Cantu’s ethnographic research focused on explaining the development of gay and lesbian tourism in Mexico and its effects on the construction of Mexican sexual identities. By examining the political economy of sex labor and its subjectivity of Mexican homosexual identities, he characterizes the contradictions of Mexican “queer” tourism. The fabricated transnational “queer” space and the pursuit of a genuine sexual freedom are driving the political empowerment of marginalized sexual communities. In other words, the establishment of sex markets in Mexico encouraged the expansion of sexual identities, which resulted in a more open and public view of homosexuality. Ironically, Mexico’s sex tourism is highly dependent on the influx of U.S. travelers, which influences the alignment of native sexualities to fit U.S. mainstream sexual identities. The asymmetrical economic interdependence between U.S. and Mexico forges new Mexican “queer” identities. Since Mexican sexualities are negotiated through merging sexual markets, organization and public visibility of a politicized transnational “gay” identity is reproduced.
The “de ambiente” helps promote an authentic notion of Mexican “queerness” through cultural expression. Cantu argues that culture is birthed through social economic processes, which explains the appropriation of the symbolic phrase. The term “de ambiente” means “of ambience” and it promotes a lifestyle that creates a fun, comfortable, entertaining atmosphere; this epitomized group identity is clearly aligned with the service oriented sexual labor force. Cantu explains how dominant repressive sexual ideologies historically constructed homosexuality in relation the non-normative “gendered roles performed in the sexual act” (p.141). This construction of homosexuality based on notions of passivity and “otherness” derives from the National “macho identity”, which perpetuated the subjectivity of feminized bodies. Because of the gender inequality that structures Mexico’s social and political sphere, bisexual activities privilege the active male. US “gay” identity cannot fully be reproduced in Mexico because of the socio-economic barriers embedded in the social structure. Yet, recent economic forces and the re-organization of urban space have provided opportunities for new alternative sexual identities that challenge and reconstruct Mexico’s monolithic and iconic male identities.
Cantu cites Ian Lumsden’s Homosexuality, Society, and the State in Mexico to delineate three forces that are responsible forthe social construction and policing of homosexuality in Mexico: 1) The struggle for maintenance of traditional Mexican sex-gender identities versus the creation of new identities linked to intensified sexual commodification as part of the growing sex tourism economy.
2) The consumption of American popular culture by Mexican youth –through mass media communication, technological literacy, and foreign financial investment-including transnational business developments.
3) The affiliation and connection with the U.S. Latino community that reside in the Southwestern border states.
Mexico’s economic realignment compliments the U.S. capitalist system. Cantu argues that as result of international trade policy adoption, such as GATT and NAFTA, the economic links between the U.S. and Mexico have established a strong bi-lateral market interdependency that overrides the transnational social and cultural problems related to the asymmetric power relationship between U.S. citizens and Mexican nationals. This problematizes the sovereignty of Mexico as an autonomous entity because monetary priorities take the center stage in political discourses. The maintenance of political, social, and cultural ties with the U.S. further complicates the link between sexual identities and the tourism industry; this results in expanding the cultural export of National Mexican sexual identity.
Cantu’s analysis of the Borderlands as a post-modern reconstruction of colonial sexual dominance situate the U.S.-Mexican border as both a physical and ideological location that reinforces unequal politics of gender and sexuality. The subjective attributions of “homosexual” branding on male bodies actively serves as a barrier to migration and mobility up “North” of the border. Ironically, it is through migration and migration routes that sexual norms, behaviors, and identity among Mexican men and women are re-framed into identities that promise political empowerment through the economic benefits of “queer tourism”. Mexico’s urbanization and the development of tourism industry were successful in mobilizing labor, which led to the development of gay and lesbian communities and of queer tourism. Cantu identifies the creation, commercialization of Mexican “gay” culture in public spheres, and the emerging “gay and lesbian” movement as important factors in the country’s engagement with queer tourism. Based on the historical establishment of red light districts in Mexico as national efforts to urbanize the country during the postrevolutionary period, Cantu argues that the tension of deviant sexual identification and labor was managed through the symbolic social distance represented by zonas de tolerancia. These “zones of tolerance” allowed for the maintenance of socially marginalized identities, while simultaneously leading to economic gains for Mexico. The U.S. was also able to profit from the establishment of “red light districts” located on the U.S. -Mexico border.
The active resistance to incompatible sexual identity labels is visible in the increased political activism, which denies the image of a depoliticized, submissive, and passive homosexual male. Through a transnational appropriation and re-imagination of the U.S. “gay” identity, Mexican self identification of “gai” aligns political agency through the adoption of a highly visible identity. There is also a sense of resentment on behalf of an older, privileged Mexican homosexual generation, who reminisce of a time when the expression of sexuality was a private affair, maintained through underground networking. Although it is clear that “gay” tourism has democratized homosexuality as a universal identity, it is important to note that in a Mexican context homosexuality is stratified through race and social class.
Cantu’s analysis raises important questions about the legitimacy of Mexico’s “queer” tourism in relation to the local communities and businesses. To what extent are Mexican “gay and lesbian” businesses involved in the political activism for equal rights and sexual diversity?