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April 28, 2009 / andreasterzuk

Constructing the Other: Swine Flu, Narco-traficantes, Kidnappings, and Illegal Migration

I’m in Mexico right now.  I’ve been here for 3 weeks; I’m a visiting scholar at the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco.  Because of the swine flu epidemic, the university has suspended classes until May 6 as a preventative measure.  There are no reported cases in this state but officials are taking prevention seriously.  So, I’m cutting my trip short and heading home to Canada.

It’s been interesting to read the emails and news stories about the outbreak.  English-language news media approaches the story very differently than do the news reports originating from Mexico in Spanish.  Additionally, I’ve been interested in the re-occurring themes of xenophobia that can be found in the comments sections of news websites.  Now, I am not suggesting that things are not serious and that officials shouldn’t be responding accordingly. Clearly, everything that is possible must be done in order to contain the spread of this virus. I want to suggest that that there is another level to the panic and fear that the words Mexico or Mexican seems to evoke in the comments of many Canadian and American citizens in the online discussions of this story.  If you’re not convinced, I encourage you to browse through the comment sections of any swine flu story (or any story about drugs, kidnappings, or migration for that matter).  While you’re at it, please stop on by the discussion boards of that gem of a show Homeland Security USA.

Mexico isn’t the wild wild west.  Narco-traficantes do not rule the land, white women will not be snatched off every street corner to be held for ransom and not everyone in this country is sick with la influenza porcina.   Nor does every Mexican dream to illegally cross borders so as to infect the United States or Canada with some imagined level of depravity.

So, this isn’t a post about conspiracy theories and I’m certainly not claiming that any of the urgency around the swine flu is unnecessary or imagined.  My point is that Canadians and Americans’ fervour to consume stories about “lawless” Mexico all the while ignoring how our own lifestyles, politics, and economies play a role in maintaining global inequity is worthy of reflection.  So, next time you book your trip to an all inclusive resort and swap stories about how you protect yourself, please consider the idea that you just might be involved in the construction of the Other (and yourself).

One Comment

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  1. Angela Thomson / Jun 9 2009 8:43 pm


    As a Canadian living in Bermuda, I like to consider myself a member of society who is able to watch the fear-inducing news reports with an appropriate level of intelligence and common sense. You have hit the nail on the figurative head in this post; while precautions have to be taken, the general public relies on the press for accurate information. Unfortunately, fear draws viewers and thus ratings, which essentially ensures an outrageous version of what the press considers to be news (truth).

    Well done on your analysis.

    Angela Thomson

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