a bird and a bottle

This is One Tourist Trap I’ll be Skipping
February 6, 2007, 11:12 pm
Filed under: media, news

I like some good adventure travel just as much as the next person, but something about this makes me a little uneasy: in a park in Mexico, guides are leading tourists on mock border crossings. According to an article in today’s NY Times, people pay about $18 to go on a four hour night hike (caminata nocturna) that includes “border patrol agents” who yell at the participants and fire guns filled with blanks. The program doesn’t go for complete authenticity but does aim to give people a taste of the treacherous journey thousands of Mexican immigrants make every year. The article is not unmindfu of how strange an exercise this may seem:

Of course, compared with actually crossing the border, the caminata is as watered down as an airport cocktail. The guides don’t desert their groups, and the most danger visitors face is twisting an ankle or walking into a low-hanging tree branch.

The idea of tourists’ aping illegal immigrants can seem crass, like Marie Antoinette playing peasant on the grounds of Versailles. But the guides describe the caminata as an homage to the path immigrants have beaten across the border. And the park’s approach to consciousness-raising is novel, but not completely unique. In 2000, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders set up a camp of tents, medical stations and latrines in Central Park to recreate the setting of a refugee camp. Last year, the refugee-camp project returned to New York and also traveled to Atlanta and Nashville.

To me, the analogy to the Doctors Without Borders tent village seems a little…off (disingenuous maybe?). Certainly both the DWB village and the “border crossing” hope to raise consciousness about their respective issues. But DWB was not profiting off of their village (though maybe they did make money through donations collected there?). Though on the flip side, maybe there is nothing wrong with the organizers of these “tours” in Mexico to try and make the best of their economic situation and the fact that so many of their community have left to make the journey they emulate (lemons –> lemonade?).

That said, these tours may be effective — what better way for people to get a sense of the horrors of an “illegal” border crossing than to experience an approximation of it for themselves? Still, I can’t help but think that the people who sign up to do something like this are the ones who are already concerned about immigrants’ rights and the immigrant experience in the U.S., and that the tours won’t do much to increase awareness of, sensitivity to, or sympathy for the men and women who make this journey not for fun, but as a matter of survival.

I’m writing from my gut on this one and though Stephen Colbert might say that’s the best place to find the truth, I’m not so sure. I would be thrilled to hear your reactions in comments. Opine away!


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

“Opine !” That is a Rumsfeld word. Break out the garlic. Undrape the mirrors.

Comment by Swampcracker

Sheesh. I wish I had something to opine about, other than my own gut reaction which exactly mirrors yours. Maybe if they also knocked these tourists to the ground, cuffed them and left them sitting in a bare detention cell for several hours (days?) they’d get a better taste…

Comment by Denise

How right you are, Denise. They would also have to take a DNA sample, and if they are caught w/in 100 miles of the border w/in 14 days of entry, deport them without any due process whatsoever. How much more realistic that would be!

Comment by bean

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