cheaper to buy them in the US.) And everyone buys their electronics in the US. Don't try to cross the border the last two week-ends of November or try to find a hotel in south Texas without a reservation. Everyone and their brother is there to buy electronic Christmas presents.
However, medical costs are a great deal cheaper here. I've been impressed with the quality of all medical care I've received here, and the thought of facing the endless paperwork, insurance hassles and whatnot that is involved with all things medical in the US has me swearing that I'll live in Mexico for the rest of my life. So there is a sliver lining! And that might explain the huge draw for the retirees.

How do you spend your leisure time in Saltillo?

Saltillo has a fantastic collection of municipal parks which we frequent. Having lived in other cities in Mexico, I've been disappointed with public spaces in other cities. However, Saltillo does a stellar job of creating and maintaining their parks and playgrounds. I have small children and a dog. That's about all we do.
Unless we run out of wine and then we run up to Casa Madero, the oldest vineyard in the Americas, two hours away in Parras. It's a Pueblo Magico, so it's a well-kept small town, which also boasts a few refreshing reservoirs.

What are the differences between life in your home country and in Mexico?

Spanish, corner stores, colonial architecture, a lack of indoor climate control... But on each of these points I could be talking about certain regions of the US. Furthermore, Mexico also has more than its fair share of English, box stores, hideous 70s architecture, and air-conditioning in plenty of areas.

Would like to give any advice to soon-to-be expats?

Be patient. Be patient with those around you. Be patient with yourself. In so many situations, there is no one right way of doing things.

What are your plans for the future?

Through volunteering at my church and my kids' school, I'm looking forward to getting to know more of my neighbors downtown, and I'm looking forward to meeting more expats.

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