25 expat voices: Paul Crist

Expat: Paul Crist

Organization: Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA, A.C.

Website: vallartaenfrentasida.org

Paul Crist

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We asked our 25 featured expats if they have a specific Mexico “moment” or memory—something that always makes them think, “Yep, this is home,” or “That’s what I love about this place.” View Slideshow >>

Originally from: Washington, DC.

Lives in: Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.

Living in Mexico: Since June 2002.

Why did you move to Mexico?

I purchased a 28-room hotel in Puerto Vallarta, almost on a whim, while vacationing early in 2002. At the time, I was ready for a change in my life. As a politically active Democrat, things were not looking so favorable in Washington, DC in 2002. Additionally, my partner of eleven years, an HIV physician, had died suddenly of a heart attack in November 2001. On September 11, 2001, I could see the smoke in the sky from the Pentagon. All of these factors just came together and made me think about the fragility, and transience, of life. I decided that it was time to do something very different with my life.

Tell us about your involvement in the fight against AIDS in Puerto Vallarta.

My work is in memory of my former partner, who worked as the Medical Director of a large HIV clinic and social service provider, and of a former employee at my hotel.

The experience of this HIV-positive employee opened my eyes to the problem in Puerto Vallarta. I realized that the level of stigmatization, shame, denial, and discrimination surrounding HIV in Mexico far exceeded anything I had seen in the US. That employee refused to be tested and seek treatment in time. He once told me "I cannot go to the clinic, because the people will know why I am there." In the end, they knew, and he died anyway. It was very sad.

I also get far more personal and professional satisfaction from this work than I get from running my hotel... and I love running my hotel! My principal role in the organization is oversight, fundraising, bill-paying, and administration.

But the real work is done by our dedicated staff and volunteers. They are out on the streets, distributing safer-sex information, condoms, and referrals to social and medical services. They are doing the HIV testing and counseling, and making sure patients get to their medical appointments.

I believe that the public face of our organization must be Mexican, so I stay somewhat in the background when it comes to public events like our regular health fairs. I've seen and heard resentment among Mexicans regarding foreigners who do charitable work here, and I feel that Mexicans relate better and feel more comfortable dealing with a fellow Mexican when it comes to an issue as sensitive as HIV.

Do you have a specific Mexico "moment" that makes you think, "That's what I love about this place"?

I have that moment every day. I met my partner, Luis Tello, here. As any expat who has come to Mexico and found love will attest, when you marry a Mexican, you marry the whole family. I have a wonderful, loving Mexican family.

What are both the best and the hardest things about being an expat in Mexico?

Experiencing the warmth and genuine friendliness of Mexican people is the best thing about being an expat in Mexico. Many expats are frustrated by the "mañana" attitude of most Mexicans, but you come to realize that this is simply part of a cultural norm that puts people, and personal relationships, before work. If the work doesn't get done on time, there's always tomorrow. But Mexicans understand the importance of taking time to treasure loved ones today.

Of course, this same attitude is also the hardest thing about being an expat in Mexico. I have Mexican employees, deal with Mexican bureaucrats, and interact with workers at Mexican banks, utilities, and accounting and law offices. No matter how urgently I view the issue at hand; there is simply no sense of urgency to get any job done.

Because I have come to understand the Mexican culture and mentality, the "mañana" attitude doesn't seem so hard to deal with anymore. Now, when they say "Vuelve Usted mañana...," I just come back tomorrow.


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