Meet “Americanos,” U.S. Citizens Who Choose To Live In Mexico
In a photo series titled “Americanos,” Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena explores the lives of those with U.S. citizenship, either through birth or naturalization, that choose to live in Mexico. Cartagena’s photos capture a population of “Americanos” who don’t fit in neatly to the U.S.-Mexico immigration narrative. Mitú talked with Cartagena to learn a little more about the people in the photographs and his inspiration for the project.
Alejandro Cartagena says he wants to give people a new perspective on the American Dream.
“I would only photograph those who are living in Mexico and somehow think of their American citizenship as a dormant option,” Cartagena told mitú in an email. “I wanted to show how being American is a dream to many, but not always as the media shows it.”
According to Cartagena, there are a number of people in Mexico who are U.S.-born or U.S. citizens through birthright who see their American citizenship as a backup option.
“My wife is a U.S. citizen born here in Mexico, but because she has not lived more than five years in U.S. territories she cannot pass along her citizenship to her children,” Cartagena told mitú, explaining how the photo project came about. “This got me asking friends about this idea and found many had friends who had done this and some were actually U.S. citizens, but I did not even know it!” According to Cartagena, there is a sizable population of Mexicans with U.S. citizenship through birth or naturalization that take advantage of their citizenship to give their children a backup plan in the U.S.
But not all of the “Americanos” want to live in the U.S. In fact, some of them even obtain fake documents to make themselves legal Mexicans in the eyes of the law.
“Most of them have actually never lived in the U.S. They were born there, but have lived their whole life in Mexico,” Cartagena told mitú. “The older people I photographed were even illegal in Mexico for a time. Back when Mexico did not permit [people] to have two citizenships, their parents registered them illegally as Mexican citizens in order for them to go to school and get medical care in Mexico.”
“The interesting part of this is that it was all systemized,” Cartagena told mitú. “They knew where and who to go to to get their fake Mexican birth certificates and what lawyers could make them be legal.”
Cartagena further explains that some of the “Americanos” that he photographed have received harassment from neighbors and classmates.
“They get the question of why they don’t take advantage of being American and just move across the border. Some also get sh*t from border officers as to why they are living in Mexico if they are American,” Cartagena told mitú. “The parents of the children I photographed have to travel with hospital paperwork where they can prove to border patrol that they paid their hospital bills.”
“Their American citizenship was a burden, and for some of them, it still is,” Cartagena said.
According to Cartagena, their U.S. citizenship makes moving around difficult. Many times, people with U.S. citizenship are interrogated as they try to cross the border since they are U.S. citizens living in Mexico as a Mexican national. Some have even had to obtain falsified documents so they can go to school and receive medical services.
One important fact to know is that “Americanos” live in Mexico as Mexican citizens and don’t use U.S. programs.
“None use medical services in the U.S. or take advantage of any freebies they could have access to,” Cartagena explained to mitú. “They just want their child to have the option.”
Many of the older “Americanos” have spent time living in the U.S. and simply chose to move back to Mexico for the comfort.
“Some moved there to study in high school, but just ‘didn’t like it,'” Cartagena said. “Some go back and forth everyday to work or study. Some just use their citizenship to go shopping for cheap stuff. I photographed someone who is, as she put it, kind of addicted to shopping cheap in the U.S., and she would do a trip just to get dish washing soup at Walmart.”
Cartagena says that “Americanos” live invisibly in Mexico, but the chance for dual citizenship with the U.S. is so alluring that they are willing to deal with the hassles.
As far as those who have to travel with their hospital paperwork, Cartagena explains that it “seems to be a hassle, but they take it as part of being bi-nationals.”
For the photographer, it was important to make sure that his photos showed the multifaceted side to immigration and border issues that many never think about.
“I want the pictures to show that border issues, the “American dream,” citizenship is not black and white and simple,” Cartagena told mitú. “A border is an imposed thing, but human necessities and family break down these borders all the time.”
You can see the full photo project here.