Believe it or not, there is a park in Mexico where people can pay to participate in a simulation of an illegal U.S. border crossing.
Since 2004, Mexico’s Parque EcoAlberto has held the Caminata Nocturna, which translates to night hike, intended to simulate the struggles desperate illegal immigrants go through to cross from Mexico to America.
James Spring recently reported his experience participating in the event held hundreds of miles from the U.S. border, for the radio show This American Life. He spent hours simulating the nighttime border crossing alongside a group of middle-class Mexican salespeople who participated as a corporate team building exercise.
Although not always realistic, the simulation was stressful and frightening for its participants.
“This is the Mexican telenovela version of the border crossing, a dramatic reenactment,” Spring said on This American Life. “This is what sells tickets. That said, the sales people have fully suspended their disbelief. They look totally freaked out.”
The Caminata Nocturna is not a training activity, according to the Spanish language description on the park’s website. The attraction seeks to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal border crossings and encourage young people to lead productive lives in Mexico, instead of risking their lives to leave. The Caminata Nocturna promotes the values of unity, solidarity, and trust to help participants overcome other barriers in their personal lives.
The El Alberto community which organizes the simulation knows the effects of mass emigration firsthand, since 70% of the community’s isolated and largely illiterate population has left for a better future in the U.S., according to the park’s website.
For those who participate in the simulated experience, there is plenty of running and walking along dark trails and rocky hills. Participants also evade fake border patrol agents, violent drug cartel members, and 19th century-inspired Native Americans with the help of human smugglers, known as coyotes.
Fake border patrol trucks with sirens captured some of the participants, and others were shot at with blank ammunition. Drug cartel members pretended to shoot one of the migrants, an actor, and throw the body off a cliff. In once instance, captured participants were only allowed to continue on their way after singing the Mexico’s national anthem.
Afterward, Spring and his fellow participants were brought to a bluff dotted with hundreds of lit torches, representing those who died while attempting to cross into the U.S. “The sales people are really moved by all of this,” Spring said. “Some look sort of misty-eyed. These stories are a big part of their national heritage, even though the reality of it is so far removed form their own lives.”
Spring reported that tickets for the Caminata Nocturna cost the equivalent of $US16, and the village makes very little money from the simulation. It still relies on money sent from the many villagers who have emigrated to the U.S.
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