If we held our own country to the public safety standards we’re applying to our southern neighbor, a lot of American tourism officials in the United States might be jumping out of their office windows.
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Public safety is as much a matter of perception as reality. If you feel vulnerable, then you are.
For a lot of Americans these days, the perception of Mexico is that it’s almost as dangerous as Somalia. Several cruise lines have been acting on that perception over the last year, cancelling port calls to Mexican destinations and pulling ships out of San Diego and Long Beach in the process.
We’ve all seen the lurid news stories — people being not simply murdered, but beheaded. Full-on firefights between Mexican army soldiers and drug cartel gunmen packing equal firepower.
That doesn’t doesn’t like any place the average sane person would want to visit.
And yet, does that perception match up with Mexico’s reality?
There are as many as 2 million expats currently living in Mexico. The number of Americans among them ranges from several hundred thousand to more than 1 million.
It’s hard to say exactly how many because a lot of them are living there — irony of ironies — illegally.
If it’s so dangerous down there for foreigners, why aren’t these terrified expats streaming back to the safety of the United States? The answer: Because they’re not terrified. They’re not even mildly frightened.
I have good friends who split their year between San Diego and San Miguel de Allende, a haven for artists and musicians in the mountains between Guadalajara and Mexico City, and long one of the most popular Mexican towns for expats.
If there is some mass exodus of scared gringos fleeing Mexico’s drug war, I’ve yet to see evidence of it.
I’ve never lived in Mexico, but I’ve traveled through most of it. I’ve visited the capital, Mexico City, multiple times, as well as Guadalajara and other major cities. I’ve sailed into Ensenada on cruises, along with Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel.
From each visit, I returned without ever having been menaced by anyone, except for some crazed car drivers, some overzealous souvenir hawkers and in one case, a swarm of angry bees.
Could it be that Mexico is getting a bum rap over all this? And if so, why?
It’s long been known and widely reported that the violence of Mexico’s drug war is neither random nor targets tourists. It tends to confine itself to those involved in the “drug game.” But there are those who insist that this inwardly focused drug violence presents a dire threat to all would-be visitors.
But what about muggers, robbers, ordinary crooks, you ask? Do Mexican cities have street thugs who might prey on tourists given the chance?
Of course, they do. So do most cities in this country. That doesn’t make the threat so dire that visiting is out of the question.
You have to wonder: How would travelers react if we apply the same rhetoric and reasoning to the United States?
Should people stop visiting New York City because it’s a locus for organized crime?
Should people stop coming to Southern California because more than 40,000 gang bangers in the Los Angeles area alone?
Should people shy away from Mardi Gras, the JazzFest or the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans because it has one of the highest murder rates in America?
Should desert lovers boycott Arizona and New Mexico because of the alcoholism and related ills running rampant on Indian reservations?
For that matter, should travelers avoid Arizona because any loonytune can legally get his hands on military-grade firearms? Or has a state Senator who thinks it’s cute to point her loaded pink handgun at a reporter during an interview?
Recently, a prominent Puerto Rican tourist, a retired legislator, died as a result of injuries he received when muggers tried to steal his watch in the Italian port of Naples. Have you heard any calls lately from Americans urging a boycott of Italy?
You can’t bring tourists into any place where they don’t feel safe. If people feel they can’t disembark from a cruise ship without being assaulted by local thugs or getting caught in some cartel-military crossfire, they won’t be coming to visit, and probably shouldn’t.
But is all this fear and loathing really based on safety concerns, or is there something else playing in the background?
Look online at any news story involving illegal immigration. You’ll see the same legions of commenters, each beating the same tired drum.
Avoid Mexico. Boycott Mexico. Nuke Mexico.
One gets the sense that a lot of these people are looking for a way to punish Mexico for failing to stem the flow of its citizens illegally entering the United States. Further, many of them have a very hard time hiding the racial basis of their animosity toward Mexico.
Many others don’t even try.
Does Mexico have “issues” regarding public safety? Absolutely. But those issues are being hyped by Americans with a political agenda or a racial ax to grind, or both.