Thursday, August 31, 2006

Odd But True & False

I admit that I read with some amusement a story in the Houston Chronicle this week, which has now been picked up by other newspapers, about an "illegal alien theme park" in Mexico.

It's true...for $15 dollars you can pretend you're an illegal alien trying to cross into the U.S.. The place, which is deep in the interior of Mexico some 700 miles from the border, advertises itself with slogans like, "Make fun of the Border Patrol!" and "Cross the Border as an Extreme Sport!"

People do it too.

Photo credit:Houston Chronicle

As you might imagine, the park, which is subsidized in part by the Mexican government, has drawn both praise and criticism. Some folks think it raises awareness of the plight of illegals, others say it mocks the serious issue of illegal immigration. As for the U.S. Border Patrol...well, let's just say they're not amused.

I have no position. There are probably stranger things going on within the interior of Mexico and certainly things that would inflame my sensibilities. In fact, I've witnessed some close up, but those stories are for another day.

What caught my attention about this story is that it reminded me of another tale I've been told about a rather famous fundamentalist preacher named Carl McIntire who was very outspoken during the Vietnam War era - he was outspoken "for" the war.

Anyway, he was well known for a wide variety of things...far more than this little tale.

Here's how it goes.

In 1975, McIntire got the idea to build what was supposedly going to be called "New Vietnam" on several hundred acres of land near Cape Canaveral, Florida. His dream was to create a "theme park" where visitors could get a real feeling of what life was like in Vietnam. He claimed his intentions were honorable, he thought it was a good way to "give refugees work."

There were going to be fake mine fields, prison camps surrounded with barbed wire and punji stakes. Visitors would ride around a large moat encircling the "park" in Sampans. There was even an "authentic" Vietnam village planned as well as a "Special Forces Camp" which would display weaponry used by "the Commies."

To augment the realism, recordings would be broadcast of gunfire, people screaming, mortar explosions and the like.

Sounds like a blast huh?

The way I heard the story is that McIntire was determined to go for authenticity, so he wanted to have everything from water buffalo to rice paddies....and "authentic Vietnamese refugees" then living in Florida to "play" the part of villagers, soldiers, war casualties.

One problem: war refugees are a bit reluctant to spend their days re-living the horrors of war.
The story goes that the refugees he approached were horrified, insulted, and thought he was nuts. The last thing they wanted after escaping Vietnam was to "re-live" their nightmare every day no matter the pay scale.

Apparently McIntire never thought of that, so his dream sank. The park was never completed.

At least that's how the story goes.

I've seen it published as an example of ill-conceived ideas, of how people make assumptions about other people, etc.. The only thing I haven't that it's actually true.

I'm pretty good at searching the Internet and there is a lot of material about Carl McIntire, about his pro-war activism, his religious beliefs, and even about land purchases in Florida. However, I have yet to find a single credible reference to "Vietnam-land" - or whatever he supposedly planned to call it - ever being a real idea.

That saddens me a little, only because it's such a great story. It would, of course, have been completely offensive, although 1975 was a far different era and we could spend many hours judging attitudes of the past by the standards of today.

Maybe there is a kernel of truth to it, but I've yet to find it. Perhaps someone with more time or resources can validate the story. Who knows?

If not...well, at least we'll always have Mexico.