Often, a move abroad includes challenging stereotypes about your host country. For Gabriella, this was no exception when her family made the decision to move from the United States to Mexico. Prompted by unforeseen circumstances and a better quality of life, she gives us a peek into life south of the border.
Share a little bit about your background. Did you grow up travelling?
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois as an only child to a single mother. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a high rise building on the North side of the city. I attended public schools. We would take vacations during spring break (yay for income tax returns). During those trips we stayed domestic. My first adventure outside of the country came when I was twelve. We took a trip to San Diego and then took the red trolley across to Tijuana for a few hours. It was like being in another world! My next international foray came in the form of an eighth-grade class trip to Montreal and Quebec. I absolutely adored Quebec and thought that it was so interesting that I was actually using the French I had been learning in school to order meals and make purchases.
Where are you based now and what led you to move?
I am currently based in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico. It is a beautiful colonial city on the Pacific coast. The blend of historic with modern, local culture and a small expat population along with endless miles of beach-front brought my father here nearly 28 years ago and my mother about 8 years ago. My husband and I were married here over seven years ago and always said we wanted to come back to live one day. When my mother passed unexpectedly last year, we realized how precious life is and how important it is to spend our days living the lives we want, not the ones society teaches us are ‘the best’. So, when a door closed, it seemed that at the same time a window opened and we took the opportunity to leap.
What are some of the misconceptions you’ve heard from others about Mexico? Are there stereotypes you have to challenge?
I am often asked about safety. Many people hear Mexico and think drug cartels and abductions and relentless violence. I am often asked if it is safe to be a woman alone. While there is indeed violence and crime, we feel safer here in Mazatlán than we did in our suburb of Chicago. Here my husband feels free to walk down the street and not be questioned because he is a black man alone. I feel comfortable in my neighborhood because neighbors look out for one another and greet one another and offer to lend a hand when needed. There is a strong sense of community here which makes me feel happy and safe. Another thing people are often concerned about is education and health. Both things are of high priority for people here. The school that our children are enrolled in is excellent and we have had good experiences with healthcare thus far. I genuinely believe that it is the fear of the unknown and the media desire to scare people away that causes people to have such strong misconceptions of Mexico. It is unfortunate because they are truly missing out.
How does Mazatlán compare to living in Chicago?
Our home in Mexico is in a much more urban area than our last home in the Chicago suburbs. Our walls are literally touching the walls of our neighbors (similar to townhomes, though we are not in townhomes). We are warm which is important for us. Coming from the Midwest, we appreciate that now, our winters are in the seventies and we can still have pool days during January. We live eight blocks from the oceanfront which is a wonderful benefit we did not have in our previous home. Mazatlán has many modern amenities which leaves us wanting for nothing, and we get the added benefit of historic architecture, charm and rich culture.
What has been your experience being one of the only black families in your community?
Being one of few black families here in Mazatlán comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Whether it is because of our hair or because of our rambunctious kiddos or simply because we are black, it seems, many people recognize us when we are out. This is a little, big city. It feels big, and there are tons of people, but it is rare to go for a walk and not run into someone you know, be they expats or locals. So, that recognition has been beneficial thus far and has opened some interesting opportunities.
One drawback I have noticed is my daughter’s attitudes towards her hair. Before when she was surrounded by other little black girls with curly hair, she didn’t worry about her hair being different. Now, surrounded by classmates who do not resemble her, she has had some moments where she has expressed displeasure with her naturally curly hair. It could be the age, or it could be a lack of little girls who resemble her, who knows? Regardless, we continue to instill in her that she is beautiful and wonderfully made and her teachers do the same!
Describe your experience raising your young children in Mexico.
Raising children in Mexico is very ideal for us. It seems that the culture here is very family oriented. Adults enjoy young children and do not see them as a burden or inconvenience. Our children are smiled at, allowed the right of way and gifted small toys and candies frequently. The education system, in our experience, is very good. They encourage reading, writing and exploration. Our kiddos are picking up the Spanish language very quickly and have made some very good friends. It is amazing how easily kids seem to be able to transcend language barriers amongst themselves. The language of play is universal! While we initially met some resistance to the thought of our kids attending school outside the US we have found that our kids are growing and thriving every day!
A big part of the expat experience is finding community. How have you developed community?
It has been an interesting journey trying to find community here in Mazatlán. It has been made a bit easier by way of the kiddos. We have connected with other families both at their school and living either full or part-time in Mazatlán. Scheduling play-dates is a good excuse for making new friends and community. We are also active. Through exercise groups and working at a nearby café we have met new people and made new friends. Finding a community while living abroad is essential and is one of the first things we set out to do. It is especially important to have a tribe behind you whom you can depend upon in times of need and also celebrate the amazing new lifestyle abroad with you!
You’re also using your blog, the Slay At Home Mom, to document your experiences. What is the mission behind your website?
Through my blog, book, and programs on my site, The Slay at Home Mom, it is my goal to inspire and empower women to live faithfully, intentionally and tenaciously. It is so important for women to discover the mind-body-spirit connection that will enable them to live the life of their dreams. Our family took an incredible leap of faith and it has opened so many doors for us, simply by being open to the unknown. It is because of this, that I know that many women, if they too open their hearts and minds to new opportunities, can find a way to a life by design. My family also has a You Tube channel, La Vida Lindsay , and in the coming months we will begin offering products and services geared towards families who are looking to make a move abroad!
What is the one must have experience in Mazatlán?
We live near an amazing place called Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island). It is the southernmost tip of Mazatlán and is most easily accessed by panga (small speedboat). This is a definitely must-do when in Mazatlán. The beach is pristine, warm sand and peaceful. There are tons of restaurants right in the sand that serve delicious fresh mariscos (seafood) and fish. There is ATV riding, horseback riding, coconut plantation tours, jungle tours and more. We visit the Island at least twice a month when the weather is perfect. It is a great get-away from the hustle and bustle of the city and really feels like a mini-vacation!