Back when I first traveled to Latin America, I arrived to Chiapas with a group of other Americans.
We were set on visiting some social movement called the Zapatistas.
And our guide was an older man named Peter.
Peter was very knowledgeable about the movement and, to his credit, was definitely a man that you would want to sit down with for a chat about Latin America.
Let me tell you that he has seen more “interesting things” in Latin America than most expats ever will give that his involvement with the region exposed him to a lot.
Granted, he mostly knows one very small corner of Latin America but the experiences he has had really expose him to a very interesting example of how life can be in some rural areas.
But, on the flip side, you could also argue that he suffers from biases like the rest of us.
Nobody is perfect.
After about 3 years when I finished my brief time in Chiapas, I remember having to do a major thesis of over 200 pages on the Zapatista movement.
And we got back in touch.
When it comes to the Zapatistas and life in rural Chiapas, he is very knowledgeable as I said.
Much more than most foreigners by far.
But there was one interesting thing he said when we talked one time that seemed a little bit odd to me.
Now, before we go into it, let me say that he isn’t the type whatsoever to “cheerleader” for the Mexican government.
Probably one of the last people to do so whatsoever.
But, as you know, sometimes we as people get into arguments without really knowing what we are saying just because we feel the need to “double down” to prove we are right.
That ego to not lose an argument.
And there was a moment where we were talking over the phone and it wasn’t so much an argument but some “awkward questions.”
To keep it short, the Zapatista movement has quoted the NAFTA trade agreement as a very bad deal for Mexico and their people.
And we got talking about NAFTA.
To which he gave a talking point about how “it is an example of America enforcing itself onto Mexico.”
Which, while Mexico does have more dependency on the US economically, I didn’t entirely agree with that way of thinking.
Primarily because, as anyone should know after enough time here, it’s not like these Latin American countries are literal satellite states of the US.
They have their own leaders who often talk shit about the US, enact their own policies and engage in their own degree of corruption and incompetence.
That isn’t to mean that “the role of the US” in Latin American development should be ignored but it’s that those who blame all of Latin America’s problems on the US seem to forget the role of local actors in Latin America when it comes to fuck ups in the region.
A topic I wrote more about here.
Still, we got into a little discussion about it and, like I said, Peter began to dug his heels in as some people do when it comes to disagreements.
Ego and all.
Where he literally said “it’s not Mexico’s fault for how Mexico is, only the US.”
And I responded “only the US? No Mexican president has had a role? No cartel? Nobody from Mexico has had a bad influence?”
“No” he said.
And, truth be told, there comes a point where I just “throw in the towel” so to speak.
If I am discussing something with someone and they say something so objectively wrong, I realize that I’m wasting my time.
And, being honest with you, I kick my own ass for wasting my time than I give THEM heat for it.
Which is ironic because, if you knew me, it’s not like I’m attending business meetings with Elon Musk.
I got plenty of free time here in Latin America.
But I do feel “very silly” when I realize that I just wasted an x amount of time discussing a subject with someone where I am actually serious about the subject and not just trolling them but yet I realize that the other person has “gone full retard” on the subject.
In the nicest way possible I mean that.
You just realize that no facts that are out there will persuade this person and, in the case of Peter, it was probably more of a case of “ego.”
To be fair, I’ve probably been guilty of that.
I think most people have.
You simply double down and take on the “opposition” stand rhetorically to disagree with whatever the other person is saying because you want to win the argument.
And so Peter insisting – with a final declaration of “no” to my last question – that all of Mexico’s problems are basically due to foreigners and no local Mexican people (important presidents, dictators, cartels, etc) have a hand in fucking shit up, did make me realize that I’m just wasting my time here.
Smart guy and very knowledgeable about his small corner of Latin America but felt the need to “double down” for his “new home” so to speak.
But I can’t blame him. I’ve fallen for the same behavior and most people do in my opinion.
Still, you see the same behavior (but with some differences) in other expats (not just in Latin America) also.
So turn the clock a few years into the past before that conversation with Peter….
A House Party in Argentina
Have you met the American who defends the Argentine claims to the Falklands?
An odd sight though, don’t you think?
It’s not really “our battle” to die for but here we are.
Some odd years ago, I remember joining some language exchange group in Buenos Aires.
As I wrote here, these “language exchange” events in Latin America can be great for meeting people, having a few beers, maybe hooking up and improving your Spanish or English.
Anyway, I went to a house party that involved a small handful of people from this Facebook group.
There was obviously an Argentine there and another American!
One who was a literal expat/immigrant and not just a tourist.
Ran a little business in the country.
Not Latino either or of Argentine heritage.
Had a very “foreigner” sounding name to him.
He jut happened to show up to Argentina, liked the place and made his life here.
At any rate, it wasn’t a big house party to be fair.
Pretty calm all things considered.
Nothing more than simple chat & beer.
But, for whatever reason, the topic of “the Falkland” (or Malvinas?) Islands came up.
And the other American dude – maybe he genuinely believed it or was pandering? – felt the need to be the “American” opinion on the matter.
I just sat and listened as, truth be told, I didn’t give too many fucks about who owned the Falklands or not.
Not really my hill to die on.
But the dude felt the need to give out all of the “talking points” for why Argentina should have it back.
Literally nobody disagreed with him.
An Argentina guy listening and nodding away was like “yeah yeah sure sure…totally agree.”
While probably thinking “why the fuck does he care so much about our issue and not his to begin with?”
Anyway, it actually wasn’t a big conversation at this small little gathering in the Argentine dude’s house.
