Immigration boom in Mexico creates buzz

Give me your artists, your chefs
Give me your artists, your chefs

After weeks of relentless rain, tragic destruction from hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid, and disappointing news on the economy, Mexico got something of a morale boost recently with two high profile stories in the New York Times.  The first piece, titled “For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico,” describes a trend of rising immigration into Mexico by foreigners seeking – and finding – greater opportunity in Latin America’s second largest economy.  The second story, “Mexico’s New Arrivals Mix Praise and Criticism,” tempers the rah-rah with some hand wringing from foreign retirees about crime and poverty, but still keeps it upbeat overall.  Most importantly for us, both stories give ink to Guadalajara app development stars Agave Lab, whom we lurve.

By nature of being consecrated by the New York Times, the rise in immigration in Mexico has now been certified as a trend, and this is one trend that we welcome.  The topic had already become water-cooler fodder in recent years here at the Mexico Business Blog global campus, supported by our field research of looking out our windows and eating at Argentinian restaurants.  In decades past, reference points for influxes of foreigners into Mexico were largely limited to Spanish immigration during or after the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the arrival of leftist intellectuals fleeing repression in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s.  But really, through at least the mid-nineties, when you walked out your front door in Mexico City, everyone you saw (save for the occasional tourist) was Mexican.

In our observable zone, things began to change with the emergence of the Condesa neighborhood in Mexico City in the mid to late nineties as a magnet for art, film and television production and in general an international flavor of hipness largely not visible before then.  Young professionals from Spain and Argentina had long been sprinkled throughout fields such as advertising and public relations, but once we started noticing people from other countries working as waiters, we knew a sea change was afoot.  Today, Argentinian restaurants are nearly stacked end to end in central Mexico City, and the histrionic cadence of the Argentinian accent has become an integral part of the Condesa experience.

Fortunately, foreigners from many parts of the world are also making their mark on the capital.  The saturation of Condesa gave birth to the booming boutique-and-foodie scene in neighboring Colonia Roma, and restaurants and bars along avenues such as Álvaro Obregón and Orizaba are now bursting with Europeans of every stripe as well as Americans, Canadians and Japanese.  Even more importantly, beyond the artists and waiters, some true old-school immigration is in force with the growth of the Korean community, whose shops and diners in areas such as the Zona Rosa evoke the hard-working twentieth century immigrant enclaves in cities like London and New York.  Colombians, Venezuelans and Cubans are also creating a thriving greasy-spoon scene of their own in Roma.  To a lesser degree, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti brought a small wave of Haitan immigration, which, together with new arrivals from Sub-Saharan Africa, is adding new flavors to the racial and cultural mix.  The growing presence of foreigners working in Mexico City may be easiest to observe in the Condesa-Roma vortex of international hipness, but it is certainly not limited to this area.

Of course, we are by no means arguing that the less ‘Mexican’ Mexico is, the better, or some variation thereof.  Nothing of the sort; the very wonderfulness of Mexican culture is what draws so many foreigners to the country.  The increase in immigration to Mexico City and other Mexican cities is a natural milestone in the evolution of human settlements:  The city and country have grown and evolved to the point at which they begin to attract people from other lands seeking to improve their lives.  Mexico has worked hard to boost its economic and political stature within the community of nations, and immigration could be considered a sign that this work is getting results.  And from our point of view, a city of 20 million is not going to lose its identity because some Dutch performance artist opens an ArTsPace in Condesa,  or a certain street in Juárez now smells like kimchi.  There’s room for everyone in this great taco tent of ours, and maybe, heaven forbid, we’ll even learn something about one another.

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