The mainstream news coverage of Mexico fluctuates between presenting Mexico as a glorified luxury getaway destination, and a place of socially deviant mayhem. That, combined with the tourism industry Americans rely on while visiting Mexico, creates an awful sense of otherness.
While I was waiting for my flight out of Atlanta to Cancun, I a USA Today at the newsstand with an article titled “Authorities find 49 bodies dead on Mexican highway” on the front page. This is classic sensationalized journalism. Rather than covering the social, economic, and political structures that have contributed to and sustained the drug‐related violence in Mexico, this just lists the result—casualties— and presents them as mere numbers. There is no history, no narrative, no detailed investigation. Just a blatant statement that drug cartels in Mexico are violent. Which is, of course, all most Americans know about them already. This sort of shallow coverage, I think, contributes to the fact flocks of Americans travel to Mexico every year, yet rarely stray out of the “safety” of the all‐inclusive resorts in Cancun. Most of the money spent by tourists in Mexico only sustains the tourism industry, which is largely owned and operated by international corporations. Perhaps the drug cartels and violence is a result of a starving local economy? I don’t know, because the system that robs Mexico of economic autonomy is the same system that regulates the media that covers it….. But I do know that I never felt unsafe or threatened during my sixteen days traveling the Yucatan peninsula and I never stayed in a resort. Before I left, countless people warned me that a “little white American girl” walking the streets alone in Mexico was doomed for rape or kidnapping. I was suspicious of that type of generalization even before I put it to the test. And when I did put it to the test, I realized how deluded our perception really is. Instead of danger, I found friends who I could connect with beyond our language barriers.
I also read an article in the LA Times before my departure called “Disenchantment may keep Mexico‘s Young Voters on Sidelines”, which I think is a much more thoughtful and humanizing coverage of Mexico. The article gives a brief history of Mexico’s 71 year long one-party rule, and discusses the new generation of voters who are extremely critical of all political parties after having witnessed both sides of the cultural revolution. I spent a few nights at The Mayan Pub in Merida getting to know some local guys who had all recently finished up the equivalent to high school. They were extremely knowledgeable & critical of Mexican politics, and most said that they were not going to vote in the upcoming presidential election. They shared my largest critique of American media & politics, which is the refusal to vote for a candidate without having the adequate information to feel fully informed of the implications of my decision. However, I noticed a huge difference between these guys and my American peers. Rather than falling to apathy, they were activists. They didn’t want to vote, but they sure as hell were going to be heard. And the political demonstration I saw in Merida confirmed that… most participants looked like they were younger than 25.