My colleagues insist that my reputation precedes me, but my words are not suited to an abrupt beginning, and so I must introduce myself properly. I am Cancun, premier Spring Break destination for the millennial youth, as unanimously voted upon by travelers past and present. I wonder if my Mayan ancestors would revel in this title; I wonder if they might praise the heavens for this fame. I often muse about who I used to be, and I am still making peace with who I’ve become.
It was not always this way. Today, I see obligations and responsibilities laid to sleep on my white sands. It appears the greatest burden on members of the visiting population is a quest for recognition on Instagram, a race to attain public approval. For this approval, I provide the backdrop, but I ask for no royalty, no share. Yet, in immortalizing my memory into devices and gadgets, I feel that I may be losing myself. Do those who journey here know anything of my history, or does their interest only extend as far as the photogenic coastline?
Long before entering the 21st Century, I was wild. Toucans and tapirs were my company, exotic orchids were my specialty, a jungle was my semblance. Soon, the Mayan people realized my inhabitability. The Itzae tribe, water wizards that they were, populated my land with ceremonial centers and astronomical observatories. The 1500s witnessed the lust of the European conqueror. In 1776, Spanish cartographer Juan de Dios Gonzalez first documented my presence. Since then, not only natives, but also explorers, pirates and varieties of colonists have been enchanted by my turquoise blue waters. Once here, they rarely leave.
My transition into a tourist hotspot began much later, in the 1970s. The Mayan empire having disappeared and the European investment fading, my new inhabitants saw me fit for a transformation. Mexico enacted a “National Plan for Tourism” to stimulate its economy, and I was the cash cow. In a heartbeat, I was stripped of the ability to host people from all walks of life. I was no longer the savior of the fatigued or the relief of the prying eye, but instead the haven of the wealthy elite who could afford to enjoy and enhance my distance from tiresome reality. Those who cannot spare the funds for such extravagance are simply left behind, and this was never my intention.
As others see me, I am a sort of paradise on Earth, but introspection repeatedly leads me to long for bygone times. The modern glitz and the glamour have drowned the richness of my history and the simplicity of my ecosystem. Especially in adolescent circles, I see a greedier default: understandably, maximization of the vacation experience is the foremost objective, but the lack of passion for the chronicle of events that brought me here is offensive. I am simultaneously inflated to a symbol of luxury and superfluity and diminished to a banal character of the mass media.
Years have passed, and I have seen generations rise and fall to their temptations. I think, at the risk of seeming overly pious, I might have seen it all. Again, another Spring Break has tided in and out. Cyclical as the routine is, my visitors do not lose their carefree spirits and optimism — although I am not sure if this is a facet of my own charm. The pleasures here are as plentiful as my grains of sand, but our time is not. As your ears grow familiar once more to the rhythm of footsteps on tar instead of the hum of the waves, I pray you all will welcome the evolution that is hemmed onto the fabric of life. I pray you will treasure your youth and embrace your future. I pray you will remember me — all of me, who I was, who I am, and who I may yet be. Now, my children, let me rest.
Priya Kankanhalli is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Matters of Fact appears alternating Tuesdays this semester.