Critical Nomadism: exploring the possibilities for an ethical repat movement
I never thought the option was affordable for me. Leaving. I had waited seventeen years for a passport that came as all the institutions that made that passport so desirable corroded unmistakably. I’ve seen it all happen before, that’s why I was there, in the US, that’s why so many Latin Americans are there too.
I didn’t understand why TikTok had been showing me the comes and goes of Vans wearing blonde “digital nomads” eating gelatos down colorful colonial streets of Tulum, of Barranquilla. Crypto bros’ raves in bungalows on the hills of Guatemala. California dreamers attending ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazones priced twice my income, while I was barely making rent. The ever-so-elusive American dream seemed to have migrated to the jungles and small towns of the countries all of my inmigrants friends were from, and none of us could afford to go to.
The digital nomad and ex-pat movements only seemed to be growing during the post-pandemic, post-Trump landscape. From the vantage point of “that side of Tik Tok” and the influencer-fueled, manicured “travel lifestyle” it seems like Americans are crossing the border South in flying caravans, as remote work turned a forever available option for many.
I lived in Miami for almost 2 decades, I moved to Biscayne Boulevard before there was an Upper East Side and a Design District, when Wynwood was a handful of local galleries and art spaces showing recent New World graduates, and a few unforgettable exhibits by groundbreaking national artists. I lived in a 4-floor building with a broken elevator and homeless guys sleeping on the stairs rest on every floor. I worked full-time as a waitress on Lincoln road. I was enrolled at Miami Dade College full-time too. My shared two-bedroom on 35th and Biscayne was so cheap I used to make rent in 4 days of work. I make about the same amount of money now, in a non-for-profit job with a master's degree. That same shitty two-bedroom apartment costs 3 times as much today. No local middle-class, single salary can match the real estate prices of Miami. Traditional working-class neighborhoods once reserved for the hospitality industry workers that fueled South Beach have become hubs for New Yorkers and Angelines working remotely from paradise. “This neighborhood is only missing a Panther’s coffee to be perfect,” my friend always said about North Beach whenever she visited, I knew that day was to come, and that’s when I’d have to move away once again.
My day came sooner. I spent 2 years without AC in a bug-infested apartment because it was the cheapest you could find in a family residential neighborhood near the beach and the city. My landlord rebranded the building as “The Normandy Lofts” and raised the price about $700 per unit since I moved to the area about a decade ago. My rent went up by $200 this year alone, totaling the cost of a luxury apartment by Collins Avenue. Panther’s coffee or not, it was my time to go.
TikTok had already shown me what I wanted. In less than 4 months I was leaving with my daughter, back to Latin America.
Even though I left as a Naturalized American, I can’t consider myself an Ex-pat, I can’t picture myself joining ex-pats groups of mostly white Americans living south of the border. There is a significant difference between ex-pats and me: in any Latin American country, I am socially and culturally closer to home, I look and act ordinarily local. There is another stark difference that became very visible to me as I cross through the Yucatan peninsula: previously displaced by political instability and gentrification, I am much too aware my relocation renders somebody else’s rent unaffordable.
Critical nomadism is essentially how I am trying to introduce a framework for approaching a conversation to be had with, by, and for Latinx immigrants and 1st generation remote workers in the US who would like to move across or relocate to Latin America. It’s also a paradigm from which to look at digital nomadism from a decolonized, intersectional vantage point, and offer alternatives to a movement that seems disgustingly exploitative and imperialist at its worst, or willfully ignorant and unexamined at its best. I don’t mean to exclude myself from the problematic topics raised, because I am inserted in them, I am allowing my mistakes to ignite thoughts about the ethical way of moving across cultures.
Conceptually, repatriation is a tongue-in-cheek way of framing this displacement. I am not (yet?) relocating to my country of origin. In any other country, I am one more Venezuelan immigrant, out of millions invading the streets of Peru, Colombia, or Mexico, except I don’t depend on the host country’s economy to sustain me, that’s a massive privilege that keeps me from navigating the day to day reality the host cultures I intend to visit, and something I keep into consideration every time I negotiate or bargain, or leave a tip.
Repatriation is the ultimate goal we immigrants strive for, it is the end of ends that feeds the American Dream industrial complex. We all harbor this tiny atom of a hope that fuels all our hustles, that once our kids are all set, we will be able to be back (to where we came from) to retire in our pueblos, our mountains, our coastal towns, somewhere breezy with a hammock, minus Maduro. My subconscious invested many nights to feed this hope with variations of this motif, over decades of dreaming I walked down the streets of my childhood, to reunite with my neighbor Fabi, and all my best friends. It’s a thing. What is happening now is quite beautiful and unexpected: I am reuniting with my Florida inmigrants friends in their countries of origin, and that’s incredible. Repatriation is bringing back the light to our eyes, the pride to our queerness, the respect to our physical features, rekindling that love to cultures we were never able to leave behind in order to assimilate in the US. It is with this pride, respect, and love we strive to navigate Latin American countries considering all of the implications at play as we move through.
Are you a Latinx digital nomad living in Latin America? contact me, let me know about your experience, please.