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Friday, January 16, 2015

Escape from America: El Potrero, San Luis Potosí, Mexico


How long have you lived overseas?

First, a little bit about me. I was born in Berkeley, California, to a Mexican father and a gringa mother. My father was a lawyer and was very "assimilated". My mother learned to speak Spanish, though. We moved to LA when I was two years old, and I began my life in the bubble. I always felt there was something else but of course didn't know what because I was too small. I remember the day in 5th grade (Westlake School for Girls--bubble within a bubble) when I read in the history book about Manifest Destiny. I was outraged! What? Who said? With what right? I always felt Mexican, always identified with the dispossessed, always knew that the US was a sick society. For one reason and another I didn't make very good choices in my youth, so muddled along, finally moving to Greece (I had two young children and Mexico would have been too difficult socially and with regard to work at the time). So now I begin to answer your questions.

I've lived outside the US since 1978 with the exception of three years when I studied court reporting there between 1982 and 1985. I moved to Mexico three years ago when I inherited some money from my parents. I have Greek citizenship and am working on the Mexican.

What made you decide to leave the US?

I decided to leave because I never, ever felt like an American or said "we" about the US, hated their policies and disliked their society.

What do you miss about not being in the US?

I miss nothing about the US. My daughter and granddaughter live in Santa Fe, NM and I have friends in LA so I occasionally visit, but I can't say truly there is anything I miss.

What are the challenges of living where you are as a foreigner?

I don't have any problems as a foreigner, other than what any newcomer has in a small community, and even there, it's fine. I don't feel like a foreigner. I speak Spanish fluently and have a Spanish name. I'm kind of "different" here in this small town, but then so are people who have moved here from Mexico City. It's the same in small communities anywhere, I guess; it was that way in Greece and I made wonderful, dear friends there. Actually, the time I felt most foreign was when I was invited to some middle-Americans' house for Thanksgiving in LA. They were nice people, but I felt sooooo foreign there. I actually feel really strange around groups of white people, although I'm half white, look white. It's not a feeling of not belonging, although I definitely feel that I don't belong in that society; they're just so...different.

What are some of the pleasant surprises you've encountered in your new home?

I built a house here and I enjoy painting and making things. There really haven't been any surprises, since I've been very attached to Mexico since I was a child.

What are some of the unanticipated problems?

The challenges have been living without a telephone and being forced to buy certain things at Walmart because of (their engineered) lack of choice. And the pain of seeing the culture that I love committing suicide. But it's beautiful high-desert country, with clean air, and I love it.

What are some advices you have for Americans who also want to get out?

I don't know what advice I could give to Americans who want to leave, because--and I'm sure you know this better than I do--I find that most, even the ones with "liberal" ideas have certain preconceptions, certain "needs"--and I put the quotes for a reason--that haven't played any role at all in my case. I've never identified culturally, ethnically or politically with the US, so I didn't have very far to go. For people who haven't been close to another culture, who don't speak another language--even if it's not the language of the country they might adopt--it seems to be difficult to adapt and thus they choose an ex-pat lifestyle (shudder!).

--Danielle Covarrubias



Chuck Olroski said...


Danielle's is an extraordinary and spirit-lifting story, and I thank you for providing such enlightenment.

Her disillusion with "Manifest Destiny" and other cult forms of American cultural "Exceptionalism" are not strange to me. Frankly, as a fed-up & stressed small-town resident, I'd like to escape south of border, maybe Warsaw, but with family obligations and no inheritance money at hand, I can not even think of fleeing to Hazleton for mental and spiritual sanctuary. Can merely read & relish in Greek myths, an Iliad to the Catskills.

Lucky are those impaled Americans who can escape?

However, the deadline clock for failed Rat Race runners, like me, is dangerously ticking. You might recall that, after winning $1,500 on Pennsylvania's "Daily Number" lottery, in September 1989, Carol and I honeymooned in Acapulco. There we met a fifty-something, single American guy who worked a P&G factory for over twenty years, compiled substantial savings & pension, and decided to make home in Acapulco. There he found life more "down-to-earth, sweeter, and much more affordable than life in Buffalo, NY.

