Follow TV Tropes


South of the Border

Go To

"The mariachis would serenade,
And they would not shut up till they were paid.
We ate, we drank, and we were merry,
And we got typhoid and dysentery."
— "In Old Mexico", An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer

Ah, Mexico. Home of the bustling, ancient and modern Mexico City, the gritty and industrial Monterrey, Puebla and its multiple hundred years of Spanish colonial history, the city called Guadalajara that mixes all the previous ones and adds a technological corridor, the heavenly beaches of Cancún and Los Cabos, the magnificent mountains of central Chihuahua and Durango, the lush wilderness of Yucatán... and a bunch of other stuff the American media has barely heard of.

In American media, Mexico is known for the Dí­a de los Muertos, sombreros, lazy locals, burros (donkeys), tequila, chupacabras, luchadores, piñatas, chili, incredibly spicy food, lots of beans, and a bunch of rundown, filthy adobe huts in the middle of the desert or desperately poor, grubby towns that American criminals will escape to. European media, when it thinks of Mexico at all, tends to just consider it the Transatlantic Equivalent of Spain, and loads it with Spanish stereotypes; European Spanish will be spoken, for instance.

As per this trope, the population of Mexico comprises six types of people: kidnappers, kidnappees, corrupt police, rich landowners, people without money and people who claim that the country is going down the drain, but do nothing about it. Go back a few years, and you'll also find Bandidos.

If you are a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (and heroes often are), don't go down alleys, you will be surrounded by big, smirking, sweaty bullies who jeer and mock in Spanish, the only intelligible word being gringo (Roger Ebert's book names these guys the Latino Laughers). You'll have to fight them.

Oh, and don't drink the water.

If you turn the clock back several centuries, expect to find jungle, terraced pyramid-temples, elaborately costumed high priests with obsidian blades who are really after your heart, and maybe some greedy conquistadores.

Occasionally, may be further obfuscated with other Central and South American countries into a greater Latin Land, or with Spain into Spexico. South of the Border is a proud member of The Savage South.

Most Mexicans actually do not mind the common stereotypes and will either admit to them or, in the best of cases, accept them with open arms. Poor use of the stereotype isn't unheard of, though. And no; like all stereotypes, not all Mexicans are like that.

Note: This has nothing to do with the Fireworks Store and tourist trap, South of The Border, located 400 feet south of the North CarolinaSouth Carolina border.


    open/close all folders 

  • El Cazador de la Bruja.
  • Michiko & Hatchin mostly set in Brazil
  • As part of its arc of visiting strange interpretations of foreign countries, Digimon Adventure 02 had Yamato and Ken stop by Mexico to return rogue Digimon to the Digital World. Even by the standards of this arc, the interpretation of Mexico was really, really strange - apparently there's a legally enforced curfew, and armed military personnel guard the Palenque ruins and don't have a problem with threatening to shoot Japanese teenagers for no reason at all. While people were shown living in normal apartment buildings, the sole known Chosen representative of Mexico lives in a fairly unusual and plain stone building.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin depicts Rosarito Beach as a sleepy rural town instead of the bustling resort city it is in real life. To be fair, there is a war on and a large part of it has been flattened by air raids (not to mention the series takes place in an indeterminate future time where over half of humanity lives in space colonies with travel to and from Earth heavily restricted by an overbearing government, making it entirely possible that the place has become a Dying Town for want of turistas).

