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My family used to go on spring break vacations – indulgent flings to Arizona or New Mexico. One year we splurged and went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a high-class hotel right on the beach, with multiple pools, restaurants, and shops. Every day there was Bingo and the Macarena poolside, with extravagant brunches and decadent dinners.

But something was not quite right. It could have been the ocean, which glittered and sparkled invitingly but had a vicious undertow. It might have been the deck with its four pools, the best of which was adults-only. There was also the beach, a measly strip of sand wracked by erosion, not worthy of even a toddler's sandcastle. But I think the vacation was ruined by guilt. Seething, creeping, unsure guilt that seized my eight-year-old mind.

One day I was looking out the window of our picturesque hotel room, but not at the beach. When I glanced the other way, I saw a collection of huts and decrepit buildings clinging to the hill beside the hotel. Through the broken roofs I could see the real people of Puerto Vallarta, not the clueless tourists. They lived many to a shack, with their boats moored in the polluted stream that led to the ocean. Every day they went to work as cleaning people and bellhops, tour guides and vendors on the beach, providing for us lazy Americans.

It struck me then how frivolous our vacation was, and every time I ran into one of the women who folded our towels or a waiter with broken English, stabs of guilt shot through me. It made me feel terrible, swimming in those crystal pools and eating French toast when the locals lived in tiny hovels on the hill.

I don't think the hotel had any qualms about paying minimum wage or less to those workers, keeping it in business. After all, it was their only source of work. I didn't grasp then the complex concept of expansion, of gigantic corporations building hotels using cheap labor, exploiting the natural resources and the lives of the people who had once lived there. Still, it seemed odd to me that the hotel would work so hard to build an elaborate facade for happy vacationers when 40 feet away was a community that did not know where their next meal would come from.

Children do not develop this world of blatant consumerism, adults do. The question is, when do we become the adults who do these things? Is there a pivotal moment in our lives when we first come in contact with poverty and dramatic differences in living standards between people? I think that the kind of person we grow up to be depends on how we react to that moment. Some people will take it into their hearts and fight against the system. Others will mature and continue the cycle, returning to Puerto Vallarta, exalting in their wealth. I wonder if they have noticed those who are breaking their backs so they can have a piña colada. If so, they choose not to see.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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PuertoVallartaExpat said...
Jun. 4 at 2:10 pm:
Did you not feel the same guilt on your vacations in Arizona and New Mexico where the "cleaning people, bellhops, tour guides and vendors on the beach" make minimum wage?  As a veteran of the hotel industry in Mexico, I can tell you that in a developing country as this, there are worst jobs that working in a hotel.  Hotels have staff unions,  paid vacation time, access to health care, staff meals, maternity leave, free English classes and many other benefits.  Pe... (more »)
 
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