We Left The U.S. To Live In The Mountains In Mexico And Run Our Vintage Goods Shop
Photo Credit: TN

Photo Credit: TN

We Left The U.S. To Live In The Mountains In Mexico And Run Our Vintage Goods Shop

black expat , black-owned business , Mexico
Amara Amaryah
Amara Amaryah Mar 1, 2022

Andy and Gem might just be the Black expat couple in the mountains of San Cristóbal de las Casas, known for their perfectly curated store aesthetic, their dope (and endless) vintage outfits, and their love. Their expat journey is a love story as much about their relationship as it is about the joy of finding wholesome community while traveling.

Hailing from New Orleans and Brooklyn via Nigeria, they have figured out how to make a home – stylishly – while learning from the community in Chiapas, Mexico’s greenest state. Here, they share their journey, their first-ever vintage store, and their intentions as an expat couple making a life for themselves in Mexico.

Tell us about yourselves.

Andy: I was born and raised in New Orleans and first moved to Mexico in early 2018. New Orleans will always have a significant piece of my heart, and I think that I carry the spirit of the city with me wherever I go. I have an affinity for the past, and particularly the 70s. My goal in life is to eat my way around the globe.

Gem: I’m Nigerian by birth, and I’ve always had a connection to all things travel. I spent the majority of my adult life in Brooklyn, NY and was exposed to tons of artists and musicians, so I have a special place in my heart for the arts. On the flip side, I’m also a huge history buff, so it’s important to me to understand the context of all the places I visit.

What led each of you to leave your home cities for Mexico?

Andy: I left New Orleans because I felt stifled and stagnant in the city, creatively and professionally. I grew up there, and Mexico always felt like a “safe” option for travel because it was so close to home. I could live in what felt like an entirely different world and still be home in the U.S. in five to six hours. The list of reasons why I stayed in Mexico is a lot longer than the reason why I landed there initially. 

Gem: The pandemic shook my life up in a big way and gave me the freedom to pursue my dream of exploring new places and cultures. I finally had the opportunity to work remotely and be financially stable while traveling. Meeting Andy and building a life with her also inspired me to lean into different ways of existing. The communities we’ve been able to build here have fundamentally changed me for the better. I’m more open-minded, more compassionate and more connected than I’ve ever been before.

What was it about San Cristóbal de las Casas that felt like home?

Photo courtesy of Pulguita

Andy: Where to begin? San Cris just immediately felt like a sigh of relief; I’m not sure how else to explain it. I left and returned, and in the in between time, it was always the place that my mind went back to. The weather, the colors, the eclectic mix of people that are drawn to this town. The proximity to some of the most beautiful, unspoiled nature in the world. We’ve managed to build an incredible and loving community, which is something that I’ve struggled with in the past. San Cris was truly a love at first sight (or first visit) situation for me.

Gem: San Cris felt like a little slice of utopia in a chaotic world. It’s a place with issues like any other place but the people that are drawn to San Cris are special. They are artists and makers and community builders. It’s been an honor to learn and create with them. The proximity to incredible nature has also been a big part of the reason I fell in love with San Cris. There is so much to see and experience within just a few hours of home. After traveling through Mexico over the last couple years, I can also confidently say that San Cris has one of the most diverse food scenes in the country. As a foodie, having access to so much authentic cuisine from cooks from dozens of different countries is a huge plus.

What has been the best and hardest thing about setting up home in Mexico?

Photo courtesy of Pulguita

Andy & Gem: The hardest thing about setting up home in Mexico, and San Cris specifically, was the lack of available home goods in town. A lot of online shops don’t ship this far south, and the local goods aren’t the best quality. We also learned that most Mexican families hold onto their furniture generation over generation, so there aren’t a ton of vintage or secondhand stores available for shopping, either. We spent a lot of time (and money!) finding shops and people that would ship to us.

The best thing about setting up home in Mexico is having access to things that are difficult to attain in the U.S. Everything from handmade goods to fresh produce to custom made furniture. Things that are considered luxuries in the U.S. are commonplace here.

How did Pulguita come into existence?

black expat couple
Photo courtesy of Pulguita

Andy + Gem: Pulguita (“little flea”) came into existence for all of the reasons mentioned above. We spent time traveling around Mexico’s flea markets and bazaars in search of items to fill our home with. Eventually our home was furnished, but we couldn’t stop shopping.

Pulguita was a combination of housing our overflow of goods and creating a space for other expats in town to find nice items for their homes without having to do the traveling and research that we did. I think it was also super important for us to feel like we were putting down roots in the city and giving back to a town that has given us so much. By providing quality jobs and maintaining a safe space for the local queer community to come together, Pulguita has cemented our place in the larger San Cris community.

What's next for you both?

Photo courtesy of Pulguita

Andy + Gem: San Cristóbal will always be a home base for us (we recently purchased land here), but travel will never stop being a priority for us as a couple. We’ve got quite a few big trips on the horizon now that things are somewhat normal with the world again.

Andy is working on identifying her niche in the photography world and recently launched GTFO, a boutique travel agency specializing in off-the-beaten-path trips. Gem is working on their writing and building a marketing and analytics firm to fund these big dreams that we have. Pulguita is alive and thriving for the time being. As we evolve and grow, we expect that Pulguita will as well.

Related: The Black Expat: ‘We Woke Up One Morning And Said We’re Moving To Mexico’

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