Is Mexico Safe for Americans? August 5, 2013

Marta and Phil Vigil in Mazatlan

Marta and Phil Vigil in Mazatlan

Mayan Palace Resort, Mazatlan

Mayan Palace, Mazatlan

In recent years Americans and Mexicans alike have been bombarded by reports of the rise in criminal activity and insecurity in Mexico. Gone are the days of college students driving to border towns for wild Spring Break partying. While statistics vary on how many people died under violent circumstances during President Felipe Calderón’s 2006-2012 tenure, the number appears to be around 60,000. According to a June CNN report, 113 Americans died in Mexico in 2011.

But consider these statistics:

  • Over 24 million Americans visited Mexico in 2012.
  • Last month, the Huffington Post reported that over this year’s Fourth of July weekend, Chicago hit its two-hundredth homicide of 2013.

The CNN report included a video interview with travel writer Robert Reid. Regarding the violence, Reid said, “We’re not seeing these things happening if you’re in Cabo San Lucas or even Cancún which has a safer record than Orlando has actually.” That’s right. The murder rate in Disneyworld’s home city was higher than for Americans visiting Mexico last year.

Over a glass of wine, I put the safety question to Marta Vigil. “Just like any other place in the world, you have to be careful. I mean, you never know when some crazy guy is going to go into a movie theatre and start shooting,” say the Lakewood, Colorado resident, referring to the tragedy last summer that killed twelve and injured seventy only seventeen miles from her house. A native of Uruguay who came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar, Vigil has lived in the Denver area since marrying husband Phil in 1963. Their wedding took place in Mazatlán where Phil’s father was the U.S. Consul. Almost every year since, the couple has returned to the Pacific-coast city. Since Vigil retired from full-time teaching in 1999, they spend seven weeks each fall in Mazatlán and travel widely during the rest of the year.

They’ve climbed The Great Wall of China, filmed penguins in the Straits of Magellan and bought home souvenirs from African markets. Their only brush with crime came in 1988 when Phil put a camcorder on a Lima, Peru restaurant table and made the mistake of turning his back briefly. “Anywhere in the world, you don’t go down narrow, out-of-the-way alleys or walk around at two in the morning when you’re a tourist,” Vigil said. “Yes, there are horrible things that happen at night on Mexican highways, but I’ve never personally talked with any American or Canadian in Mazatlán who has been robbed.” She, like the CNN reporter, repeatedly said, “Use common sense. The nice resorts are safe.”

For the Vigils, that means Mayan Palace in Mazatlán, one of the seven luxury resorts owned by Grupo Vidanta. Regular tennis players, they hit the courts three days a week. They swim in the winding pool or in the ocean along the resort’s pristine beach. They might walk the beach with friends before dusk for dinner at a favorite restaurant and a ride back in the local buses or “pulmonías,” golf cart-like taxis, favored by other American regulars.

They are in town each fall during the Festival Cultural Mazatlán. “We’ve seen Korean and Russian ballet companies perform, Chinese opera at the Angela Peralta Theatre, concerts with the Mazatlán Symphony and local choirs in the cathedral, (mega-star singer) Alejandro Fernández in the Convention Center. You don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate any of those,” Vigil said.

“Around Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2), there are altars everywhere, the stores are full of figurines, candy skulls and bread of the dead. The cemeteries fill up with people visiting and putting out flowers. The Mexican people are unlike any other. No one treats you as well as they do.” She concludes with a serene smile. “For me Luismi says it best in “Así se siente México.”

I pour us another glass of wine and pull up the YouTube video, now viewed over 1.7 million times, of “That’s How Mexico Feels,” the 2004 super hit by nine-time Grammy-winner Luis Miguel. We raise our voices to join “Luismi,” and our glasses to safe, common sense travel.

For a rough translation of the song, visit Learn by Singing Spanish

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