When I arrived in Cancun, I was sorely disappointed. The beaches were lovely, albeit a little busy, and the town was alive with tourists. But it really is not a beautiful city. It has no “wow” factor, nothing special to offer. It does not make me smile to see it, does not please me to be in it.
It occurred to me that, for many beach tourists, this is their vision of Mexico. This is what Mexico is to them – beautiful beaches and ugly cities. And that upsets me. They are missing out on so much that Mexico has to offer – the colorful colonial cities, the picturesque countryside, the beautiful people who aren’t constantly trying to get their business, the first class bus system that is better than any bus you’ll ever take north of the border. The Mexico I know is not the Mexico many beach tourists know. And, while I accept that not everyone enjoys the same kind of travel, I do think every traveler – every person – should at least be aware of what else is out there, what they don’t experience, what’s not on the news. They should have more than one story of Mexico.
But the reality is that most people have a single story about Mexico.
The single story is that story we know of a people or of a place. For example, the single story people know of most African countries is poverty. The single story of Mexico is dominated by danger and drugs. These single stories are often constructed by the media, and perpetuated by simplistic experiences, conversations with ignorant individuals, and a lack of questioning and curiosity. In her TED Talk, The danger of a single story, Nigerian storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, talks about what the single story is, how it breeds misunderstanding, and suggests we look at multiple stories instead. I highly recommend you watch it if you are at all interested in how people and places are mistakenly perceived (and you should be interested!).
Thinking specifically about Mexico, I hope that awareness continues to spread about this wonderful country, and that the media hype does not dominate people’s understanding of what Mexico is and what it has to offer. If you’re willing to get out and explore Mexico beyond the beach hotspots, I fully support you. If not, I encourage you to question what you hear, keep the context in mind, and look beyond one single story of this misunderstood country.
If you see the beaches, know that there is an entire country with a wonderful culture beyond those beaches. Know that the town of Cancun is not representative of all Mexican towns. That the simple, ugly buildings are not typical of all architecture in Mexico. That the bothersome, buy-my-goods people are not representative of the kind, caring Mexicans elsewhere in the country. That the bus between the Hotel Zone and Cancun is not the same bus you’d take to travel between cities. Know that there is more to the country than what you hear on the news and see in Cancun (or any other beach hotspot).
Go beyond just one story.