Spring Breaks in the Shadow of Poverty



As the crowds of spring breakers return to the everyday routine of classes, a new theme of complaints seems to be surfacing - and it's not about the courses. The invasion of local culture and less-than-idyllic scenes have crept their way into the sunny life of exotic break locations.

"I'm here on vacation," said Jonathan Blusell, a junior communication major and Psi Psi Alpha member who traveled to Cozumel over spring break. "My parents paid good money for this trip and the last thing I want to see is a bunch of bums or bag ladies who can't even speak English."

In Cancun, MTV spring break tapings were disrupted by local workers picketing the locale for the wages they had yet to receive for their work on the set. The chanting often interfered with students' ability to hear the music pumping from the speakers.

"I had finally got on a platform and was trying to grind with this guy, and all I could hear was these guys off in the shade of the platform. They were yelling 'queremos m?Ae?s dinero' over and over," said sophomore Kristen Hines, a sociology major. "The MTV guys edited it out after, but still, I'm sure I looked ridiculous."

The disruption of the vacationers was not isolated to the high profile locations. The less frequented U.S. Virgin Islands were the troublesome destination for junior political science major Mark Fiburon and his friends.

"It had been a slow morning, but I'd finally met this girl who needed help with her tanning oil," said Fiburon. "She was just about to take her top off when this kid came up in these raggy clothes, pulling on her hair, asking to braid it. I mean, really, don't their parents keep them in check?"

The most frequented spring break attractions are located along the beach. Hotels and souvenir places are grouped together, but students wishing for a less expensive vacation find themselves venturing into the more squalid parts of the city. These people may find themselves in contact with beggars, street vendors and those with poor English skills.

"The hotel drinks were so watered down, the ladies weren't getting trashed; I went to go buy my own liquor in town, but the guy kept asking for pesos and holding out his hand," said senior Spanish major Alex Marshall. "He eventually took my American money, but then we were approached numerous times by women selling baskets and bead necklaces. The girl with me was almost in tears."

In some cases, spring breakers did not have to leave their hotel to feel the local culture kicking at their door. Mid-day interludes can often be ruined by cleaning personnel. The high-traffic beach hotels often employ local residents for cleaning personnel and other positions that have minimal contact with the patrons. Yet the managers often receive complaints about incidents between staff and patrons.

"A man of about 25 complained last week about Lucia; he was trying to entertain a lady friend and she knocked on the door several times, wanting to complete her work," said Manuel Escobar, manager of La Playa de Cancun in Mexico. "The lady got annoyed and left. He argued so much, I had to promise to fire Lucia. He showed no concern when she cried on his shoes, pleading to change his mind."

Many college tourists who ventured beyond the beachfront bars were disturbed that their vacation paradise was marred by filthy streets, locals speaking in foreign tongues and the bicycles disrupting the path of their limos.

"Many times I've had students call after returning from foreign countries, complaining about the locals," said Immigration and Naturalization Service official Dexter Bond. "They often have to be reminded that they are the foreigners; it is an easy fact to forget with the tourist-friendly strips along the beaches and attractions."

The spring break is a very isolated time frame, so there has not been a concentrated effort to allay the concerns of the students, Bond said.

"The students might do with some world culture education or language classes," said Bond. "Or be told to stick to Florida or South Padre Island."