Tourists: Be Respectful and Make an Effort

Karelly Reyes Alvarado, contributor

I had the utmost pleasure of visiting Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl in Mexico this fall semester. It is located half an hour from Tepoztlán and is known for its vibrant scenery, including forests, hiking trails, mountains and most importantly, its culture. Visiting this place made me realize many things about myself as an individual and our Mother Earth. 

Our Cuernavaca study-abroad group met with a local from Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl who taught us the importance of this village’s history, its people and climate activism. His name is Ignacio Torres Ramírez (Nacho); he is a spiritual healer and a good friend of ours. He taught us that Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl is a sacred place for many Indigenous people because of the story of Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent. It is a Mesoamerican mythical creature that represents the civilization of the Nahua people before colonization.

Nacho told us that the Nahuas worked hard for their society by growing crops that included corn, beans and other staple crops. Our understanding of the environment changed when he talked about colonization and how it changed Amatlán drastically. The amount of tourism changed the scenery in Tepoztlán, which caused more foreigners to flood Amatlán, thus creating an unstable environment for the people. 

Nacho asked an important question to our group that day, “Why do we treat our women so badly? Women are our Earth and the Earth are our women. Mother Earth is what keeps us alive, there is no second Earth.” I thought about that long and hard. What has caused us to be so greedy about Earth and why do we privatize our own land? All we could do is listen to his wisdom that day and hope for a better future. 

A few days later, we met with an elderly farmer named Doña Irene Ramírez Cázares and visited her corn field. I remember walking up the hill and seeing the beautiful rising milpa (cornfield) stretching for miles and miles across the patches of green grass, and right behind it was the iconic mountain. She told us that in order to plant the crops you need to talk to the soil, and she said, “You will suffer, I’m leaving you here with the birds.” The maíz (corn) is our life and the soil is what keeps us alive. Her eyes looked down for a moment because she told us that young people do not want to work in the fields anymore and that she would like to help out more but, almost no one wants to help. 

One thing that struck me was the fact that her family never sold their land. She reminisced about seeing people selling their sacred land for a few pesos — she never considered profiting off her land because she respects the soil and the milpa that is sacred. Now, why am I mentioning all of this? I mention this because when people google Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl, they get a picture of a woman in a bikini posing behind Poza de Quetzalcóatl, a sacred waterfall for the Nahua people. Tourism is slowly killing places like this, and ecotourism and spiritual tourism damage the environment. 

Yes, tourism is okay if you respect the people and the environment of the place you are visiting-but it is vital to learn about where you are traveling to and make an effort to connect with the community. Each individual has a story to tell and you will never learn from a Google search. Since I am studying abroad thanks to Augsburg University, I feel like it is important to connect with the community if you are thinking about studying abroad. You start to see the difference between tourism and educational tourism, activism and performative activism, and the beauty of how communities dismantle capitalist oppression due to tourism.