    Films — Animated 
  • The Road to El Dorado - another pre-Columbian example. Even more noticeable, since the legendary city of El Dorado is supposed to be somewhere in the South American Amazon Basin, not in Mesoamerica.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Spaghetti Western. Literally hundreds of examples. Most took advantage of the fact that the drier and more run-down parts of southern Spain have a passing resemblance to the drier and more run-down parts of northern Mexico and the American-Mexican border country of the late 19th century. For the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, you cast Spaniards, and for the Anglos you cast Italians, Germans, French, and the occasional token American actor looking for film work. A very cheap way to make westerns, especially if you have the actors mumble their lines in whatever language they might know, then overdub everything in whatever languages apply to the countries where you plan to distribute the film.
  • Lampshaded in A Day Without a Mexican:
    Policewoman: (comments on the problems "Mexicans from Guatemala and Honduras" cause).
    Reporter: Umm... Guatemalans and Hondurans are not Mexicans...
    Policewoman: (shrugs) They're South Of The Border. Aren't they?.
    Note on screen: There are over 40 countries south of the border.
  • Vera Cruz, in which the Mexicans serve the purpose of poor victims or intimidation by sheer number, the French are there to look luxurious but impractical, and the Americans save the day. The love interest was portrayed by a Spanish actress (Sarita Montiel), and Cesar Romero, the only one of the main actors with Latino ancestry, appeared as a French officer; he used to be typecast before as a Latin lover.
  • Apocalypto - see it for an archtypical example of how pre-Columbian Mexico is portrayed, complete with jungle and evil high priests).
  • From Dusk Till Dawn. Aztec pyramids. On the border. Run by vampires. AWESOME! Other Robert Rodriguez Mexican-themed films (like El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Machete) go for the more traditional "crime-ridden hellhole" feel, with his trademark tongue in cheek.
  • Traffic (2000): Scenes set in Mexico focus on the drug cartels and have a yellow filter, giving it a parched, washed-out look.
  • The Way of the Gun: The protagonists cross the border with their hostage into Mexico intending to lay low. The location was apparently chosen to excuse the amount of violence and large-scale gunfights that take place without much police interaction. However, federales do show up on one occasion, and the director notes in the DVD commentary how rare it is for them to not be corrupt in an American film.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home: While the three Elemental attacks in Europe take place in major cities, the first such instance levels the made-up, stereotypical colonial village of "Ixtaco" in Mexico, as opposed to any major metropolitan area.
  • The first half of Terminator: Dark Fate takes place in Mexico, and in an inversion of the usual Run for the Border, the heroes flee northward to the US with the new Terminator in pursuit.
  • Bratz: Yasmin's family has a Mariachi band living with them for no other reason than to demonstrate she's of Latina heritage.
  • Marriage on the Rocks: Dan and Valerie go on a "second honeymoon" to Mexico which brings them to a run-down, dirty town, where they stay in a shabby hotel. They have an encounter with one Miguel Santos, a shady lawyer who offers quickie divorces—instant divorces, in fact. Mariachis play in the streets and Dan gets sick from drinking the water. The Mexican government was so offended by this film that it barred Frank Sinatra, who starred as Dan, from entering the country.

  • Bret King Mysteries: The second half of The Comanche Caves has the gang looking for smugglers just south of the Mexican border. Unlike most examples of the trope, the majority of the people they meet are honest, pleasant, and helpful. However, the criminal kingpin's existence is well-known, he's viewed as untouchable, and he's capable of having people kidnapped off the street.
  • The Scorch from The Maze Runner trilogy is implied to be located in post-apocalyptic Mexico. The only named native of the region, Jorge, acts as Hispanic as one can be.

    Live Action TV 
  • On Arrested Development Mexico is where George Sr. went to hide while he was a fugitive. When the Mexican police arrest him for an unrelated crime, he's able to bribe the prison guards into faking his death so he can escape. This is referred to as "a loophole in the Mexican judicial system".
  • Lizzie McGuire had Lizzy and her friends as contestants on a Mexican game show. One of the challenge segments on the show had two teams racing for components of a matador costume.


  • Mexican Hayride, a now-obscure hit musical of 1944 that was made into an movie with Abbott and Costello.
  • In Dream Girl, George Hand invites Georgina to go on vacation with him in Mexico. She has a Dream Sequence about this, which gives her some doubts about the idea.

