Traveling Responsibly – A Shifted Perspective

Being aware of the kind of environmental footprint that I left behind was always something that came to mind growing up. You learn from an early age not to litter, you are required to take many different Earth science classes, and you are instructed to treat the Earth as if it was not going to last forever. This is something that all schools are pushing to teach kids these days, so upon visiting other countries for family vacations and other travel, I knew to treat the Earth with kindness.

But little did I know the impact that I could have on locals in the area when taking a vacation – and yet, it is sort of the same idea. Hotels come in and push locals out, foreign-owned restaurants are built and put local restaurants out of business, and stores are constructed that take money away from the skilled artisans in the area.

This idea was not clear to me until coming down to Mexico over my Winter Break, and participating in a Cultural Day Tour run by Human Connections. Taking the Human Connections tour made me take off the tourist lens and gave me fresh eyes to recognize the locals’ perspective of the tourism in the area. While tourism can work in ways to increase the income and create jobs, it can also destroy local businesses if we do not look for opportunities to support them.

The tour itself takes you to the other side of Bucerias, into the houses of artisans who have lived here for many years and call the town their home. Being welcomed into the individuals’ homes, hearing their stories, and seeing how they create their art, increased the respect I had for them, while also gave me an intimate connection to the people and area itself.

The tour has made me more aware of what I was spending my money towards in the Bucerias area, along with taking a new perspective of responsible tourism to anywhere I travel.

Written by Mallory Blonski, HC Winter Intern

Photo credit: Britt Natalia

On Voluntourism

What Trump Means for Americans Traveling to Mexico

beachvendor

Don’t think twice about coming to Mexico on vacation – you are still welcome – but do understand what the election means for Mexicans and how you can make a difference.

Mexico is, by a landslide, the most popular international destination for American travelers. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, over 28 million US citizens traveled to Mexico in 2015, representing more than a third of international travel by Americans. There is no reason to believe that this flow of tourism will grind to a halt as soon as Trump assumes the Oval Office, though Mexico as a country will be affected.

Americans with plane tickets, bikinis, and vacation time set aside for a trip down south are surely now wondering: am I still welcome in Mexico? After all, it’s no secret that Trump has offended Mexicans in many ways, most notoriously for perpetuating the notion that they are criminals and “rapists” (1).

How are Mexican people reacting to news about Trump?

As an American citizen living in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, I somehow expected to be shunned this week. But I wasn’t at all. I am surprised by how nonchalant the reaction here has been. I haven’t witnessed any significant uprising beyond that of funny memes across social media platforms. (In Mexico, reactions to crisis often involve humor, as was the case when Trump visited Mexico in August.)

A Mexican friend explained, “We already knew Americans felt this way about us.” To her, the elections simply institutionalized a discrimination that already existed, but didn’t necessarily change her views toward the US.

But many Mexican people are deeply hurt by the intolerance that this election symbolizes, feeling discriminated against and fearful about what is to come (2). The economic impact of Trump’s election on Mexico is predicted to be particularly dramatic; the peso dropping 13% against the dollar this week is a testament of this. Mexico is now bracing itself for a decrease in remittances and employment opportunities, including other challenges, should the President Elect move forward with the agenda he set during his campaign.

What does that mean for your trip?

It’s true that many Mexicans feel less welcomed in the US than they did before, but that doesn’t mean they will change their behavior toward American vacationers. Mexican culture is exceptionally hospitable and respectful, and if any comment is made about Trump, it will likely be as a joke, not an insult.  If you are American, you need not fear rejection or discrimination during your trip to Mexico.

itzel

You do, though, have an opportunity to help reshape the way that Mexicans see Americans.  Here are some tips:

Make eye contact and smile. Even if you’re being hassled by vendors, even if you’re tired, overheated, or irritated — looking people in the eye and smiling is the first step to acknowledging your shared humanity.

Actively seek responsible tourism opportunities. Look for ethical, mutually-beneficial ways to get connected with local communities, be it through socially responsible tour companies or adventures on your own.

Think twice about a resort. Staying in an all-inclusive resort has a minimally positive effect on Mexico’s economy. They also limit your opportunities to learn about the local culture and connect with local people. Opt for accommodation options that don’t include meals, look for hotels instead of resorts, or pick AirBnBs owned by Mexican families.

Be generous. Your dollar is going to go further now, but don’t gloat about it; instead, see it as a motivation to be a little more generous. Tip well (15%). Haggle down prices respectfully and only to the degree that you need (an extra dollar off might mean less to you than it does the vendor). Think critically about where your money goes, and how you can maximize its impact.

Focus on commonalities. It’s tempting to focus on our differences. Of course, some sights — very humble homes, babies strapped to the backs of working moms, etc. — might catch your attention and drive an emotional reaction, but honing in on them can come off as voyeuristic or disrespectful. Moreover, it perpetuates “othering.” Try to find similarities with the people you meet, and initiate friendly conversations with these commonalities as a starting point.

Come back often! The Americans like you that visit Mexico and actively seek to break down barriers are the Americans who make a difference on both sides of the border.

This election has been incredibly divisive, but it’s important not to let popular politics or mainstream media fool you into thinking that Mexicans and Americans are inherently different or have a tense cultural relationship.

You are responsible for the way you treat others. By remaining open-minded and willing to empathize, you as an individual can bring a different perspective home from your travels and be a part of creating a change.

