Enrique, 52, was born in San Diego, his father is Cuban. For many years he remembers that he has crossed into Mexico, more precisely to Tijuana, as a normal practice, as does any American who lives in border cities and wants to spend his weekends on the other side of the wall or wants to go to buy products that are cheaper for him.

He belonged to the U.S. Air Force and is currently retired. He lives in Playas de Tijuana and often travels to the interior of the country to learn a little more about Mexico, because "I love Mexico," he says at the beginning of the conversation. Unlike his cousin who has decided not to visit the country because he had an unpleasant experience with the authorities 15 years ago. Enrique questions his cousin's rejection, "oh! wow! how is it possible that you don't visit Mexico!" he claims in every conversation they have.

"He told me he never wants to come. He said that when he came 15 years ago the police stopped him and said "give us money or we're going to have problems here" and pulled out his gun. So he says that if the police are going to do that 'I have no reason to be in that country,'" Enrique points out.

He told Once Noticias that Americans perceive that Mexican authorities often stop them to ask them for money, a practice that he believes has increased compared to previous years, at least that is how Enrique remembers it, who has been living in the country for a little over four years and has almost a lifetime of going back and forth between border cities.

Enrique came to live in Tijuana gradually. At first, he didn't like it, but the social dynamics, the cheap rents, the perception of security that other American communities gave him, and the possibility of traveling to other entities were some of the things that convinced him to stay. He considers that real estate rents -which he considers affordable- or the possibility of setting up Airbnb and having it as economic support, are options that make the idea of residing in Mexico possible. He travels often for his work, to León, Guadalajara, and Mexico City: "everything was perfect, living together was the best," he says.

"People who are not on the border don't understand what the border is, we have more in common with the people of Tijuana than with the people of Boston. Tijuana is not Mexico, to know Mexico you have to go inland. I am from San Diego and I eat chile. Many Mexican friends are surprised, but for me it's normal, it's easier for North Americans who live here," he shares in Spanish.

Americans, the largest foreign population in Mexico

Mexico has an important geographic location: it is the gateway to Latin America, but it is also a neighbor of the United States. Entry or exit, depending on where you look at it, is an important connection point for both the north and the south. This location makes the country a place of transit, but also settlement for foreign populations because they also choose to reside in Mexico, such is the case of Enrique and 797,266 Americans.

By 2020, out of 1.2 million foreigners residing in Mexico, according to INEGI's 2020 Population and Housing Census, 65.8% are U.S. citizens. 65.8% are of U.S. nationality, while 4.7% are of Guatemalan nationality and 4.4% are originally from Venezuela.

The most numerous population in the country are people from the neighboring country. Although in recent years the number of people of Central American origin has increased, it is the U.S. citizens who lead the figures. However, the data can be misleading because they are general, and there are few studies on this population, which is a challenge.

Mónica Palma in her work "Americans in Mexico. A historical and diverse immigration" (Essays, 1999) criticizes that there has been little interest in this group of immigrants, despite the fact that it is one of the most numerous registered since the beginning of the independent country -since 1821- and one of the most diverse with respect to economic activities and occupations.

A bit of history

The establishment of Anglo-Saxon families in Texas and Coahuila, in the first years of Mexico's independent life, was part of a plan to colonize these areas. This plan continued in later years. The author affirms that this contributed to U.S. attempts at territorial expansion, which consolidated the ceding of 55% of the territory to the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

However, the increase of the U.S. population in the country occurred with greater force in the 20th century. During the Porfiriato period, there was a notable presence of American businessmen, coming from industries, who arrived in the country with interests no longer of territorial expansion but "to subordinate the Mexican economy to the interests of the monopolistic companies of the neighboring country", states Palma.

An issue that stands out is that towards the thirties of the 20th century, the population had an increase due to the repatriation of Mexicans from the Bracero program, who were children of Mexicans born in the United States, so it is another group of Mexican-Americans who returned to the country and that was relevant.

The author Omar Lizárraga in her study on immigration of U.S. retirees in Mazatlán, Sinaloa and Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur (Migration and Development, 2008), points out that another important group were pensioners and retirees who sought to leave the United States to lead quiet lives and also because Mexico presented itself as a more economically affordable option.

This migration settled in Cuernavaca, San Miguel de Allende, Guadalajara, the coasts of Baja California (mainly Cabo San Lucas), Sonora, Puerto Vallarta and Chapala. An important subgroup is the pensioners of the U.S. Veterans Administration of the Armed Forces. Such is the case of Enrique who is part of a large, economically diversified population.

Since 1950 the U.S. population sees Mexico as a place to settle as a tourist attraction and also for its climate. From that year until the eighties, the main states receiving Americans were Baja California, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Distrito Federal, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Jalisco, Coahuila, Sonora, Guanajuato and Michoacán. These places continue to be traditional reception areas for this population, for example, Enrique points out that he knows that there are U.S. communities in San Miguel de Allende, on the coasts of Baja, and also in Mexico City.

According to data from the Unit of Migratory Policy and Registration and Identity of Persons (UPMRIP), from January to September of this year, 7,609 Temporary Resident Cards (TRT) were granted to people from North America, of which 19.04% (6,744) were to U.S. citizens and the main reasons were for work (2,231), renters (1,776) and family (1,163). In the same period, 5,780 Permanent Resident Cards (TRP) were issued to North Americans, of which 4,879 were to Americans and the main reasons for immigration were income, family, and work.

Some changes

Enrique tells Once Noticias that the immigration requirements for the U.S. population have changed. It used to be simpler but over time they have changed. "If we go one week to Mexico or less we have to fill out a form that is worth one week. If I want more time we have to use the second form and it costs 500 to 600 pesos and lasts 6 months. When you enter by the vehicle you don't check that. There is another one that is only renewed every 6 months. Now the Mexican government says that if we are going to live here you need to have residency and you have to earn a certain level of money every month, like 2 thousand dollars every month, or about 40 thousand pesos. Tourists go with free paper for up to a week. I am regulating my income to obtain permanent residency," he explains.