This weekend Fundación BAI A.C. hosted its annual Tour de Casas (Homes Showcase) in Mérida, with the goal of raising funds for the organization, whose mission is to empower the people of the Yucatán to respond to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), and teenage pregnancies in order to live healthy lives (https://www.fundacionbai.org/). I was very excited to attend this event and help the organization gain funds for their invaluable research, testing, and treatment for one of the main health endemics that exist in the Yucatán. This event was open to the public, with a ticket purchase, and mostly attended by architecture students, upper-class Meridians, and Americans/Canadians hoping to purchase or build a home in Mérida. This last group of people caught my attention very quickly, mostly because of the comments they made. For example, one man mentioned how he was “bored” of “regular homes,” so he had decided to buy five “local bodegas” to build a mansion. Another woman was talking to other volunteers about how she was going to recommend Mérida to her other American friends so that they too could buy homes here. This brought many thoughts and emotions to me for a couple of reasons.
First, the fact that people intentionally buy out other (local) people’s homes or small businesses to build a single home for themselves is upsetting. Many people in Mexico cannot afford to purchase or construct a home, even if they have a stable job. For example, my host-sister is an architect, her husband is an accountant, and they both have had stable jobs for a couple of years. They shared with me that it’s been difficult for them to be approved for loans, even though they have good credit, and that homes are just too expensive. If it is difficult for them, it is even more difficult for those who struggle to pay for food or utilities.
Second, this is one of the steps in the process of gentrification and the displacement of local people. The cost of living is increasing tremendously in the neighborhoods where non-Mexicans are buying their homes, especially since they receive salaries/retirement in dollars, causing locals not being able to afford living there anymore. Locals are forced to leave their neighborhoods, move to another town, another state, or even out of the country. This is why it is frustrating to see xenophobia towards immigrant comunities in the United States because many of them are there due to American citizens/government/companies occupying their home lands. It is also a personal topic, as I see this happening in Los Angeles, CA, where I am from, and many other towns and cities in the US.
Thus, although the fundraiser was for a good cause and planned/sponsored by well-intentioned people, I went home with mixed feelings about it. Talking to my host family about how I felt and learning about their personal experiences affording living in Mérida undoubtedly helped me realize that gentrification in México is not something that should be overlooked, and definitely should not be encouraged!