Mexico is Texas’ nearest neighbor, but beyond the influence of the border region, the rest of the country can often seem to be worlds away. To tie the two countries together, the Mexican Consulate in Austin decided to do something to promote Mexico.
Casa Mexico is an event the consulate put together for South by Southwest (SXSW). There were panels, concerts and exhibitions to promote exchange between Mexico and the United States. Several Mexican bands and DJs also performed at the showcase.
“Casa Mexico is an effort to showcase an aspect of Mexico that is not frequently well-known or discussed here in the United States and in Texas in particular,” says Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, the consul general of Mexico in Austin.
The theme is entrepreneurship and technological innovation. Those are aspects of Mexico that Gonzalez Gutierrez says are often overlooked.
“Mexico has changed a great deal in the last few years,” he says. “Under NAFTA, we have become one of the most open emerging markets in the world, and what we are planning to do is to create this annual flow of entrepreneurs coming year after year to Casa Mexico to showcase our country.”
Even as the U.S. has cracked down on immigration, and relations with our southern neighbor seem rocky at times, Mexico continues trying to build bridges between the two countries.
At the event, festival-goers broke down a piñata wall – a demonstration meant to highlight the mutual dependence between the two countries that a border wall would hinder.
Beyond the effects a wall would have on trade, there’s another industry impacted by talks of renegotiating NAFTA – one that was underscored by Aeromexico’s Casa Mexica booth – tourism.
In 2014, Tourism made up around 15 percent of Mexico’s GDP and about 16 percent of total jobs.
“Tourism has broken records year after year in Mexico,” Gonzalez Gutierrez says.
But the tourism industry may be in jeopardy due to what he calls the “perpetuated stereotypes” about drug-trafficking violence that have extended beyond the border region and into the rest of the country.
“I think that public discussion about Mexico in certain media is completely divorced from reality,” he says. “Unfortunately the media doesn’t help sometimes in portraying some aspects of our country that have to do with violence related to organized crime that is circumscribed to certain parts of Mexico.”
The perception problem is exemplified by the efforts of a group in Juarez, which last week launched a campaign to promote tourism in their city. Even though crime has gone way down in the border region, this city has yet to shake off its once infamous reputation for high rates of homicide. Visitors continue to stay away.
Leslie Moody Castro leads an educational travel agency called Atravesarte that teaches about contemporary art in Mexico City. She says her agency is directly affected by the image of Mexico in the U.S.
She says people like her face a dilemma: how to sell their country to a group of people who are still afraid to visit.
“The biggest thing that I get all the time is about safety and narco violence and things like that,” she says. “Usually when people come for the first time, they’ve really only been to either a border town or to one of the beach towns and so the impressions they have of Mexico City are either really varied or really nonexistent.”
Just as technology and innovation are parts of Mexico that are often overlooked – so are the country’s cosmopolitan cities. Take Mexico City – the city with the most museums in the world.
“I think people are always really surprised when they come to Mexico City and realize that it’s a really cosmopolitan city center, and I think that because Mexico oftentimes gets stereotyped as border towns, people oftentimes have a hard time getting past that image and understanding that even though Mexico is a developing country, this city does exist,” Castro says.
Gonzalez Gutierrez says the fight to right these wrongs should begin at places where they can reach the largest audiences.
“We need to take advantage of opportunities such as festivals like SXSW,” he says. “People coming to SXSW are an ideal audience for our message. These are young fellows who are very open to innovation. These are people that reject protectionism, that reject isolationism.”