Life without a beach in a working-class neighborhood of Cancún

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A family needs about 500 pesos (30 dollars) to enjoy a day at the beach in the hotel zone of Cancún, a significant amount considering the average monthly income in Quintana Roo is 8,000 pesos (473 dollars).

In Cancún, the heart of the Mexican Caribbean where millions enjoy the turquoise sea and luxury tourist services, Yazmin and Rosalina work hard so that, hopefully, their families can visit the beach a few times a year.

Both live in Villas Otoch Paraíso, a housing development located about 30 kilometers from Boulevard Kukulkán, the opulent hotel zone that drives this city founded 53 years ago.

In 2023 alone, 32.7 million visitors – 63% of them foreigners, according to official data – arrived at the Cancún airport to visit this resort and others nearby like Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

Hardly any of them would dare to visit Villas Otoch, the housing development founded in 2007 with about 40,000 inhabitants. Multiple internet press notes reinforce the stigma of being “the most dangerous neighborhood in Cancún.”

Yazmin Terán remembers the excitement with which she and her family arrived 15 years ago, coming from Oaxaca, excited by a “better paid” job for her husband in the booming tourist sector.

“You see the beaches, the tourist places, the hotel zone on TV and you say wow!, but you get here to Cancún and you find that not everything is like that. The beautiful part is over there in the hotel zone,” says this 41-year-old school teacher.

“We who live here and work almost have no time to go to the beach, to the sea, to enjoy,” adds Yazmin, whose beach getaways happen “about five times a year.”

“Going to the beach also incurs expenses (…) you have to buy something there or bring something to eat,” says Terán, a neighborhood leader who organizes solidarity activities to support children and the elderly.

In a quick estimate, he figures that a family needs about 500 pesos (30 dollars) to spend a day at the beach in the hotel zone.

This is a significant amount considering the average income in Quintana Roo – the state where Cancún is located – is 8,000 pesos per month (473 dollars), according to the specialized portal Talent.com.

During peak season, a single night in a five-star hotel on Boulevard Kukulkán can cost 2,000 dollars.

At ground level, the narrowness of the spaces and the deterioration of urban furniture are striking, amid sweltering heat. Problems such as domestic violence, but above all the presence of drug dealers, who meet the demand of the tourist area, soon appeared.

According to authorities and local media, violence has surged since 2018 due to an increase in the illicit flow of weapons and disputes between the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels, the most powerful in the country.

While parents go out to work, many children are left alone at home or playing in the streets. Forty percent do not attend school, comments Sofía Ochoa, a cultural manager who has been working in the neighborhood since 2022.

Some are recruited by local gangs. Experiences such as shootings or sexual abuse are common among minors, Ochoa points out.

“Many [children] do not know the beach, and the nearby López Portillo Avenue, which connects with the rest of the city, seems like the last frontier to them,” she adds. Ochoa and neighbors like Yazmin organize to reclaim public spaces in Villas Otoch, such as abandoned parks, at the mercy of crime. For Rosalina Gómez, 36 years old, who migrated from Chiapas fleeing poverty and a violent father, the main contact with the tourist splendor of Cancún is her job as a cleaning employee at the airport.

“Sometimes tourists give you a tip, they give you clothes, soda, or thank you because the bathroom is clean. That’s what I like the most,” she says.

Mother of Perla del Mar, a 15-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, she last visited the beach four years ago. “I don’t feel comfortable going to have fun at the beach knowing that I have a daughter bedridden,” she points out.

Ricardo, her other 17-year-old son, is specializing in food and beverages, and Rosalía hopes he will find work in tourism.

“Once he finishes his studies, I stop working and dedicate myself to her. God willing,” she trusts.

Source: Expansion