How Mexico Is Misrepresented And Stereotyped—And Why So Many Americans Are Going There Anyway


Drugs, Cartels, and Crime: How Mexico is Misrepresented and Stereotyped—and Why So Many Americans are Going There Anyway

Mazatlan Sinaloa

Exotic drug lords, illegal immigrants, and more—most Americans’ imaginations are swarming with misconceptions about life in “Mexico.” 

We have two entities to thank for these widespread stereotypes: Hollywood and Trump. Interestingly, the country that so many of us love to hate is now slowly turning the table on us. It wasn’t too long ago that Americans were demanding that Mexico pay for a wall to stop cross-border infiltration; but it has to be clarified, who was crossing which border?

Americans are Moving to Mexico in Droves

Safest Cities in Mexico for Travelers to Visit

Who makes up Mexico’s largest immigrant demographic? Get ready to be shocked—Americans. Not just adults either; American children are also moving to the country. American retirees love Mexico too—and some of them are even making the move illegally

While the media and the US president’s speeches tell us that Mexicans are dying to come to the United States, they fail to mention that Mexico has:

  • Affordable housing
  • Real estate and other investment opportunities
  • Easy citizenship procurement procedures
  • Affordable and available medication, and a thriving healthcare industry
  • Advanced infrastructure and a booming economy

1.5 million Americans, according to a 2019 report, live in Mexico. It turns out that a curious mixture of home-grown crises and inflation is making people see their own biases, and is convincing them to move South to a place that promises more affordable housing and healthcare, as well as a better standard of life. 

Plazuela Machado Mazatlan NIght  lIfe
Mazatlan Night Life

To settle the score once and for all, as far as immigration is concerned—illegal or otherwise—more Americans are moving to Mexico than the other way round. 

And if you think that’s all, you have another thing coming. The number of people moving to Mexico has doubled (or even tripled!) during the pandemic. As soon as cases began spiking, hundreds of Americans took to Mexico and Canada to “wait out” the crisis

One of the reasons for this is affordable healthcare—they had a greater chance of surviving in a country where they could afford medication and get treatment, something not even the best health insurance companies guarantee in the United States these days. An expat living in Mexico during the pandemic reported how quickly they were provided help in a hospital—this is in stark contrast to waiting times in the US. To be more specific, in Mexico, it took about six minutes. 

The influx of Americans into Mexico reached epic proportions recently, to the point where the Mexican government had to spring into action. That the American government is refusing to let dual citizens (and even American citizens stuck in Mexico) return to the US is telling. Here you have the leader of the free world, refusing its own citizens entry into its borders and not providing affordable healthcare options—as opposed to a supposedly developing country whose workers are helping ease the pandemic situation in California. Smart Americans surely see the irony and are making an even smarter move. 

But why doesn’t everybody see Mexico for what it is? 

The Mexican Reputation: An Old History with the US

Mexico’s branding goes back many years, and this long history has fueled the general bias toward this country. The coverage a foreign nation receives directly affects its global perception and molds people’s outlook, and Mexico is no different. 

To start with, the Mexico-US war over Texas in the 1800s complicated things—and that’s where you could say the disputes started. The United States annexed Texas in 1845, and now we get to claim all the cowboys and all the action. 

Things might have smoothed over had it not been for more states being ceded by Mexico—namely Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, and of course, New Mexico. The US did pay $15 million in damages. But it wasn’t until the 1900s that immigration and smuggling became synonymous with Mexico. Then there was the Great Depression, with Americans moving to California looking for jobs and finding competition among Mexicans.

The foundation for many of these prejudices is, therefore, economic and political in nature. Over time they have coalesced in people’s collective conscience. Even though President Roosevelt sought to ease tensions, the oil disputes between the two countries (shortly before WWII) and the subsequent labor influx worsened matters.

It is, however, noteworthy that the immigration influx of the mid-1900s directly benefited the United States. Thanks to the Second World War, the US was short on labor—and so more was brought in from Mexico. All was well until the soldiers returned from war and had to compete with “foreigners” for work. Nixon’s war on drugs of 1969 was an aggressive crackdown across the US-Mexico border that paved the way for the “drug” label.

Wars, politics, presidents, labor, oil—all of these enmeshed to create the perfect recipe for poor relations that continue to this day, despite the fact that Mexico is a haven for American expats and real estate investors. And if this wasn’t enough, Hollywood had a crazy amount of pernicious stereotypes in store.

The Mexico Message: How Hollywood Plays a Role

When we say the misrepresentation of Mexico in the “media,” we don’t just mean electronic or print media—we also mean the entertainment industry. 

To start with, not every Mexican looks like Selma Hayek or wears a sombrero all the time. Films like “A Day Without a Mexican” portray Mexicans as people who are willing to do ‘the dirty work’ for American betters, and that in itself conveys the idea of thuggery. “Man on Fire” has a Mexican “drug lord’s” kidnapped daughter saved by an American, and portrays Mexico as a particularly nasty and hostile place to live in. 

“Get the Gringo” sees Mel Gibson (playing a white American) being terrorized by both Mexican mafia and police. The town portrayed in this movie is a deserted, barren wasteland that’s shown to be in poor condition. 