Literally nobody cared about the subject and, given it’s been over a half a decade ago, I don’t even remember how the topic came up.
It started and ended in maybe 2 minutes (or minute and a half?) where the American dude got to show everyone within ear distance that he “stands for Argentina.”
Did it earn him any Argentine pussy?
Then the topic ended, nobody was contributing to it, the Argentine dude kept smiling and nodding along before “going to check on something real quick” and life went on.
The other American dude seemed nice anyway but it was a weird “ok” moment.
Still, it all comes back to a simple topic.
The Expat Ambassador for Their New Home
It’s a funny sight to be honest.
I’ve seen this also with expats of other regions (Ukraine, China, etc).
Where the person in question will trip over themselves to basically be a political ambassador or cheerleader for their new country that they moved/immigrated to.
Now, to be fair, there are various points to consider.
First, obviously living in said country can give a perspective and life experience those outside of said country are not exposed to. It’s not that said expat is necessarily entirely full of shit then and does know something.
Second, just because said expat lives there though doesn’t mean they are an expert on more sensitive topis.
Most expats can tell you about the basics of living in a country because they LIVED it.
But how many are part of “inside” conversations about their country’s foreign policy (like expats living in Ukraine), environmental issues, trade policies and so forth.
They can give experiences on the ground but they aren’t part of those conversations.
An English teacher in Colombia making 500 bucks a month isn’t your biggest expert on the war against the FARC necessarily even if there was a bomb set off in the bathroom of a mall nearby in Bogota or wherever.
So I do push back against expats using the “I live here, I know how it is” statement when their life experiences wouldn’t normally give them THAT much of a bump in knowledge over anyone else.
But expats who drop that line in any conversation wouldn’t agree with you.
They think the occasional visit to the whore house in Brazil & opening or doing more mundane things like opening a local bank account in Rio entitles them to a MUCH more solid opinion on Brazil’s agricultural industry or whatever when they really don’t have any experience with the topic and don’t know jack shit.
In the same way the locals in any country don’t know anything about most topics that don’t involve any relation to their career, hobbies and daily life.
How many Russians would you expect to know how to improve the value of their currency or how many Americans would know how to fix the algal bloom in Lake Michigan?
“oHoOoOoOoOoO bUt I lIVe hErE!!!!”
“And you’re a normal wage employee as a janitor. Shut the fuck up.”
Third, as I said, sometimes we just let ego take over our words and double down on stupid arguments.
Fourth, while living in said country can give that alternative perspective that is worth its weight in gold, you do have expats who believe in junk info produced locally in said country.
Every country has its biases, ways of reporting in the local media and so forth that taint the facts to a degree.
Sometimes said expat just consumes so much of that “other perspective” without ever challenging it.
Fifth, some expats are “self-hating westerners” so to speak and just think “anything west is bad and anything not west is good.”
Which is ironic because they might hate “the west” for what they perceive as authoritarianism, unjustified wars, beating up protesters and so forth but yet ignore said things in whatever country they now call home.
On that note, some of these folks just seem to place an odd value on “anything non western” for finding “the truth” about the world.
They might even consider themselves “independent thinkers” when they aren’t doing much independent thinking outside of acting like those they critique where they just reiterate talking points from another perspective without ever questioning them.
Sixth, some of these folks just might be oversensitive.
Plenty of expats can be when it comes to justifying to folks back home for “why they live over there.”
And so some of these folks just double down on EVERYTHING and will deny any facts about their new country and say “it’s fake news.”
Like expats in Mexico who feel insecure about news talking about cartel violence and deny the extent to which its bad.
“Don’t believe what you see back home, broooo”
Meanwhile, said expat is living a privileged life in Polanco or Roma Norte sheltered away from it all with no acknowledgement that his life is very different from those in the country that are in a fucked situation and in danger of being killed or threatened.
Seventh, it’s a bit ironic that these types have never been hired by the governments of their new countries to be official cheerleaders for the “mainstream narrative” of their new country.
I guess they don’t have to though if said expats are taking on the role in a volunteer way, huh?
Eighth, I think part of the reason for why this happens is because, over time, we expats do feel some bond with the new country.
Especially if you’ve been here for years.
You might still have allegiance to your home country over the new one but you do sympathize more over time with the new one on some of their issues.
After all, you got friends here. Maybe a wife. Perhaps kids? An entire life and years of memories.
That will change your perspective on things and what you will choose to believe or ignore.
Your biases ultimately.
Anyway, above all else, all I can say is to take it easy with these types.
When you realize that you aren’t talking with someone who can be reasoned with and their beliefs are set in stone, it really is better to just listen and not argue.
Mostly for entertainment purposes.
For example, I have a friend named Mike from California.
He believes in Flat Earth.
While I don’t agree with that opinion, I don’t take it personally either.
I enjoy hearing his opinion on the matter.
Not in a condescending way but just our of enjoyment to hear other opinions.
When you realize that the conversation isn’t going to change anything or make you learn something new, it’s best to treat it like a talk about football.
Don’t take it too seriously.
And the other person will love you for it because it gives them a chance to give the 5 minute monologue without feeling the usual hate or condescension that they’d receive from others for their opinions that few others accept.
Not every battle is worth fighting.
And so when it comes to the expats who serve as political ambassadors for their new country – be it in Latin America or anywhere in the world – just enjoy the conversation.
Don’t take it seriously because it’s not serious.
That’s all I got to say anyhow.
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Thanks for reading.
PS: If you want another article on this subject that I wrote, you can check it out here.