When you think of the term “south of the border,” you probably think of states in Mexico — you know, places that are actually south of the border. Not many people think of a Mexican theme park in South Carolina, but that is exactly what I came across on a recent road trip. This bizarre concept is a fullblown theme park with restaurants, shops, rides and a mascot named Pedro.
The idea for this huge tourist attraction came to the mind of its founder, Alan Schafer, in 1949.
This theme park technically is south of the border because it’s in South Carolina just south of the North Carolina border. However, what first began as a beer depot, according to its bio on their website, slowly grew to include a restaurant, a drive-in, a motel, multiple shops, a miniature golf course, a campsite, and so on.
It might have been a funny or cool concept 60 years ago, but in today’s political era, it doesn’t feel like a Mexican homage at all.
So why a Mexican theme? Schafer, while doing business in Mexico in the ’40s, recruited two Mexican men to help him start a theme park.
According to the site, Schafer helped two Mexican men get to the U.S. and hired them as bellhops at Schafer’s motel. Instead of calling them by their individual names, Pedro and Pancho, people just combined these names to simply Pedro. (Because why not, right? 😒) So “Pedro” became like the mascot and can be seen throughout the grounds.
Most of the 175 billboards for this park can be seen up and down Interstate 95. Each one tells you how far you are from “The South of the Border.”
As the Instagram above says, the billboards are completely corny and dated and literally everywhere. According to the site, there are 175 billboards between the Virginia/North Carolina state lines. That’s a small number compared to the original 250 billboards that existed.
This place is hardly a tribute to our culture, but more like a weird fantasy of what some people think Mexico is like.
Yes, I was curious to stop and take a look but mostly because I – a Mexican-American – couldn’t believe a Mexican-themed tourist attraction existed in South Carolina.
I felt extremely uncomfortable being there mainly because I was the only real Mexican there. The whole place felt like a big fat joke, as if Mexicans are something to gawk at and laugh about.
I initially thought we could stop and have a margarita, but one look around and I honestly wanted to get out of this insane Chuck E. Cheese-like place.
I seem to be alone in thinking this place is borderline racist because other people are having a great time.
Yes, dinosaurs are also celebrities here right alongside Pedro. Why? Who knows?! Maybe because Mexicans and dinosaurs have something in common? Are we both extinct?!
And as you can see from these Instagrams, most people who love this place are NOT Mexican.
For some weird reason, The South of the Border was on this lady’s bucket list.
Apparently, taking a picture with Pedro is also a must.
The Pedro statue is what I found to be probably the most offensive.
IMO, this kind of theme park could be more relevant in a place like California or Arizona, where the Mexican culture thrives and can be celebrated in a powerful way.
Aside from the sombreros and mustaches and all the other stereotypes, what makes this downright disrespectful to me is that the Latinx population in South Carolina is 5%.
In the early ’50s, when this place was first built, the Latinx community in the area was a lot less than 5%, almost non-existent, which makes the idea of this theme park seem nothing but exploitive.
Schafer caricatured Mexican culture instead of actually celebrating it.