The man's was apolitical, he invited Carol and I to attend a 16-year old girl's "coming of age" ceremony in a small Acapulco Catholic Church. We did so, witnessed charm and simplicity, as pretty girls walked aisle, dressed in traditional handmade dresses; teenage boys in very cool suits which resembled those worn by Don Diego, a.k.a., Zorro. (Note: Drug runners, hit men, and sex slaves were not as yet prevalent in Acapulco, and Mexican stores were closed on sabbath Sundays)

As I believe there's a shortage of avenues for making a Danielle escape from the U.S., I sincerely look forward to additional replies to your thoughtful questions. And at 63, my date for "moving on" to a better place draws nearer, and short of hopping a southbound El Paso train, it looks like I have no choice but to "rope-a-dope" the raging American Empire here in Taylor.

Suffering social-economic and job trauma over long periods of time sometimes results in mental and spiritual clarity. Remember T.V.'s Archie Bunker theme song lyric, "You knew where you were then?" Well, Linh... I know where I been, where I'm down & out now. I'm sincerely happy (jealous) Danielle managed to escape both U.S. stilted education system & conditional "freedom," and utter dependence upon Wal Mart bargains.

What leftovers, those of us with little choices, "no pot to piss in, no window to throw it out of," those millions bereft of significant inheritances to flee to Mexico City outskirts, they continue to exist in the scary alleys of the End of America, for example "revitalized" Camden NJ. Why look at owners of Universal Tonsorial Parlor -- they gut it out, they "manifest" hope against hope for "better destinies," the best they can.

Gracias, naz drowie, I hope for many Blog reader responses, rebuttals to the my "have some shit" manifesto!


Chuck Olroski said...

I am impatient while waiting for response(s). Please someone tell me... should vanquished and trapped Americans defy the present Globalist-designed system, and organize daring mass flights across the southern border, take their bitter chances? Or just sit tight, as prey?

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

A question that needs to be raised is what skills can Americans bring to another country? A Mexican illegal immigrant in the US has his extraordinary industry and his willingness to work for less as his assets, but what can an American bring to Mexico to make him desirable there?

To shift perspective, some Vietnamese women go to Cambodia as prostitutes because as a different ethnic, they provide variety to Cambodian johns, and in Amsterdam's Red Light district, many of the prostitutes are from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

In Italian cities, there are Chinese illegal immigrants who sell folded reed insects.


Linh Dinh said...

P.S. One way for Americans to get a foothold in a new country is to teach English. Though you're supposed to have the right certification, there are many frauds out there because the demand is so high.

Those who have my Blood and Soap will have read about my fake English teacher in the story "!" .

Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: Speaking very respectfully, the skills Americans can bring to severely troubled Mexico are that of SUFFERING the blows of unbridled capitalism, and still wanting to work with dignity and justice.

I am sure some industrious broker can patch together thousands of broken Americans to depart for Mexico and start anew. These entrepreneurs have successful "track record" in targeting certain Americans cities for getting immigrant "jobs" in the U.S.A.; for one example, N.E. Pennsylvania towns like Hazleton and Shenandoah that have the huge Humboldt Industrial Park nearby, and need affordable work forces.

Thanks, I'm on your side of the 1% border, and sincerely hope others jump in this meaningful conversation.

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

Since American laborers cannot compete against Mexicans in the US, they wouldn't stand a chance in Mexico, where they'd also have the serious disadvantages of not knowing the language and culture.

One more example of caving out a niche: Filipino entertainers can make a living in Vietnam because they can sing in excellent English.

Speaking of carving out a niche, I'd think that if you're a very glib, slim black man of a certain age, you can try being an Obama impersonator in Mexico City. If you're a white female with preternaturally large buttocks, you can pose as Kim Kardashian.


Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: That's funny about doing Obama and Kardashian impersonations in vanquished Mexico. The real deals fooled everybody here in the U.S.A. and what's to say a nice ass and a Harvard smile could NOT do south of the border?

Seriously, my suggestion for mass U.S. worker exodus to Mexico for achieving a better life is difficult to fulfill. Would take spectacular combination of Gandhi-Eminem LEADERSHIP to coax even a 10 Americans to walk across Tex- Mexican border, and start a promising "career."

Last year, collecting U.C. for 26-weeks, I went to PA. Job Gateway web site, attended job fairs, job workshops, and re-worked my resume according to what area employers were looking for. You know what, Linh? I got shit... despite 22-years experience in the crooked environmental industry, I got lectures about being "over qualified," shit smiles, "have some shit!" Would probably fare better in a Maquiladora production plant, making widgets for Target Store.

