Kelly thank you for your time – I know you are one of the busiest women in the Bay! Especially with all the Immigration changes and the big meeting you have coming up on the 13th. So, let’s get cracking!
Where did you live before Bucerias?
On a cruise ship.
I certainly wasn’t expecting that answer! What did you do?
I was a cruise director – basically I was the chief bottle washer and bar tender – for 3 months at a time. The ship did not visit PV at that time, that only happened subsequently. I was already married to my husband and visited him, family and friends on my time off in between voyages. We had met on an outdoor walking adventure near St Louis, and we got married in 1983. He is a civil engineer and we came here where he built projects in Nuevo Vallarta. We got married again in 1987 – at the Basilica Guadalupe in Vallarta.
How did you become US Consular Agent?
The children were in school and I had some spare time so I volunteered at the Consular Agency in Vallarta, that was 1996. I was mentored by the agent, Laura Alison, and she took me around visiting hospitals, jails, collecting possessions of the deceased, and then I worked for a year at the Canadian Agency. After a gap of just under two years, when I was involved in sales in Paradise Village, Laura called me to say she was leaving and suggested I would be good for the position. That was 1998, my children were at an age when they did not need so much of my time. And also there was a lot less work then! So I applied and was accepted.
I see your office hours are 8 – 12.30, but I suspect you work longer than that?
Yes, officially I do 40 hours a week as a full time Agent, the office hours are only part of that. Many days it can be 12 hours. I am out building up relationships with the local authorities so they help our American citizens whenever necessary. I am also out at the jail, the funeral home, and the hospitals. I have a staff of three, but even so sometimes it is difficult to keep up! Although the Canadian tourism has grown by leaps and bounds, according to the Immigration office the American influx is greater than any other nationality.
You have to deal with all aspects of the lives of Americans abroad. Please tell us about the registration system.
We know that tragedy can strike at any time, anywhere: for example the Haiti earthquake, the Japanese tsunami. Citizens should register online at www.travel.state.gov and then go to the Step Program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). The registration is held in a central State computer so that if you are registered in a certain area, i.e. Guadalajara for here, then you will receive notices or warnings, “Warden Messages”, regarding anything travelers should be aware of. Since the Pan Am flight crash in Lockerbie (1988) we have a “no double standard” policy – this means if a reliable source says: “ Don’t fly on any Pan Am flight for a month” then we are obligated to share it. The same applies for our road travel warnings here in Mexico. American citizens can make up their own minds what to do following upon this information, of course, but as a Government employee I am prohibited from going against any warning. I don’t issue these warnings, everything is cleared through the Embassy or the Consulate General in Guadalajara. This is through an official source and it is not the gossip on the street. And it’s not going to include a warning when for example there was the bank robbery when the man was fatally shot. Unfortunately that happened but it was a targeted crime.
I know some people are concerned about the security of their private information.
All details are held in confidence. There is a Privacy Act which guarantees this. If somebody contacts me wanting to get in contact with a family member, I will pass on the message to that person – but not their contact details. It is entirely up to that person if they want to get back to the family, so they are only found if they want to be found.
Have you had any unusual “missing person” calls?
I had parents calling looking for their children as they had not heard from them in a while. The parents had the responsibility for the payment of their credit cards and these had not been used lately. I was able to verify the “children” were alive and well, and suggested to the parents to cut off the credit and they’d soon hear from them! These were adult children in their 40s!
There are so many aspects to your position – what do you consider the most important?
The most important part of my job is to help the community, to report directly from the Mexican authorities to enforce and explain what the guidelines are, for any immigration or customs or other laws. To this end we hold 3 to 4 town meetings a year on different topics of interest – this is based on what the community expresses to me as a need. You are under the rule of law of Mexico and you need to know who to go to, who is who in public security. And there is a difference between Nayarit and Jalisco – so we have to hold these meetings twice!
Basically I help Americans to help themselves by providing the information from official sources that gives them what they need to make informed decisions. Some people have a misunderstanding as to what the US Government can do for them down here –we cannot pay their hotel or bar bill! And then there was the gentleman who came to my office complaining that the laundry had given all his clothes to someone else and he had nothing to fit him!
I know unfortunately deaths happen to Americans here, natural causes or accidents, that must be the downside of your job.
Well actually it’s a positive side, helping people. I just look at it personally, as if I was in a foreign country and my family member died – I just try and do what I would hope somebody would do for me. I guide them, hold their hand, listen when the tragedy has happened.
I know you have your own house in Upper Bucerias – did you construct it and when was that
Yes we built it – and we have been there very happily for 30 years now! When we wanted the electricity, we had to buy the electric post and donate it to the CFE –as well as paying for them to install the electricity!
You have family and pets here?
Yes my husband, and we have 2 children, one going to college in USA and one here. And then the other family – an adopted dog and 3 rescue dogs.
Do you still have family back in USA? And do they visit you here?
Yes and yes – but visitors are only allowed for a week at a time! They love it here. They say: “You live in Paradise, you’re so lucky!” And I know how lucky I am and I thank God every day.
Were they supportive or opposed to your relocation?
They asked: “Are there flush toilets?” And things like that. In fact when I first came here there were still woman washing their clothes in the Bucerias river. They thought I was very adventurous, but I always had been anyway, so they said: “There she goes again”!
If you ever have any spare time, what do you like to do?
Most important for me is having family time. I like visiting other towns, trying different foods. Reading. And of course my community services work: Toys for Tots and the Altruism Festival. I’m not very artistic – painting would be by numbers! I’d like to exercise more often, maybe yoga, I’d like to be more active.
Some people don’t know about the Altruism Festival as it happens outside of high season. It’s a great location and a fabulous event with free food tastings from most of the top restaurants, tons of raffle prizes, and excellent entertainment. Please tell us about the purpose behind it.
It’s held in May at the Marriott Hotel. We want to try and engage the Mexican professional community more. This benefits 24 charities within the Bay. They have to fulfill certain activities to connect people with projects, people to go out and use their talent and skills to join in and help the community.
I know your Spanish is excellent! When did you start learning?
I took Spanish courses back in college, then the rest has been my husband helping and correcting. I picked up a lot in my first 10 years by listening and talking. I’d go to the supermarket and say: “donde esta”…
Looking back, anything you wished you had known about or anything you would have changed?
If I knew then what I know now … I would probably have married my husband and come to stay a lot sooner! The cruise ship life was good, but the life here has been great. I have a very caring, respectful and protective relationship I could have started sooner. But I think everything has happened as it should, so that I can be where I am now, and I have no regrets.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
Every day I appreciate the privilege to live and work here and to help people and to meet new people. Every day I think: “What a beautiful day!” I even like the cloudy days.
Thank you Kelly Trainor!