The Mexican Other

A couple of nights ago, I went to a house party where a drunken "friend of a friend" gave me his loud, somewhat misguided perspective on Mexico. His monologues about Mexico were based on Denzel Washington's film Man on Fire ("If Denzel couldn't survive Mexico City, no way a white boy like me could!"), several documentaries about illegal immigration to El Norte, and a trip to Cancun that left him with the unpleasant impression of a corrupt and out-of-control military and police force. He seemed genuinely taken aback when I informed him that Mexico was home to a thriving middle class, of which my ex-boyfriend and his family are an example. He was also surprised when I said that the National Autonomous University of Mexico was the oldest university in North America, older than Harvard even, and was much more enlightened than many Canadian and American universities because its admission policy is purely merit-based: Once students pass the rigorous entrance exam, they have free tuition at a world-class university, thus making a quality university education more accessible to students from poor backgrounds.

Sadly, I suspect this guy's opinion of Mexico is not out of the ordinary compared to the opinions of most North Americans. It is amazing that a country that comprises the third largest state in North America should be so "othered" by its northern counterparts. In an age where we like to think we're past colonialist prejudices, in reality we've just shifted them to a neighbour closer to home. Don't get me wrong. Mexico has many problems compared to other states, of which poverty, inequality, air and water pollution, state corruption, and conflicts with its indigenous peoples are just a few. Also, I acknowledge that I'm speaking from a fairly privileged perspective in that I know a middle-class family in Mexico City that took me in as a traveller, acted as the most informed and protective of tour guides, and showed me the most gracious hospitality ever. Not everybody's experience of Mexico is that positive.

However, the tendency of popular media to depict Mexico as an impoverished, monolithic, dangerous other striving to get into El Norte and stealing the jobs of white Americans and Canadians is problematic, to say the least. It ignores the diversity of class and culture that exists within Mexico. The media's negative focus on murdered Canadian tourists downplays the reasons why millions of Canadians and Americans flock to Mexico in the first place: a cheap vacation, amazing beaches, and a rich cultural tradition that comprises indigenous civilizations, Spanish colonization, and impressive archaeological artifacts. It also overlooks the fact that many tourists return home with only positive impressions of their stay in Mexico.

As for this guy's assertion that even Cancun, whitewashed and touristic as it was, felt unsafe, I can only say that few places in the world often feel "safe" according to the standards of sheltered Canadians. Indeed, I often think that people who go on resort vacations endanger themselves to some extent by thinking that they are protected from outside danger and not doing enough real research about their destination. When tourists book an all-inclusive resort package in Puerto Vallarta, they think about the beaches and partying and shopping, and sadly enough, often do not consider that they are entering a foreign country with its own culture and own way of doing things. An all-inclusive vacation at a resort is not a bubble enclave and a fail-safe promise of safety. Any country can be unsafe if you go without knowing enough about it.

Piper Lime

My most recent foray on the Old Navy website revealed some interesting surprises, the most interesting being the addition of a new "brand" to the Gap Inc. family, Piper Lime. Piper Lime is an online shoe store launched this year, and unlike Gap Inc.'s other brands (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy), does not sell any Gap-brand merchandise. Instead, Piper Lime features shoes from a variety of brands and a selection similar to that offered by Joneve or Sterling Shoes.

In my opinion, Piper Lime is a bittersweet blessing for Gap Inc. I applaud Piper Lime as a brilliant marketing strategy that allows Gap Inc. to enter the booming shoe retailer industry with minimal overhead and production costs. By keeping Piper Lime a strictly online shoe store that sells shoes from other brands, Gap Inc. reduces costs associated with producing its own shoes and renting and maintaining physical retail spaces. Also, the brands that it carries--Steve Madden, Nine West, Converse, Keds--resonate with young fashionistas more than the usual mass-produced Gap Inc. merchandise. And, who knows, maybe with time Piper Lime will develop such a following that Gap Inc. will decide to open brick-and-mortar Piper Lime stores.

At the same time, however, Piper Lime sets in stone Gap Inc.'s current reputation as a falling star in the fashion industry. I still remember with great fondness the Gap commercials from the '90s, when Gap was one of the biggest brands going. Now, though, Gap seems to struggle to keep up with its competitors. A recent article in the Globe and Mail states that Gap is increasingly losing market share to its sister brand, Old Navy, and other stores specializing in preppy classics like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle. In this context, Piper Lime seems like another attempt to keep up with competitors rather than revive Gap as a trailblazer. The website is fun and easy to browse, but its selection can't compete with established online retailer Zappos, its street cred as a fashionista's shoe mecca doesn't come close to Gravity Pope, and as for prices, well, someone well-versed in sniffing out bargains on eBay could probably find the same shoes at better prices.
Back to Top