Two faces to every vacation

May 072006
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

This summer many of us will likely be going back to our respective hometowns or spending our vacation slaving away to help pay for college expenses. Then again, another segment of the population will be more fortunate and spend this summer circling the globe. The fact of the matter is that a significant portion of Americans have become avid world travelers.

For many Americans, the beaches of Cancun in Mexico are a popular summer hotspot. I recall becoming aware of this when my family and I traveled to Mexico a couple of years ago. Although we have made a habit of avoiding areas with dense tourism, we were curious to see what was so attractive about Cancun. So we spent a day trotting through the city of Cancun and its beaches.

I came to the realization that the major appeal of Cancun lies in its ability to provide American tourists with a comfort zone, one that is not foreign, but rather reflective of what is essentially American. In other words, Cancun has accommodated itself to serve the tastes and needs of beholders of the dollar – to draw a parallel, it is the Tex-Mex version of Mexican cuisine.

Along the beaches, next to the overarching posh hotels, foreign hotel guests wear wrist bands signaling their right to be splashing in the water. Those who do not have wrist bands, as was the case with my family and most Mexicans, are not allowed to sunbathe or take a dunk in the water – that land being under the auspices of multinational hotel chains.

Scattered disparately between certain hotels, there are thin slices of public beaches where one will finally come across Mexicans who are not picking up towels or attending to the needs of tourists. These are the common people – those who fall largely outside the radar in Cancun.

Outside the beach resorts there are multinational restaurant chains and lavish clubs. Leisure, recreation and entertainment are 24-hour affairs in Cancun. At the end of the day, however, does anybody stop and wonder what happens to the workers who keep Cancun ticking? Locked in the mirage of paradise, many tourists of Cancun fail to realize that those who work tirelessly to keep them pleased come home to poverty – real, bottom of the barrel, abject poverty.

In a highly globalized world in which our actions increasingly impact others in far off lands, either directly or indirectly, we must revisit our transnational obligations and actions. Do we, the benefactors of cheap labor and resource exploitation, have responsibilities to those who are less fortunate?

Do developed countries, in general, have obligations toward developing countries? Should the hotel guests and multinational corporations lining the beaches of Cancun feel that they have an obligation to better the living standards of Mexican workers who go home to destitute conditions?

According to Dr. Nigel Dower, a visiting philosophy professor from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the answer to the aforementioned questions is yes – at least, if one accepts the cosmopolitan notion that all human beings matter.

Dr. Dower claims that “as human beings, we have a duty of benevolence to help realize people’s basic human rights, irrespective of where they live.” Dr. Dower further argues that, as inhabitants of developed countries, “we are not just rich and they are poor; they are poor because we are rich.”

When one considers the history of colonialism, imperialistic power surges, support for tyrannical regimes, and what appears to have become the modern-day version of colonialism – the enforcement of neoliberal economic policies – it becomes clear that developed countries have had a hand in exacerbating poverty conditions in many developing countries.

In response to these past and present injustices, we should take serious consideration about the responsibilities we, as individuals, and our country, as a member of the developed country club, have in alleviating poverty and increasing development efforts worldwide. Also, it would not hurt for all those tourists in Cancun to jump on a bus occasionally and see the other face of Mexico.

Poverty is ugly, but a fact of life that we should all be exposed to, rather than protected from – as is the case in Cancun.

Luci Storelli – Castro is a junior double majoring in political science and philosophy.

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