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The Disneyfication of Tourist Places

Here’s a real winner of a story that would be fit for The Onion, but is real. In an AP story printed in USA Today, it’s “Tijuana to Vendors: Dress Up or Leave.” In short, street vendors in Tijuana are being told if they won’t dress up in “traditional” Mexican outfits, they won’t be able to do business anymore.

There are so many ironies inherent in this story that it’s hard to know where to start. The big one, of course, is that Tijuana isn’t exactly a bastion of Mexican culture. It’s a place where people cross the border to get drunk, sleep with prostitutes, buy cheap drugs (prescription and otherwise), and purchase poorly-made souvenirs that come straight from a factory. Tourists don’t make the short drive from San Diego hoping to find “the real Mexico.”

The funniest irony though is the manner in which city officials support the decision. “City officials say the costumes are no different from Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary War soldier outfits, Buckingham Palace guard regalia or Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse costumes.”

Great. Through this fine practice, Tijuana can be just as authentic as…Disneyland!

As travelers, we have this desire for our own country to progress at a rapid pace, but we want the places we go to stand still and remain unique, immune from the pull of globalization and a more convenient life. We deride the Starbucks on the corner, the mall being built on the outskirts, and the western clothes so many people have switched to. We want everyone to be in native garb and to remain in their picturesque villages, making handicrafts the same way they did 200 years ago. Meanwhile, those people often want what we have–what they see on TV. They don’t want to live in an adobe hut, wearing a poncho and a sombrero, thank you very much. They want a modern house made of concrete, a comfortable shirt that washes easily, and a baseball cap with a Yankees logo. Not good for our photos, but it’s their life.

There are parts of the world where the authentic is still real and native costumes are worn all the time, not just put on for show. The Andes mountains of South America qualify, as do the hill tribe areas of North Vietnam. And when festival time rolls around in many parts of the world, the regalia comes out in full force. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s real. Being forced into a silly costume that you are only wearing because it’s the law, however, is just plain sad.

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