“Spanglish” portrays Mexican women as stereotypical (probably undocumented) maids who can’t speak English well. 

The maid in “Cake” goes to Mexico to buy illegal drugs. “Fun with Dick and Jane” has Mexicans portrayed as thieves and thugs. 

The hit “Narcos” didn’t help with its drug cartel plotline, because while based on an actual person, it got many things wrong about Mexico, the mafia, and drug cartels.

Films are fiction and have the license to stray away from reality—but when you get one image, consistently, about one nation, your views are bound to become somewhat skewed. Films hurt the country’s image, and Mexicans know this very well

Media Representation

In local news, Mexico is always shown to be either corrupt, or plotting against us, or both. It would be our version of Oceania if Iran didn’t already have that honor. The media also peddles the notion that all Mexicans are immigrants—even the assimilated citizens and third generation who were born here. 

The imagery associated with Mexican immigrants and Mexico is alarming, as a report shows: USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal are all covering Mexican news and issues. However, the most-reported topics were:

  • Violence
  • Drug-trafficking 
  • Crime
  • Organized crime

The media and our entertainment industry, together, convey the idea that Mexico is a drug haven where women are axed down, cartels rule instead of a government, poverty is rife, and people are dying to move to the United States.

The reality couldn’t be more different.

So What’s Mexico Really Like?

We’ve already outlined that Mexico has affordable healthcare, medication, housing, et al. Many doctors speak excellent English there, they have advanced equipment and good education, and you don’t have to pay exorbitant amounts for simple medical procedures.

As for violence, yes, there are drug cartels in Mexico. Just like there are tribal fundamentalists in Afghanistan or street gangs in the US. Every country has its own brand, and you’re right to be concerned for your safety. By the way, this would cease to exist if there wasn’t such a carnivorous apatite by citizens of other countries for the cartels’ goods and the ‘war on drugs’ wasn’t raging making it a criminal offense for a victimless crime.   

The violence, however, is exaggerated in the media and movies anyways. Thus, even if you are an old retiree, you won’t have to worry about nasty drug cartels unless you actively deal with drugs—which we’re going to assume you don’t. 

Moreover, the weather in Mexico isn’t as hot as people think it is—it’s a varied climate just like any other climate. They have mountainous areas, and it can get very pleasant at times. Cooler climates aren’t all that hard to find. 

Finally, the cost of living in Mexico is unbelievable—it’s why so many Americans have ended up there. Everything from utilities to travel is cheaper and well within your budget if you’re retired. Water is free. Property tax is affordable. Buying a house is not a dream that can’t come true. 

How Difficult is it to Invest in Real Estate in Mexico?

Celestun Real Estate
The Reserve at Celestun

It’s surprising that Mexico has retained its economic vitality during the pandemic, but it’s “life as usual” in Mexico. Businesses are reopening, which means the economy will be just fine. 

Although people are still instructed to practice social distancing and leave their homes only when necessary, the economic hubs in the country are all set to start working. 

It’s a smart strategy for a country like Mexico: it aims to keep its head in a time of probable recession, and it doesn’t dismiss the viral threat either. Fighting at both fronts, Mexico shows a promising future as a potential investment hub, be it real estate or otherwise. 

Celestun pristine beaches
Celestun Yucatan

Overall, the fairly stable economy, a buzzing business hub, and a booming tourism industry ensure that there are far too many reasons to invest in real estate in Mexico. Additionally, real estate prices in Mexico are comfortable and affordable for expats, and there’s a thriving ex-pat community present there. Assimilating into Mexico’s culture is easy and learning the language is more or less the only extra effort an investor needs to make. Buying property in Mexico is likewise easy, and business opportunities are ripe, given the global tourism and travel interest in the Southern country. 

Once this pandemic is finally over and people begin to travel again, what are the places they will think twice before visiting? China, surely. But also the United States. Add Italy and Spain and other countries that have been worst hit. Mexico, interestingly, isn’t on the list. Tourism will take no hits once the planes start flying again. 

Find Out More

Whether you want to move out of the US, into Mexico or are just weighing your options, for now, Escape Artist is a great place to find the right resources. They cover everything from offshore investment opportunities to real estate gems and from the visa process to what life is like in Mexico. Buy yourself a book, listen to a podcast,

If you’re interested in finding out more about Mexico, don’t rely on Netflix or Hollywood. Try our database of factual information that details the process and brings light to a more accurate and authentic version of a country that’s becoming a budding economy. It’s a brilliant place to invest in and an even more brilliant place to live out the rest of your days in peace.

Mikkel Thorup is the Director at the oldest and largest offshore website in the world and host of The Expat Money Show podcast. He is also the author of #1 Best-Selling book Expat Secrets on Amazon. Mikkel has spent over 20 years in continual travel around the world, visiting more than 100 countries including Colombia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Iran. His goal is to help people just like you to generate additional streams of income, eliminate your tax bill, and take advantage of offshore structures so you can travel the world freely and never have to worry about money again. Follow Mikkel Thorup on Twitter @ThorupMikkel

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