At 63, I wish the Mexican and Honduran presidents could know how hard I would work for Right-Wing factory owners, despite not knowing Spanish language very well. For 10-years, I did very well on the docks of for fascist Roadway Express, Inc. management, who in order to spike Teamster production, played German March music on the dock's P.A. system.

Gosh - I truly hope someone else joins this worthy conversation. I'd even settle for N.J Governor's big-butt two cents! He already kissed Cowboy Jerry Jones's ass, and South of Border is only a few licks further down.

Ian Keenan said...

I tried to avoid Walmart in Mexico as here but I went to "Bodega" food store which is owned by Walmart repeatedly in Lazaro Cardenas while staying at a nearby beach because of lack of choice, and noticed they undersold what was on offer at the outdoor market there in an attempt to drive it out of business. I have never seen larger crowds in a supermarket as I would find there. This is a process that happened quite a while ago in the US, which used to have ... halfway through that sentence, I thought of the Philly Italian market outside your door with its fresh tortilla press .. more of that sort of thing .. recent immigrants help keep it alive because they haven't been desensitized to monopoly stores. Tortillas presses were subsidized by the Mexican government until the late 90s but prices are still quite low to gringo sensibilities (not for many locals).

As hard as it is for Mexicans to come to the US illegally and look for work, it's harder for Central Americans to go to Mexico. Costa Rica does a better job of fast tracking emigres who have seed money for a business so there's lots of gringo Eco-lodges there as opposed to Mexico, which is notoriously corrupt. I met a gallery owner on the Mexican coast that didn't show her best paintings in her gallery but instead put up her kitch portraits of Zapata and armadillos for beach tourists, who was friends with a guy from Minnesota who started a pizza stand but it didn't work out (blamed it on NAFTA). He made pizza for me with local cheeses and it was great, and pizza is really horrible down there with few exceptions when it is attempted. I didn't meet Asian emigres there as those looking for a lower cost of living are more likely to choose Asia, but as I said Tampico has Asians from the oil boom days that don't behave quite like Asian-Americans. English teaching, some sort of company that is looking for a liason, but they want fluent Spanish. Some people do get university teaching jobs - Mexicans (like the Chilean Bolano when he lived in Mexico) are naturally interested in US lit. One native Mexican I befriended who had a pozole eatery in a Zacatecas sold used cars in LA for six years but it didn't work out "If you came here to work we'd treat you better" but I didn't argue the matter.

Linh Dinh said...

Small business-destroying Walmart paid at least $230 million in bribes to Mexican politicians. You have to wonder how much they spend on American politicians?

Ian Keenan said...

Start with leading WH contender Hillary being on the Walmart board of directors for six years.

Anonymous said...

I think cartels might operate near the border. Getting several hundred miles beyond the border might be nice as a sort of road trip, though.

Considering U.S. government intervention in Mexico, and so many other places, I suspect Mexicans would not be too sympathetic to such an endeavor. They might like it if Washington would stop interfering, though.

I do find your idea interesting. It might be good as a public relations happening. I like your use of the word "organize". That might be key. Maybe some sort of solidarity mass migration with people from both sides of the border acting in concert with one another. If the powers that be can show solidarity amongst themselves in the form of NAFTA, why not have some sort of counter-NAFTA movement? Maybe a movimiento contra el TLCAN? (I apologize I that is not correct.)
Your idea might be useful to draw attention to the plight of people on both sides of the border, and especially for people (gringas/gringos) in the U.S., remind them they are not alone and encourage some sort of collective action, say boycotting Wal-Mart, and doing things that do not officially contribute to the economy, such as barter, and for those who have land, growing their own food, perhaps with the help of those without land. A peasants' movement for land reform [and also take the word "reform" back from the powers that be].

And there is this:

. . . should vanquished and trapped Americans defy the present Globalist-designed system, and organize daring mass flights across the southern border, take their bitter chances? Or just sit tight, as prey?

Melody Saunders said...

I would love to connect with Danielle..We were friends way back in LA..and then we hung out when I was in Greece..I have been trying to find her since we lost contact..Tell her Dick the dad, would love to contact her as well.

Please ask her if we can have her info and phone..

She can get all my contact info on and dicks on are in Lake Oswego Oregon, tell her.

Hugs to you Danielle,

melody saunders said...


Its Mel again..Just saw you have no phone..We can write..or email id you have email again is on my website along with my phone....

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Melody,

I've forwarded your message to Danielle.



About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.