Wednesday, December 1, 2010


In the two decades between 1930 and 1950, Mexico emerged as a prime playground for foreign tourists, many of whom descended on the burgeoning Pacific resort town of Acapulco. The effects of this boom were multiplex: developers acquired communal lands--almost always through shady maneuvers, slums housing service workers sprouted outside the shiny tourist districts, new construction destroyed pristine ecosystems, and the country's cultural heritage began a long journey toward commodification.

Over time, Mexico has established a diverse tourism industry, moving beyond golden-age beach resorts--though, as the 1970s creation of Cancun illustrated, never totally abandoning them either--to promote historical sites such as Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan, traditions such as Day of the Dead, and 'typical' towns and cities such as Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende. This permeation of tourism is both the result of fervent government promotion and a reflection of its importance: around 7% of the country's GDP.

On a personal level, it is difficult to navigate both the moral and aesthetic waters of Mexico's tourist industry. Some tourist kitsch is easy to identify, such as cheap obsidian knives at a pre-colombian archeological site, but elsewhere it is more difficult. The country's renowned culinary tradition was recently awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, but what does that mean for a street-corner taco vendor? The struggle is in the search for authenticity, for something not produced or performed for foreign hands and eyes; an attempt to locate a culture that has not been packaged for export.

Tourism's effect on Mexico is irreversible and ongoing, and it is not wholly pernicious. At best, it produces a syncretism that is as uniquely 'Mexican' as any supposedly 'timeless' cultural heritage. At worst, it produces a steady stream of cheaply made handicrafts and staged performances. At the end of the day, however, the tradition of tourism is inseparable from the country's history.

1 comment:

Andrea G. said...

Querido Mike,
Hola. Me llamo Andrea. Soy de New Berin, Wisconsin, pero yo asisto la Universidad de Madison-Wisconsin.
Primero, yo quiero decirle que sus fotos son increíbles y bonitas. La foto primera fue interesante. Había la bandera Méxicana y en frente, había personas que hacían cosas diferentes; caminando, hablando, etc. Era increíble que sacara uno foto de la cerveza y que explica cómo México tiene una industia diversa de turiso. Después, habla sobre otra cosas, por ejemplo , la tradición de “El dia de los Muertos.” Es interestante que usted vive allá y piensa necesario encontrar una cultura que no sea para la exportación. ¿Piensa la tradición del turismo es mál? ¿Que recomiendes para México?
También, ¿le gusta vivir en México? ¿Vive en “Gran Hotel?” Es increíble que el hotel se ve viejo en la primera foto y nueva en la segunda.
Ojalá que se divierta. Sus fotos son fantasticas. ¡Yo quiero comprar su camera! Gracias por compartir.