Monday, May 26, 2008

Playing Immigration Games

Fancy being an illegal immigrant for a night?
In what could reasonably be perceived as a new low in tourist entertainment, the LAT reports that the Nhanhu Indian community in Mexico has been organizing "live simulation-adventures" where "tourists spend a night as illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande at the Eco Alberto Nature Park." For $10 a pop, the Caminata Nocturna, aka night hike is yours -- combining "obstacle course, sociology lesson and PG-rated family outing." Thousands of tourists have already experienced the "thrill" since Caminata opened in 2004.

Sick? It sounds like it -- until you learn that Caminata was created by local villagers as a "cooperative business to help compensate for the collapse in the last generation of the local farm economy," and the subsequent decimation of the local population by migration to the U.S. All Caminata proceeds are shared evenly among the villagers.

Now it doesn't sound so bad, even if the concept is admittedly weird. Enabling villagers to hang on to their land and culture, rather than force them into economic flight to a foreign country, is definitely a plus -- with the added bonus that Caminata participants seem to be attracted less by morbid curiosity than the desire "to gain some insight into what migrants endure during their trans-border odysseys."

To quote a Mexican interviewee, "[Illegal border crossing] is part of the culture, and it's important to be aware of it." As long as Caminata participants remember that it's not the real thing. "There, they truly suffer, and here you don't suffer." Big difference.
photo Adriana Zehbrauskas/Polaris via LAT