Twitter in the U.S. is ablaze after a series of articles reported on hoards of American tourists heading to Mexico City and the Riviera Maya to avoid lockdowns over the holidays. Over the course of the holiday season, several online accounts began naming and shaming beachgoers ignoring travel guidelines. Damning headlines soon followed: “Americans have been escaping to Mexico to avoid Covid-19 restrictions back home. Now Mexico is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.”
One might assume that Mexicans would jump at an opportunity to grumble at gringos gone wild, yet anti-American hate is conspicuously absent on Mexican social media. While Americans shame other Americans online, Mexico’s current rage cycle exists in a separate but parallel Twitterverse. Mexican Twitter is indeed furious about tourists flaunting pandemic rules; they’re just not American.
Although the internet is said to be borderless, the recent trend surrounding coronavirus-shaming highlights the cultural fault lines that starkly divide online communities from each other. Going from the party political to the petty, distinct online outrage silos focus on Mexico’s own unique politicization of Covid-19.
Covid-19 tourism is old news in Mexico, with the country keeping its borders deliberately open to all visitors since the beginning of the pandemic, even as case numbers climbed. According to epidemiologists, the recent contagion surge is more likely due to lax domestic restrictions, as the Mexican government takes a laissez-faire approach in an effort to keep the economy afloat. Underscoring the issue, the two main destinations for big-spending U.S. tourists have been particularly hard hit on the economic front: Two out of three jobs lost over the past months are from Mexico City and Quintana Roo state — home to Cancún, Tulúm, and Playa del Carmen.
In the country’s highly polarized political scene, most of the past week’s online rage has been directed at Mexico’s Covid-19 tsar, Hugo López Gatell, who was photographed vacationing maskless at the beach on New Year’s Eve, violating his own pleas for Mexicans to stay home.
Other silos are hyper-localized, niche social media groups aimed at calling out their neighbors. Twitter handles outing covidiotas narrow down the naming and shaming, all the way to the municipal and neighborhood levels, catering to outrage of a more personalized nature. One of these groups does feature a rare instance of explicit American presence, but it is the exception that proves the rule: a Twitter handle that monitors neighboring border towns in the states of Sonora and Arizona. Here, Americans are not tourists but an inherent part of the community.
In another corner of the internet, the focus is on Mexico’s social divides. Here, rage is aimed at holiday makers escaping the capital’s relatively strict restrictions for warmer, laxer climes — often the same destinations patronized by American tourists. “Covidiots returning to Mexico City,” reads one comment under an official livestream of traffic on the city’s main east-bound thoroughfare.
Much of the debate boils down to the existential question facing many countries between social distancing or stimulating the economy. The lack of meaningful aid — Mexico’s paltry Covid-19-stimulus offerings rank among the stingiest in Latin America — has meant that most Mexicans have had to carry on as usual to survive. Yet, the subtleties dividing “economic reactivation” and “irresponsible travel” are often seen locally as a dog whistle justification for class and racial privilege. An argument put somewhat more bluntly by one Twitter user:
Ultimately, the only real anger on Mexican social media directed at American tourists has come from U.S. expatriates and the cosmopolitan elite. They, in turn, are accused of ignoring their own privilege; often working from home in a country where 83% are unable to. So the online outrage cycle goes full circle and spins another day: no need for American tourists to go viral here.