Fake Border-Crossing Amusement Park Mocks Immigrant Experience
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Photo by Irina Zhorov/Fronteras
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During a time when immigration is one of the most contested political issues and when migrants are dying in increasingly high numbers along the war-zone-like border (which is currently planned to reach a state of security overkill in 2014), it is rather shocking that in the Mexican state of Hidalgo there is an amusement park with a simulated U.S.-Mexico border crossing. The attraction, which is complete with fake border patrol officers, sirens, chases, smugglers, dogs and an 8-mile hike to the finish line, claims to offer participants “the events of a typical border crossing as realistically as possible.”
Recently there’s been a lot of media coverage on the attraction, where headlines read, “ Crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border Illegally for Fun?” and “ Weird Award of the Week: Mexican Theme Park with Simulated Border Crossing.” PBS even called special attention to the attraction when it describes it as offering visitors, “the thrills and chills of an illegal border crossing.”
But what “thrills” is PBS talking about? And “chills” is a huge understatement when it comes to the hypothermia-inducing temperatures and near-death encounters with snakes, border patrol and deceptive smugglers.
The founders of the park, though, had a good motive for creating the mock border crossing: to deter would-be border crossers by providing a taste of the difficult and exhausting experience of crossing the border.
But the media coverage on PBS and Time magazine tends to make a mockery of a problematic and dangerous situation.
First off, there is a major issue when PBS describes the "ideal” visitor as: “Those who want to simulate the experience of fleeing across the border, without the real danger.”
However, a key point is that crossing the border is very dangerous, and potentially deadly. Migrants who attempt, succeed and fail in crossing the border make the difficult decision of risking their lives. They take the ultimate risk all for the possibility of providing for loved ones or reuniting with them in the U.S.
But it is obviously very difficult to simulate that. In fact, it's nearly impossible.
And, quite frankly, I’m sorry, but I just can’t have any empathy for some visitor who wants to cross the border "without the real danger." In fact, it’s quite troubling that someone would even play at crossing the border.
That’s what’s most upsetting: making border-crossing not only into some sort of spectacle for bored or curious visitors to indulge in, but making it into some kind of sport. And reports from PBS and Time only exacerbate this kind of understanding.
In Time’s report, for example, the reporters wrote of the event in a rather sporty fashion, making it sound like an avatar action-packed video game:
Every weekend, dozens of participants pay about $20 apiece to scramble up hills, slide down ravines and run through tunnels pursued by siren-blaring pickup trucks and pumped-up border-patrol agents shouting in accented English.
And, according to participants and organizers in the report, the attraction “is a great deal of fun.”
If this attraction is indeed fun, then there is no way it simulates an actual border crossing. In fact, there’s no way a "fun" border crossing effectively deters participants from potentially crossing the border, even if it is supposedly “difficult.” ("Difficult" here mean that participants will experience blisters, cuts, sprains, bruises, bug bites, dust attacks, near-blinded spotlights and stubbed toes—which all sound like potential risks of playing on a playground at night.)
What’s more, at the end of the attraction when participants arrive at the fakefrontera they are rewarded with sweet breads and tea. Now how far from reality is that?