 

Written by Elly Rohrer

Photo credit: Kiersten Rowland from Prema Photographic

Is Mexico Experiencing a Media White Out?

telcel

It had been a long day at work and I was looking forward to watching the Copa America Semi-final game at a local restaurant. I knew that the US would inevitably lose to the Argentine powerhouse, but I thought it would still be fun to cheer for my country with my newfound friends. During the game I was not surprised by an upset, like I was hoping for, but rather, by all of the white faces smiling back at me during advertisement breaks. Whether the advertisement was selling yogurt, cars, or even domestic Mexican vacations, the person telling me why I need the product was inevitably white. While I was fairly used to seeing it in the United States, it shocked me to see it on Mexican television.

The ad where I first noticed this was promoting tourism in Chihuahua, Mexico. The first shot featured a tanned, yet white, man smiling at me, saying something suave in Spanish. Three or four long flowing shots followed, highlighting the nightlife, beautiful landscapes and cultures of mexico, with every single shot focusing on a smiling, laughing white person. The only shot that featured an actor of darker complexion was of a man working in a dark steel mill.

After noticing it for the first time, I could not stop seeing it. Whenever the camera panned to the stands to find the attractive fans, it would never stop on a person who was darker than a summer tan, no matter what country they were cheering for. On a bus ride to Puerto Vallarta, every billboard and bus stop poster featured a white person. No matter where I turned I could not get away from the abundance of the white ideal.

I saw these commercials at a point in my internship when I had already interacted with multiple native Mexicans. The people I met were intelligent, hardworking, successful artisans and business people who loved and provided for their families. While their culture was different from my own, their ideals and motivations were inspiring and impressive. Why then, I thought to myself, are these people not the role models and attractive personalities for television and print marketing?

As a college student at a liberal arts university, I have heard time and time again that television and movies in America heavily favor white and light skinned actors compared to their counterparts with a darker complexion. I had always taken those criticisms with a grain of salt because non-hispanic caucasians are the majority in America (61.6% according to 2015 Data from the US Census Bureau), but I realized that these same problems affect more people than just within the United States. Mexico is a country of 121 million but only around 10% are of European descent. How can it be that I am surrounded by faces that make up one tenth of the mexican population?

Before doing research, I had no idea how extreme the wealth inequality in Mexico really was. The very rich own a vastly disproportionate amount of wealth compared to the poorest. One statistic cites that the four richest people in Mexico own more monetary wealth than the poorest 20 million combined. One characteristic that these four men have in common is their complexion. They are all light skinned and come from European or otherwise Western descent. This is true for the majority of the affluent in Mexico. The mentality of many who live in Mexico is that the whiter you are, the better off you are. Logically this means that the inverse is also believed, that if you have a darker complexion, you are less capable of success.

This is a toxic notion and can make native Mexicans feel less valued or successful than their white compatriots. In Mexico, the United States, and anywhere else where there is ethnic diversity, we need to make more efforts to reduce the white superiority complex. If I learned anything from my internship, it is that every person and every story has value. No matter what you look like, where you are from, or what you believe, you have value to our world. No one should feel inferior based on their appearance and we all need to recognize that this is a worldwide problem that we all have a part in fixing.

Linked article:

Lost and Found

0136_T23A1768

When one pictures the lost and found, I imagine they picture a box or a bin full of miscellaneous items never to be claimed again by their owners. You could liken it to the Island of Misfit Toys from one of everyone’s favorite holiday specials Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. A collection of dusty and forgotten items destined to spend the rest of their days untaken and unappreciated. I, too, used to hold this same image of the lost in found in my head, that is, until I arrived here in Bucerias.

Coming to Mexico this summer has meant making a lot of sacrifices in different shapes and forms. There has been lost time, which would have been normally spent with friends and family members. By working for Human Connections this summer I have lost the opportunity to earn money that would go towards my college expenses. There has been the loss of basic luxuries such as air conditioning, cable television, and consistent internet. When someone looks at this laundry list of lost opportunities one might question why I decided to come to Mexico in the first place. However, they would simply be overlooking the countless things I have found here in Bucerias.

What if instead of lost time with friends, I spoke of new friends found. A group of friends from all over the country and the world with incredibly different backgrounds and life stories. Individuals who have provided me with newfound ideas and perspectives on my very own life.

While I may have lost some valuable time with grandparents and members of my extended family, I have found incredible individuals here in Mexico whom remind me of the loved ones I left back home. Such as Doña Elvira, a woman so warm and akin to my very own grandmother that giving her a big hug seemed almost second nature to me. I then found Leonarda, a woman whose work ethic and desire to see her children succeed in life is truly inspiring and rivals that of my very own parents.

Perhaps I lost the opportunity to earn a little bit of green this summer. Maybe I lost my chance at striking gold this summer but I have found an entirely new source of wealth. I have found it in the rich Reggaeton songs such as Hasta el Amanecer I hear playing in El Patio Azul on a daily basis.  Instead of finding fortune in the number of zeros at the end of my paycheck, I have found a sense of inner affluence in the way I feel about the value of my work at the end of the day.

I have lost my access to simple luxuries such as air conditioning, cable television, and reliable internet. However, this temporary seemingly inconvenience has led to my newfound and permanent appreciation of nature and its beauty. I have found peace and tranquility in the unremitting rise and fall of the waves upon the shore. Instead of my mind being lost in the constant allure of television ads and social media, I found my thoughts focused on introspection and where I hope to find myself in the near future.

My previous notion of lost and found revolved around the image of a negative place in which unclaimed objects and belongings met their demise and were never heard from again. However, after arriving here in Bucerias my negative perspective on the concept of lost and found has been greatly altered. I would undoubtedly be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little lost when I landed here in Mexico. On the other hand, I cannot begin to put into words the incalculable value of the people and experiences I have found since coming to work for Human Connections. Kellie Elmore says “Sometimes the only way to find yourself is to get completely lost” and I believe I am finally starting to agree.

Written by Summer Intern, Connor Steppe

Photo credit: Kiersten Rowland, Prema Photographic