Assimilation or Integration?

Making the Move

I’ve mentioned several times that when preparing to move, using social media is a fantastic way to get information and to prepare yourself for the changes in culture, etc. and of course, Google.  There’s tonnes of information out there about moving to Mexico!  For my part, for better or worse, I’ve tried my best to give people a real sense of life in Cozumel – both the warm, fuzzy, magical side…and the not so magical.  Like I’ve said before, it’s real life, Paradise or not.  We can’t always be under a palm drinking cocktails out of a coconut. Personally, I think it’s better to be aware, than naively bury your head in the sparkling white sand…crossing your fingers that everything works out.

In my post “Show me the Money” I mentioned that your income can play a significant role in what your version of Cozumel is – and this morning, I stumbled across something that got me thinking again about this sort of thing. First off, let me be clear your money isn’t the sole determining factor of your Cozumel experience – your personality is.

If I had any decent amount money, I think my Cozumel life would actually be pretty much the same. The exception being I’d probably go out for food and drinks a lot more! I’d definitely be going across to the mainland too, because I really want to see more of our state and also Yucatan. Aside from that, I don’t think it would change much because I have a specific way of life planned out here and it doesn’t really involve a whole lotta money. However, this morning I stumbled across several “Top 10 (insert topic here) in Cozumel” lists, created through social media polls. While reading some of these lists, I got thinking again about what Cozumel is to different people because for me personally, seeing the top 10 choices on the lists I looked at, they seemed to me to be tourist lists rather than residents lists…

Or are they really?

There’s a shift that happens when you move here, it’s a mindset change that happens when you go from visitor to resident. It takes a different amount of time for individuals but for most, you’ll start to see there are places tourists hang out and love as “their” Cozumel – and there are places residents go and think of as the “real” Cozumel…and some places that seem to nestle somewhere in-between the two. The amount you want to blend in and assimilate will help dictate where you eventually settle in but your personal comfort and character flexibility will also play a big part in where you eventually land in the mix. Some people simply aren’t ever going to assimilate – and some don’t want to.

So what does your Cozumel Life look like? Will you watch from the outside in, or be in the thick of it? Which is it going to be for you? Assimilation, Integration or Separation? Ultimately, whatever you choose is your business – I’m just going to point out some differences for awareness sake because I think it’s worth putting some thought into this before you move. Why? First of all, it may dictate some of the most important choices you make when arriving here, particularly where you choose to live on the island.

My plan from day one has pretty much been assimilation. Learning Spanish, having local Mexican friends to show me the in’s and out’s of island life and living back in a neighbourhood where my neighbours don’t speak any English. When we were house-shopping, I flat out told our realtor I had no interest in living in an expat neighbourhood.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t turn my nose up at expats and honestly, I’m not sure there’s a way to explain this without coming off as a snob…but I do limit my interaction with some. I watch people – a lot – and I notice when some people who move here don’t make much of an effort to integrate, let alone assimilate. They settle in and spend their days with similar, fellow expats. They don’t speak Spanish, or speak very little. Hang out at more touristy places. Many of them have few or no Mexican friends and some that do, will sometimes toss in a disclaimer, saying it’s their “adopted” friend/kid/family.

Okay, sidebar: I don’t get this…and personally, it rubs me the wrong way. If they’re really your friends, you shouldn’t be talking about them like they’re some kind of pet and there really should be no need for a disclaimer, not if you really consider them on equal footing…but I digress.

I limit my interaction with these folks – but why exactly? Is it because they’re expats? Hell no! It’s because I don’t want to get stuck or caught up at that level of integration. You might think it’s a silly thing to say, or strange way look at it – but I worry that surrounding myself with people that don’t really want to integrate or assimilate, will stall my process. I tease my Mexican husband about this all the time. He moved to Cozumel from Tijuana and is fluent in English, having lived in San Diego at one point. The issue is he speaks to me in English much more than I prefer – and because of this, I’m convinced my Spanish has not progressed at all as it should have. When we met, I figured my Spanish would improve vastly, getting to practise with him. Nope. In the years since we met, I feel like my Spanish has hardly progressed at all and it’s a great source of frustration for me. I simply don’t get the practise I need, or want, when he speaks to me in English most of the time. So my assimilation process in this regard has slowed…

For everyday life, when I was preparing for my move here and was travelling back and forth to the island every couple months, I spent my days on Coz with local Mexican friends. They showed me what I consider the “real” Cozumel. Eating on the cheap at little places you won’t usually find tourists or expats. Piling 6 people into a sketchy-condition VW beetle and going to a free beach, with homemade food and a bottle of tequila. Going to bars where there’s not a tourist in sight. It was my education and introduction into life as a local, not as an expat per se – and it jump started my assimilation in a big way. This is my Cozumel. If I hadn’t had these real, organic experiences, I’m not sure where I’d be today in the process.

I’m always happy to meet and hang out with new people…and I don’t exclude people that have moved here, in fact, the majority of my friends have moved here as well. Many are from other areas of Mexico and the rest, from other countries around the world. The thing is, they are also working hard at assimilating or integrating themselves into life here – and that is part of our connection. We all bring something to the table as foreigners and are in various stages of folding ourselves into the island culture. Yet as Canadians, Americans, South Africans, Germans, Ukrainians, Cuban, Italians, Mexicans, we still have the beauty of diversity in our ranks. It’s part of what I love about them ??

So when you first move here, you may not be certain where you’ll end up on the assimilation-integration-seperation scale – or where you even want to end up – but it is definitely worth some thought.

The culture of Mexico is rich and varied and the culture of Cozumel is certainly no less. Being an island also brings it’s own special quirks and I encourage you to look at the island blog: Women Who Live on Rocks because there’s one thing I’ve noticed, for some weird reason, islands have their own kinda thing going on and it’s the same or very similar everywhere – it’s an island thing!

I can’t give you advice on what option will work for you…integration, assimilation or separation. I know there are people who’ve been here for years, yet they have no interest in Mexican food, don’t speak Spanish and wouldn’t know tripa from a tope. Personally, my hope is that you’ll at least dig into the culture here before limiting yourself. Dip your toes and consider diving in. Of course, if the only reason you moved here is for the weather and beach – and you prefer the rest of your daily life to stay as much the same as where you moved from – well, that’s an option too. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

Your Cozumel is what you make it.

Learning about the Mayan traditional Hanal Pixán
An international cast of friends…
Mexican, American, Cuban, Canadian, South African, Ukrainian, Columbian

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