TomDispatch.com, September 19, 2006
Author: Mike Davis
Title: “Border Invaders: The Perfect Swarm Heads South”
Student Researcher: Rachel Icaza and Erica Haikara
Faculty Evaluator: Francisco Vazquez, Ph.D.
The visitor crossing the Mexican border from Tijuana to San Diego these days is immediately confronted by a huge sign, “Stop the Border Invasion!” Sponsored by allies of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minutemen, the same signs insult Mexican citizens at other border crossings in Arizona and Texas. The ultimate irony is that a crisis invasion is indeed occurring, but the signs, it seems, may be pointed the wrong direction.
Author Mike Davis points out that, in a “reality stood on its head,” few people—at least outside Mexico—have bothered to notice that while all the nannies, cooks, maids, and gardeners have been heading north to tend the luxury lifestyles of irate republicans, the Gringo masses have been rushing south to enjoy glorious budget retirements and affordable second homes in Mexico.
The number of North Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (one-quarter of all US expatriates) in the past decade. With more than 70 million American baby-boomers expected to retire in the next two decades, experts predict “a tidal wave” of migration to warmer—and cheaper—climates. Baby-boomers are not simply feathering nests for eventual retirement, but also increasingly speculating in Mexican resort property and gated communities, complete with Hooters, Burger King, and Starbucks. The land rush is sending up property values to the detriment of locals whose children are consequently driven into slums or forced to emigrate north, only to face increasing “invasion” charges.
The Gringo footprint is largest (and brings the most significant geopolitical consequences) in Baja California, an epochal process that, if unchecked, will produce intolerable social marginalization and ecological devastation.
Indeed, the first two stages of informal annexation have already occurred. Under the banner of NAFTA, Southern California has exported hundreds of its sweatshops and toxic industries to the maquiladora zones of Tijuana and Mexicali. The Pacific Maritime Association, representing the West Coast’s major shipping companies, has joined forces with Korean and Japanese corporations to explore the construction of a vast new container port at Punta Colonel, 150 miles south of Tijuana, which would undercut the power of Longshore unionism in San Pedro and San Francisco.
Secondly, tens of thousands of US retirees and winter-residents are now clustered at both ends of the peninsula. Along the northwest coast from Tijuana to Ensenada, a recent advertisement for a real estate conference at UCLA boasts that “there are presently over fifty-seven real estate developments with over 11,000 homes/condos with an inventory value of over $3 billion all of them geared for the US market.”
Meanwhile, at the tropical end of Baja, a US expatriot enclave has emerged in the twenty-mile strip between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo. Los Cabos has become an archipelago of real-estate hot spots where continuous double-digit increases in property values pull in speculative capital. Judging from the registration of private planes at the local airport, Cabos has essentially become a resort suburb of Orange County—the home of the most vehement Minutemen chapters.
Davis points out that many wealthy Southern Californians evidently see no contradiction between fuming over the “alien invasion” with one’s conservative friends at the Newport Marina one day, and flying down to enjoy their Cabos investment properties the next.
One of several multi-billion dollar real estate projects being developed for the US market is the Villages of Loreto: another 6,000 homes for expatriates in colonial-Mexico motif on the Sea of Cortez. The $3 billion Loreto project boasts that it will be the last word in green design, exploiting solar power and restricting automobile usage. It will, coincidently, balloon Loreto’s population from its current 15,000 to more than 100,000 in a decade, with the social and environmental consequences of a sort that can already be seen in the slum peripheries of Cancun and other mega-resorts.
One of the irresistible attractions of Baja is that it has preserved a primordial wildness that has disappeared elsewhere in the West. Local residents, including a very eloquent indigenous environmental movement, cherish this incomparable landscape, as they do the survival of an egalitarian ethos in the peninsula’s small towns and fishing villages.
However, thanks to the silent invasion of the baby-boomers from the north, much of the natural history and frontier culture of Baja could be swept away in the next generation. The problem is, as Tom Engelhardt of Tomdispatch points out, “Fences don’t work if you’ve got your own plane.”