Tourists are funny creatures. (Funny strange, not funny ha-ha.) Having decided on a Mexican vacation they pack clothes they’d never dream of wearing at home: floppy hats, outlandish shorts, sandals that put blisters on their feet. They load their suitcases with all kinds of unnecessary accessories (ibuprofen, sunscreen, stationery, swimming goggles) as though drugstores, WalMart and Office Depot don’t exist south of the border. They buy out-of-date Quick Guides to the Spanish Language that don’t contain the words most frequently used (guey, chingada, lana) and bumble stupidly trying to reply in Spanish to a hotel bellboy who spent six years working in the United States and who just asked, “So wear duh y’guys hail frum?”
We Mexicans (even immigrants like me) hate tourists but put up with them because they spend money and money is good for the economy. When we’re forced into contact with them we often pretend we don’t speak or understand English. I once saw a restaurant owner that I know stand, hands folded, in front of a somewhat belligerent couple whose voices rose to a nearly unbearable shout as they questioned a menu item. He shrugged and shook his head to each barrage until, fuming, they stomped towards the door. Then, with mock politeness he said in English, “Next time don’t shout. I’m as intelligent as you are.”
Tourists drink more instead of less, pay for tours they’re not interested in taking and pretend to be fascinated by archeology, Diego Rivera murals and migrating whales. They shudder seeing fresh lettuce, strawberries or tomatoes on a plate in front of them even though they come from the same fields as the lettuce, strawberries and tomatoes they buy in their country at Safeway and Food-4-Less.
In their funny hats and baggy shorts they charge expensive tickets on their credit cards to sit in modern auditoriums to watch “authentic” folk dances that have been choreographed for professional performers from Mexican universities. They haggle over the prices asked for “artesanias” (many of which are mass-produced in China) even though they probably could buy the same trinkets at U.S. garage sales. To appear “more Mexican” they wear hand-brocaded tunics from vendors wearing Levis, Chicago Cubs sweatshirts and Adidas.
Tourists are blind–and encouraged to be so by the Mexican government and business entrepreneurs who want their money, not their appraisals of economy, politics or drug cartels. They refuse to give a beggar a peso or two (eight to fifteen cents U.S.) because they think generosity only encourages them to beg instead of seeking employment even though the beggar’s rural shack was ploughed under by a transnational corporation planting eucalyptus for pulpwood. They believe myths about Aztec bravery and nobility but avoid passing through indigena villages as impoverished as any that exist in Africa or India.
Not that all tourists are bad. Or insensitive. Most of them have worked hard for their vacations and want to get their money’s worth. They want Mexico to be what the tourist posters proclaim: pristine beaches, beautiful señoritas in flowery skirts, mustached caballeros wearing ornamental sombreros. They want mariachis and marimbas, not heavy metal and rap; they want tree-shaded boulevards and eighteenth century architecture not aggressive commuters and endless slums; they want charros on horseback and glistening Mayan palaces and marlin pirouetting above lucent waves not military convoys, Food Depot parking lots, oil drenched pelicans and gulls.
Among ourselves we Mexicans ridicule what tourists do and say, the way they walk as though half asleep, the way they clog street corners trying to make what they see agree with guidebook propaganda. We take bets on how many photographs they’ll take between one intersection and the next and we give directions that send them in the opposite way they want to go. We imitate the ways they juggle backpacks and purified water and sunglasses that they don’t need and snicker when one says she’s embarazada which means she’s pregnant and reply, “Well, lady, that’s your problem, not mine.”
We also envy them because they have so much, because their lives compared to ours seem so easy, blissful, prosperous. We envy their clean homes and clean streets and being able in their country to go wherever they want and feel safe, secure. That they have money and we don’t, that their children can go to school, that they have hopes for their futures and we have only the present and fear the future because it might be worse than the little we now have.
We hate them because we would like to be like them—or how we imagine them to be.
Robert Joe Stout lives in Mexico after a career as a magazine editor and newspaper reporter, editor and columnist. Algora Press brought out his The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives, a mosaic of Mexican faces, places and experiences, and his book about immigration, Why Immigrants Come to America came out in 2008 from Praeger.