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Enjoy the Hacienda Lifestyle

September 17, 2010

You’ve seen the billboard at the airport and the advertisement in all the local tourist rags and expat blogs.  A white woman in a huipil living it up hacienda style, an image of her easygoing new life in the Yucatan.  Alongside her, the English words “Enjoy the Hacienda Lifestyle.”

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive.  Perhaps I’m a killjoy.  Perhaps I’m crazy for thinking this advert might, just might, offend more than a few people, particularly the Maya, whose cultural memory of the hacienda lifestyle is anything but enjoyable. 

Wouldn’t it seem a bit odd if, say, German expats started snatching up abandoned cotton plantations in Mississippi and turning them into real estate “showplaces”?  Imagine a similar advertisement, featuring a German woman dressed as a barefoot, kerchiefed Southern slave sipping a mint julep on the veranda, paired with the words “Enjoy the Plantation Lifestyle” in German.

Isn’t our imaginary advertisement as absurd as it is offensive?  How might the Yucatan natives feel about their real-world equivalent?

The gringo real estate industry in the Yucatan has taken great lengths to redesign the image of the hacienda as a luxurious tropical palace, and nothing else.  But those who know their history know that the henequen haciendas of Yucatan are haunted by the ghosts of countless Maya workers who were used up like Kleenex and tossed out like yesterday’s garbage.

Though I’m inclined not to believe in ghosts, or that actual ghosts haunt the haciendas, I am amused by the thought of them terrorizing the new owners of these Maya death traps, and the real estate agents who hock them as though they were anything but the settings for unimaginable anguish for generations of Maya workers.

If negative spiritual energy is left behind in places of great suffering and mass death, one can only imagine the cosmic void that surrounds those grounds.

But these ads aren’t hocking haciendas—they’re advertisements for a new housing development between Merida and Progreso.  Invoking the image of the luxurious hacienda is but one logical conclusion of the real estate industry’s rewriting (or unwriting) of history.  In Yucatan, luxury housing and haciendas are becoming synonymous.

Of course, these ads are aimed at white people, and historically speaking, the haciendas were always luxurious places for white people.

In this sense, perhaps history isn’t being rewritten, or unwritten.  Perhaps history is only being repeated.  And just as the white people of 19th-Century Yucatan were able to rest at ease inside the hacienda, knowing full well the horrors taking place on its grounds, the white people of today’s Yucatan can rest with similar ease, the reality of the hacienda now just a few sentences in an obscure history book, one they’ve never read, written in a language they don’t speak, about a place virtually unrecognizable to their tropical expat paradise.

I guess blood washes away quickly in the rainy tropics.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. mexicomystic permalink
    September 21, 2010 1:18 am

    They dont imagine themselves as a kerchiefed mammy but more as a whip bearing plantation owner like simon LeGree, gleefully beating the crap out of the peons for shirking their labors.
    But the way things are going I expect to see less and les gringos coming down, Homeland insecurity and yellow journalist are doing an excellent job of brainwashing and scaring the hell out of the populace of the USA. Only the very brave with balls will come down, the rest will scurry to their hovels and watch the Simpsons and CNN news and get their daily fill of propaganda.
    And yes you’re correct in saying Haciendas were hell holes for the workers, just torture, abuse and enslavement.

  2. September 21, 2010 1:25 am

    @ Mexico Mystic

    You’re absolutely right. That’s why this advertisement is so perplexing to me, what with the white woman in native Yucatecan dress and all. If history is any indication, the women in huipiles weren’t exactly enjoying life at the hacienda.

    The way they’ve glamorized this is really quite awe-inspiring.

  3. Beryl Gorbman permalink
    September 21, 2010 9:34 am

    Just one teeny bone to pick on this one. History isn’t being repeated, it is being continued.

  4. Grant permalink
    October 4, 2010 1:02 am

    Yeah, but unless you were a Maya noble (who hadn’t been captured yet by another Maya noble), being a Maya also sucked before the Spanish showed up. The Maya had a long history of oppression all by themselves before the first haciendas were built.

    And if were wrong for white women to wear huipils, then it would be wrong for Maya to wear jeans. It might be better to try to see all this as innocent. Haciendas are nice. Huipils are pretty. That’s all it means. Maya can wear jeans and white women can wear huipils. Can’t we all just get along?

  5. November 2, 2010 11:29 pm


    I am in no way suggesting that it is wrong for white women to wear huipils. If you’ll re-read the article you’ll see that I’m pointing out how odd it is to see a white woman wearing a huipil in this particular context.

    By saying that the hacienda wasn’t a jolly place to be a Maya worker I am in no way denying the harsh reality of Maya life before the conquest. And I know more than a few people who would disagree with the “Haciendas are nice” statement.

  6. November 3, 2010 1:59 pm

    Here here. Love the article and the ads have also caught my eye. There is one that says “Life as it used to be” with the white Mexican lady enjoying a moment in a hammock in a hacienda-y ambiance.

    History is written by the victors.

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