Photo Credit: Michel Pinto
Inside Casa ELM: A Black-Owned Luxury, Adults-Only, Guesthouse In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Welcome to Casa ELM, a Black-owned luxury, adults-only, community-facing boutique in San Miguel de Allende. Focused on expanding the horizons for Black expats looking to make the move, this space screams exquisite.
“Enjoy a glass of wine on one of two balconies, spend time stretching and meditating in the meditation studio, stretch out with a book on the daybed or simply relax under the Guayacán tree in our serene enclosed private yard,” reads the website introduction, a fitting description of the restful and exquisite vibes.
With the perfect balance of responsible relocation, respect for tradition, and a luxurious stay in one of Mexico’s most romantic colonial towns, Casa Elm is a dream. There is no better way to learn about the culture you’re in than to immerse in it. This, at least, is CEO and Founder Michelle Wedderburn’s idea as she guides many a Black expat through this city. Get to know Casa ELM and all of the goodness awaiting on the lesser explored side of Mexico.
What prompted you to open Casa Elm?
When I first moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2018, I instantly wanted to create retreats for women. Retreats and experiences that helped us to self love, indulge in life, and learn to reset. I didn’t have an exact plan at that time, had never hosted a retreat, but knew in my heart of hearts, bringing women together in this city, this city that I re-fell in love with since my first visit in 2005, I just knew that I needed to be a part of something positive in San Miguel. The energy here was so different from other places that I had visited and lived in. At that point, getting settled into life in San Miguel (SMA), I took more than a few months, contrary to what I had originally expected, and in December 2019 when I started planning for a mid-2020 retreat, COVID hit.
During 2019 and 2020 the world changed and so did my vision. The wiper blades came on and my purpose became a bit more clear. I saw so many people online asking questions about Mexico, what it was like to live in Mexico, racism in Mexico, and so I quickly realized that I had to fulfill some of my purpose by providing insight into our life in Mexico, but through the lens of a person of color.
I realized the messaging about living in Mexico needed the smear of U.S. media and criticism wiped away. Little by little, folks would contact me on Facebook asking if we could speak, talk about my experiences here and why I chose SMA in central Mexico. I began to understand that many folks (POCs) didn’t realize how large Mexico is, and how deep its rich culture and traditions run. So I wanted to become a light in the dark on this quickly growing movement. That’s when I started my YouTube channel to capture bits and pieces of life through our lens.
With time, I formulated my purpose and started offering Relocation Strategy Sessions for those interested in seeking help on how to move to Mexico the responsible way. My sessions became the blueprint for those who desired to relocate to Mexico, more specifically to SMA but weren’t quite sure where to begin.
As my business grew, I began to circle back to how and where to host/accommodate those people interested in being a part of a community abroad. Creating communities and connecting people is one of the things I’ve been doing throughout my life and many refer to me as being the “glue.”
Fast forward to October 2021, when I had a great sense of conviction to search for a house. Borrowing space for one-week events felt cumbersome, so I decided to look for my own space. For three days I had this lightbulb moment to go to this very specific neighborhood in San Miguel and just drive every street in search of something. No realtor, just drive…I spent two hours combing the area, I mean every single street in that neighborhood until I pulled up in front of Casa ELM and found what was meant to be, and is now Casa ELM…I am so grateful.
What can guests expect when arriving at this luxury guest house in Mexico?
Guests can expect to have a soft landing experience in San Miguel. They can expect concierge services, insight on what life is like in SMA, assistance with what to see and explore in SMA, and often, meet new people and spend time with other guests or myself learning about the city together 1:1, but most importantly connecting to the community and kindness of SMA. Brianna Stewart, the Casa ELM Manager, has been such a blessing and dynamic part of the business, she is mostly on-hand to assist as needed. Casa ELM is located in a spacious, Spanish colonial-style home in a neighborhood that is peaceful, that allows you to unwind and decompress, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and depending on when you visit, meet new like-minded people with whom you will quickly become friends with.
How did you come up with the name Casa ELM?
Naming Casa ELM was a straightforward decision. The consulting portion of my business started as Afro Expats, and was rebranded to Expat Life Mexico in May 2022 to accommodate the new brand image and purpose and to tie the two facets of my businesses together. Casa ELM is Expat Life Mexico (abbreviated ELM). We were formerly Afro Expats simply to show life through our lens, however, it has expanded into this and just makes sense to have both aspects of the business branded together. Expat Life Mexico as the consulting piece and Casa ELM as the portion to house those who want the experiences mentioned earlier.
San Miguel de Allende appears to be a growing hot spot for black Expats. Why do you think this is?
In general, Mexico is becoming a hot country for plenty of Black expats. People who want to be expats are seeking places somewhat close to the U.S., and Mexico geographically makes sense. I truly believe that places become popular when someone decides to make an effort to share their good life experiences with others on social media. It allows the person on the other side to see themselves in the experiences of those who share. This was my intention. As I said, earlier in 2020 there were so many people that were disgruntled with how POC were being treated, there were many folks who were upset about the lay of the land of what is happening in the U.S. When I started to see an uptick online of people leaving the U.S., asking questions about life in Mexico, I realized I had something unique to share. Additionally, it was a bit frustrating realizing people didn’t understand just how large and vast Mexico is and that it does not only consist of beaches. There are 32 states in this culturally rich country with deep roots and traditions. I am constantly amazed by Mexico and the love that I’ve received here.
One thing I want to point out is, please, if you decide to move to Mexico please try your best to immerse yourself in Mexican culture and leave the baggage behind. Understand you are in another country. Understand that you are not moving to a country with just Black faces. Understand it’s not appropriate to come to Mexico looking for Black-only communities and Black-only experiences or with U.S. expectations on how things should operate. Always walk with grace. I appreciate everything about the culture here, the traditions, the struggles, the miscommunications, the different ways of doing things that are challenging on a day-to-day basis. However I also fully appreciate what and how I live in this amazing country. Finally, I’d like to think that my efforts through Black SMA on Facebook and my other outlet has provided curiosity and insight, in turn making SMA a hot spot for Black expats.
What kind of events do you typically hold at Casa ELM?
At Casa ELM, we host events that help people relocate to SMA by connecting them directly to the locals who can help them move responsibly to San Miguel. During their time in SMA, there are presentations given by a local Immigration specialist, a licensed realtor/attorney on the process of renting and buying, plus they get to tour homes with a realtor, tour neighborhoods with a licensed guide/driver, explore the city with local experts, meet with a local banker on opening a Mexican bank account, info on obtaining medical insurance and so much more.
Additionally, we offer three to seven-day travel packages for solo and/or group travelers. Also on popular holidays, we create experiences for those interested in participating in local activities. Check out our upcoming Day of Dead, 2022 – 6 days/5 night package here.
Lastly, we host Caribbean/Mexican Potluck brunches and dinners, yoga with sound bowl therapy sessions, along with cacao ceremonies in our meditation/yoga studio, and more. These events nurture the soul. In the future, we plan to provide entrepreneurial training, free of charge, to local women with small businesses.
Casa ELM is versatile. Let us know how we can accommodate you.