Thoughts from Places: Cancún
August 7, 2014 - Metepec, Mexico
Last Saturday, August 2, I traveled to Cancún for the first time in my life. My expectations were reasonable: I sought after warm weather, kind people, and lots of sunshine and green spaces. I found them all.
However, something bugged me. Cancún is a fairly new city having been created in 1970. It was designed to be a tourist attraction and it has lived up to its potential. So much so, that Cancún International Airport is the second largest airport in Mexico in terms of air traffic, the first being Benito Juarez International (Mexico City). And I learned all this after on my way back.
Being part-Mexican, I expected Cancún to have its own history, traditions, people, and culture. Boy, was I wrong. Cancún is too young for any of these things. I made the mistake of imagining the city to be similar to Acapulco. It definitely is not.
Cancún represents an unusual creation. It is designed to allure international tourists to a beautiful and exotic locale as well as inundating them with shrill, cold stereotypes of Mexican culture. By all means, Cancún is both the most and the least Mexican place on Earth.
Mexican food (tacos, cochinita pibil, enchiladas, chilaquiles), drinks (tequila, mezcal), music (ranchera), and even clothing are all present in Cancún. The problem is that they reek of in-authenticity. However, the tourists don’t seem to mind. They revel in delight of these one-dimensional Mexicanisms as they explore Mayan ruins, sunbathe on the beach, and dance in the clubs.
Visiting Cancún is a wonderful idea and I highly recommend it. But it is by no means an accurate representation of Mexico. Hell, it’s barely a representation of Mexico at all. Cancún tries desperately to offer an experience that embodies Mexico and fails spectacularly. The omnipresent, somehow ominous, fluency in English throughout the city really nails the coffin shut.
As a hotel employee told me, “No one is from Cancún”. And it makes total sense. Again, the city is too young. The first generation of Cancunenses are only starting to blossom. But it’s not enough. Cancún is beautiful. It really is. But it is not Mexico.
Cancún has no culture of its own. It has no music of its own. It has no traditions of its own. Cancún is an isolated chamber of Mexicanisms coming together to create a fictional, unilateral representation of Mexico. it is both beautiful and disturbing.
I want to go back. There are so many things I have to do in Cancún. So many adventures to have and more stories to tell. But next time, I’ll go with a clean conscience, fully anticipating the reality of its existence.
Cancún just is. It does not think. It does not grow. It does not love. It does not breathe. Cancún without its hotels, clubs, and airport behaved the same way it does now with all of its wonders.
The only difference: people.