My Cultural Day Tour Experience

How Can I Help?

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

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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.

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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