    Video Games 
  • Exception: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter takes place in a nicely accurate rendition of the Mexico City. In fact, one of the scenes involves a shooting in Reforma Avenue, an area of Mexico City that looks kinda like a cross-breed of Manhattan and Paris's Champs-Élysées.
  • The MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing has an area that is actually called South Of The Border. The adventures here alternately embrace and parody this stereotypical view of Mexico, with belligerent mariachis, cock-fighting, and little kids trying to sell you pickle-flavored chewing gum.
  • Part of Red Dead Redemption is set in the Mexico of the Spaghetti Western and gets wrapped up in a civil war.
    • Somehow justified on the fact that it only happens in USA and the Border of Mexico/USA. John never enters the real Mexico.
  • Guacamelee! is an Affectionate Parody of Mexican culture, and is loaded with imagery of lucha libre, the Day of the Dead, Mayincatec ruins, and dusty colonial-era towns.
  • Super Mario Odyssey has the Sand Kingdom, a rare example of a Shifting Sand Land (partially) based on an American desert instead of an African one. At the entrance to the world is Tostarena Town, an adobe village populated by a race of cheerful guitar-strumming, sombrero-toting skeleton folk patterned off of alfeñique skulls. Furthermore, there are also Mayincatec ruins outside of town ruled by a giant Olmec-like stone head called Knucklotec, and stone jaguars called Jaxis can be ridden across the level. Unusually, however, there are also sunglasses-wearing moai in the level as well.
  • Pokémon: The Lotad line has several elements of this trope; Lotad and Lombre both appear to have Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico, the latter's English name sounds similar to the Spanish word "hombre", and the final evolution Ludicolo outright has a sombrero hat-like lily pad on its head, with its Pokédex description making it reminiscent of mariachi singers.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • South Park - In an episode where Cartman forms a megachurch, Kenny is accidentally thrown off a bus in Mexico City. Cartman gets a call from him during mass, where he claims that "if you drink the water, you piss blood out of your ass for hours".
  • Drawn Together's episode Mexican't buy my love. The Confession Booth segments are done inside a room made of pasted asbestos squares and the moustached, sombrero-wearing "King of Mexico" appears as a character.
  • The Kamp Krusty episode of The Simpsons ended with Krusty taking the kids for a day of debauchery in Tijuana. The montage of still frames depicted a colonial-era walled city with an arched gate entrance and carnival-style booth entertainment. In reality, Tijuana is a modern city, founded relatively recently, traversed by a number of highways, with the strip malls and storefronts one would expect in an American business district, plus sprawling shanty towns that look miserable and intimidating, but colonial? Hardly...
  • Johnny Bravo: Johnny was asked to help a Mexican village full of cowards from a whip wielding bandito, he didn't do much help since he was a bigger coward than them, so the villagers then rallied together and booted the bandito themselves.
  • Robot Chicken:
    • The sketch "Bionic Mexican" introduces Pablo Rodríguez a.k.a. "The Six Million Peso Man" (exchange rate $243). He is introduced as a "Mexican test pilot" while the image shows him crashing into a cactus while riding a donkey. He has a magnificent moustache and wears a poncho and a giant sombrero. He uses his newfound Super-Strength to open a taco, jump the border fence, and sell oranges as an illegal immigrant. He sleeps on the street at any given hour, under his sombrero and with his back against the wall. At least, none of the other Mexican characters in the sketch look so ridiculously stereotypical.
    • At least two sketches reference Montezuma's Revenge. A flashback that reveals the Bloopers! Host got a massive diarrhea during his first Mexican vacation and ended destroying a toilet; and another that shows Montezuma cursing Cortés to suffer it in his dying breath.

    Real Life 
  • There's a famous American Tourist Trap along Interstate 95 called "South of the Border" (which is in fact just south of the border—between North and South Carolina) that plays all manner of Mexican stereotypes to the hilt, from the Cinco de Mayo decor to their mascot, an amiable Mexican sluggard named Pedro. It is primarily famous for its billboards. A trip from Canada to Florida by car in 1996 rendered a count of 453 of these billboards. It was also where current Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, Ben Bernanke, got one of his first jobs. Yeah, ridiculous outfits!
    • Apparently "South of the Border" was used as the shipping address for the original establishment, a liquor store. It went with the theme to grow into being (arguably) the Trope Namer.
  • In real life, many well known stereotypes about Mexico — tequila, mariachi music, the Mexican Hat Dancenote , the charro outfit, Mexican rodeo (charrería) and the traditional Mexican embroidered beltnote  — are actually from the Guadalajara, Jalisco and its surrounding area, the second largest city in the country. The Secretariat of Tourism knows that damn well, and its slogan for promoting the state of Jalisco actually is "Jalisco is Mexico".