Bluehair Woodstock

Welcome to America's Mazatlan

There's a familiar feel to the going-nowhere streets of El Cid, which meander through fine homes and a private golf course like a wise old property developer doodling a dollar sign. The shiny cars parked in the driveways—many of them hung with plates from California, Minnesota, Washington, Arizona and Texas—suggest that this could be Any Gated Community, USA.

That's kind of the idea, although El Cid lies more than 1,000 miles south of the United States border in the Mexican coastal resort city of MazatlŠn. It's the most secure and prestigious of several local neighborhoods—with names like El Dorado, Gaviotas and Sabalo Country—where a growing number of Americans have transplanted themselves to multiply the power of their dollars and enhance the luxury of their retirement dreams.

How secure is El Cid? It's the neighborhood of choice for the U.S. government when it buys homes for U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency personnel stationed in the crucial drug-trafficking state of Sinaloa. How prestigious? The mark of success for a Sinaloan drug trafficker is a home in El Cid.

For some American expatriates, whose financial security may have been jeopardized by poor personal planning, the broken pension promises of their employer and an indifferent government, moving to Mexico not only rescues their retirement but adds the romance and adventure of living in a foreign country.

"Well, that's what a lot of them like to say," offers Patty Fletcher, a resident of El Cid who also heads the U.S. Consulate office in MazatlŠn. "But the reality is that most Americans who come to live in Mexico just want more bang for their buck—and they want things to be like the States. They end up re-creating their culture here."

Most of them congregate in neighborhoods where English becomes the dominant language and American holidays and traditions are openly observed. Few learn to speak more than scattered phrases of Spanish or go out of their way to make local friends. There's a lot of complaining about customs and conditions they don't understand or just don't like—the music, driving habits, the sewer system, street and beach vendors, on-the-take traffic cops, poor people seeking a few pesos for washing car windows or performing acrobatic stunts at stoplights, children bagging groceries, and old men directing parking-lot traffic for spare change. Otherwise, the focus of most American immigrants is on the news and people they left back home.

Sound familiar?

"American immigrants in Mexico tend to behave exactly the same way as Mexican immigrants are characterized in the United States," observes Roger Culbertson, a real-estate agent for MazatlŠn Homes who went to Santa Ana Valley High in the late 1950s and has been living here for 20 years. "They come for economic reasons, they congregate in the same neighborhoods, they don't learn the language, and they hold on to their traditions."

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"JOIN US FOR SUPER BOWL SUNDAY!" announces a huge, full-color banner that hangs above 25 tables surrounded by eight TVs—each of them tuned to the National Football League playoffs. "PRIZES AND FUN! THE BEST PLACE TO WATCH THE GAME!"

The Saloon is a homey watering-hole-in-the-wall for American and Canadian expatriates in MazatlŠn. It's scrunched among a dry cleaners, a pharmacy, an art gallery and a pizza joint in a tacky section of the so-called Golden Zone. You've got to walk up a little alley to reach the door.

"But once you get inside, this place could be any sports bar in the U.S.," says waitress Michelle Faubert, 40, who moved to MazatlŠn from the Pacific Northwest in August when her daughter married a Mexican. "People come here to feel more at home. It's not always totally comfortable to live in another country. We make it easier."

The Saloon hires only Mexican waiters who speak good English, and their press-pass-style name tags include guides that show how to pronounce, for example, "Martin" as "Mar-TEEN" and "Ruben" as "Ru-BEN."

Meanwhile, the football game on TV is getting exciting. People are roaring after each play. The outbursts roll down the alley and out to the street, where a wrinkled Indian woman and her daughter are selling packs of gum. It's a strange sound to the little girl, who can't stop herself from running up the alley and poking her head into the restaurant after every cheer—even though she inevitably gets embarrassed and runs back out to her mother.

"We're watching the game here because we just got into MazatlŠn last night and I haven't got my DirecTV dish hooked up yet," explains Jerry Jayne of Chicago, a retired IBM exec chomping peanuts with his wife, Judy. They live six months a year in MazatlŠn, parking their massive motor home in one of several parks that turn into bluehair versions of Woodstock. "We come because of the cost; if it were as expensive as the U.S., it wouldn't be worth the hassle. But I love the Mexican people . . . well, except for two things—they play their music too loud and they are litterbugs."

Actually, there's one more thing.

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