If they listen closely to music in the restaurants and hotels, visitors may hear a very popular song, Ruben’s favorite. They may hear the tragedy in the plaintive pianos and wailing violins and angry guitars and tragic lyrics (e.g. “their souls united in eternity to give life to this sad song of love”) in the “Triste Cancion de Amor” (Sad Song of Love) played by workers.
“Most of those who are killing themselves are migrants,” says Parra. “They leave because their ways of life, their social networks are destroyed by economic change and natural disasters. They often kill themselves because they come to a place where there are no social networks, no networks of support or services.”
Parra told me that in Mexico City the typical person has an average of 12 friends and relations; in Cancun, the ratio is three or four friends per person. She calls Cancun “one of the loneliest cities in Mexico.”
When the Building Stops
The highest concentration of this migrant loneliness—and suicide—is centered in the city’s many new 13-foot by 26-foot cinder condominios—block rooms sold for about $25,000 by people like Janeth Paola.
Paola migrated here with her husband, Antonio de Los Angeles Chi, from Campeche. She has sold many people their first homes in the gigantic, privately-run Villas Otoch Paraiso, a low-income housing complex that’s as big as a small Mexican town. Like the hotels on the other side of Kilometro Cero , the Paraiso (paradise) has Mayan street names and Mayan themed architecture. “I’ve helped many people who would otherwise be unable to afford these homes, people who come from the countryside and even nearby shantytowns and have moved up,” Paola says from her own stucco-walled apartment.
Paola says her family’s fortunes rose with the high-occupancy rates of the housing complexes that now carpet former coconut fields and ejidos. “Even though we missed our family in Campeche, things were going well. Rooms were filling up. Before the crisis, Antonio had a steady job as a driver for Maya Caribe buses. “
But as Mexico’s swine flu scare and the global economic crisis combined to bring hotel vacancy to its highest rate ever (a remarkable 78 percent), Paolo began noticing how many apartments were being vacated too. Entire blocks of the Paraiso were emptying out. The ghost town feel is worsened by the piles of rock and sand, the fencing and the cement bags that developers left fallow as new construction stopped.
“Antonio started a transportation business with a friend in order to make more money,” Paola explains. “The business didn’t go well, his partner didn’t live up to promises and we ended up going into deep debt. That’s when something went wrong.”
On his birthday last July, Antonio started drinking at 10 a.m. and didn’t stop until that evening. “He was very drunk and decided to go in our bedroom. I thought he was sleeping when I heard that awful noise. I rushed in and found him with a hammock strung around his neck.”
Now, in addition to her primary mission of supporting and raising her daughter alone, Paola has had to deal with the watchful and often wrongful eyes of the larger public.
“My main image of Antonio is of him listening to Pedro Infante, Los Tigres del Norte and Cornelio Reyna [classic Mexican norteno and ranchera singers], dancing on the bed with our daughter,” says Paola. “But the newspapers said horrible things and then people repeated them and made up their own stories.”
She recalls reports both in tabloids and in more serious papers filled with lies and gossip. “They said that we would hit each other physically or that I was sleeping with other men. They even said I was sleeping with my compadre [godfather of her daughter]. It hurts me deeply to hear and read this.”