Irina Zhorov, PBS, June 24, 2013
An unusual amusement park attraction in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo offers visitors the thrills and chills of an illegal border crossing. The attraction takes visitors through a fake United States-Mexico border, complete with fake smugglers and fake border patrol agents.
The aim is to dissuade would be migrants from making the trip. The coyote, or smuggler, leading this simulated illegal border crossing used the name Simon and wore a face mask. Before setting off, he addressed his charges that evening, about 40 students from a private school in Mexico City.
“Tonight we’re going to talk about migration,” Simon said in Spanish. “But for us it isn’t just something rhetorical, but rather the opposite. Because we have endured, we have suffered, of hunger, thirst, injustice, heat, cold, we have suffered from everything.”
Then, under the cover of night, Simon herded them into the woods, toward the fake frontera.
But for those who want to simulate the experience of fleeing across the border, without the real danger, the latter attraction is for you. For three hours, tourist groups endure sirens, dogs, chases and the fake border patrol yelling threats.
Maribel Garcia works as an administrator for the park. She says the purpose of the Night Walk is simple.
“Our objective is to stop the immigration that exists amongst our citizens, principally from the state of Mexico to the U.S.,” Garcia said in Spanish.
Garcia says traditionally this region subsisted on agriculture, but that wasn’t bringing the community what it needed.
“Because we didn’t have sewer systems, light, telephone, roads,” she said.
So people went north. The HñaHñu community has lost about 80 percent of its population to the U.S., Garcia estimates, mainly to Arizona and Nevada. Garcia says it was the HñaHñu youth returning home after crossing the real border who thought up this tourist attraction as a way to create income for the community and encourage others to stay in Mexico.
The tours cost the equivalent of about $20. The visitors are typically middle-class Mexicans or, like tonight, students from private schools–in other words, not the most likely group to attempt an illegal crossing into the U.S.
Garcia said it’s difficult to quantify how effective the tours are for other visitors. But as the park’s tourist offerings expand and the number of visitors grow, she said there is a new hope that enough money will come in and that the attraction will encourage more community members to stay put.