- Gringolandia: Lifestyle Migration Under Late Capitalism by Matthew Hayes
While the transnational migration of North Americans to Latin America has been ongoing for dozens of years, the pace and nature of that north-to-south movement has changed substantially in the last decade. Earlier lifestyle migration tended [End Page 358] to be limited to the cosmopolitan elite class, in other words, those who were experienced internationally and had the social connectivity to pull offa transnational move to enhance their leisure. That is no longer the case and today lifestyle migration is undertaken by a far broader swathe of northerners, many of whom are seeking to stretch their meager retirement savings. Matthew Hayes' book, Gringolandia: Lifestyle Migration under Late Capitalism, is a clear-eyed and penetrating analysis of the global social fields that create the geographic, social, and economic terrains where this new migration unfolds and, in particular, of the inequalities and racial hierarchies that encode how this migration is experienced, both by migrants and their hosts. Focusing primarily on the southern Ecuadorian highland city of Cuenca, Hayes tells a complicated story of the effects of colonialism and neocolonialism and the historical legacies and contemporary practices that allow some people more autonomous choices than others.
Using Aihwa Ong's concept of latitudes to frame much of his analysis, Hayes explains that the sending and receiving countries of lifestyle migrants represent places with different inheritances of wealth and privilege. The north has long benefitted from a global division of labor and unequal accruals of capital, much of that taken from exploitative relationships with the south. The subject position of white migrants as inheritors of a race and class system that privileges them provides the background and backdrop to much of what Hayes discusses in the book. As it became harder for northerners to access their inheritance of privilege at home—for example, an easy retirement, especially after the recession of 2008—they were able to practice "geoarbitrage" and relocate to a place where their money goes further and their privilege is reaffirmed.
The first half of the book is divided into three chapters that take the reader into the lives and minds of the North Americans living in Cuenca. Hayes provides portraits of ex-pats and the decision-making that led them to participate in geoarbitrage, i.e. moving to a place, like Cuenca, where costs are lower. Some ex-pats had lost their jobs during the great recession, while others, especially single women, simply did not have enough money to provide comfortably for themselves in retirement. Hayes has a sensitive ear for the multiple vulnerabilities in peoples' lives; he discusses, for example, older women's particular precarity, while noting the privilege inherent in their ability to choose to engage in lifestyle migration. Most ex-pats find Cuenca through online marketers who promote its affordability along with its Old World charm and colorful culture, and expats often reframe their economic vulnerability into a narrative that emphasizes their personal quests for adventure and meaning.
Lifestyle migrants imagine and experience themselves, and Cuenca, in particular and frequently contradictory ways. For example, Cuenca elicits nostalgic sentiments in ex-pats about community, family values, and lost prestige, at the same time that it provokes uncomfortable feelings about being different. Perhaps for the first time in their lives ex-pats experience life as a minority, leaving them, despite their privilege, feeling awkward and vulnerable. Similarly, ex-pats view Ecuadorians as well through contrary tropes of otherness that either romanticize or demonize them. While [End Page 359] often unable to recognize their racial privilege, ex-pats do have heightened awareness about creating a bad public image, and the specter of the "Ugly American" motivates many ex-pats to actively police one another's public behavior. Hayes notes, however, that their concern is not really to protect Ecuadorians from abuse by ex-pats, but to ensure their own relatively privileged social position as welcomed residents.
The second half of the...