As a 25-year-old, I naturally have not thought much about my retirement, much less where I would live if I ever were to retire. My practicum experience has forced me to think deeply about what it means to be retired and to be a contributing member of society, but it’s become complicated with the concept of immigration. I’m currently working on a study funded by the National Geographic Society to explore the impact American and Canadian immigrant retirees might have in Latin America. We are specifically studying how waves of retiree migration in two colonial cities are simultaneously changing healthcare systems, land uses and real estate practices, and social dynamics. It has only been a week and half in the field and the work is even more complex than I anticipated.
Our first city is Cuenca, Ecuador—a UNESCO world heritage site located in the Andes in Southern Ecuador. There are estimates that anywhere between 8,000-10,000 retired expats are living in Cuenca, potentially making up about 1% of the population. Before arriving to Cuenca, I had the assumption that this small retired expat population had high financial and social capital that contributed to major changes in housing (and displacement) through price inflation in the past decade. To an extent, there is some truth there. However, our preliminary data are portraying a complicated story affected by a growing population of returning (or deported) Ecuadorians from the U.S.A. and Europe, and Venezuelan refugees. These three types of migrants (Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, retired expats) have provoked conjoined public sentiments about immigration and how they are all affecting life in Cuenca. No stakeholder really seems to agree on much except that at least one of these immigrant groups is partially responsible for the sustained economic struggle.
My feelings about this topic are muddled by my background as a Venezuelan American, who is frequently hearing xenophobic remarks about Venezuelans immigrating to Ecuador to steal jobs, commit crimes against natives, and overuse social services. It is always disorienting to think that these comments are heard all over the world against neighboring groups of people. Not surprisingly, this project has become fairly political the deeper we dive into it and how the results compare to our second stop: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We will find out soon.