Creating Identity Through Relocation: The Resort Space in All Inclusive

Khadijah Plummer
Mar 7, 2017 · 22 min read

In the foreign resort space, one can be whomever they so choose to be. The temporary abandonment of routine is replaced with the opportunity to find oneself through activities of adventure and exploration. The critically-acclaimed novel All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor, released in 2015, is certainly a “complex meditation upon the limits of conventional sexual definitions and the meanings of home and identity” (Syms). For Ameera, the female protagonist in the novel, all of the above is accurate. Critics surmise that the opportunity to “travel abroad provides Ameera the space to invent herself…” (Loney). The literal space is presented in the form of the demarcated resort space, while Ameera places distance between her home in Hamilton, Canada, creating space for self-discovery. Inherently, the success of the foreign resort space is dependent on constant human interactions. The resort space of Atlantis, and the culture thriving within its parameters, provide Ameera with a myriad of methods that aid in the shaping of her identity as a mixed race woman with an unknown father. Before leaving Hamilton for Huatulco, Mexico, she subscribes to the notions of assumption and entitlement that the Western tourist population subjects her to. For instance, she states that “For Huatulco, I’d packed like a tourist, filing one large suitcase with summer dresses, toiletries, my laptop, and two boxes of condoms” (Doctor 40). This directly correlates with the assumption that Western tourists have about resorts spaces entailing a work force that is sexually liberal. In addition to the notion that the resort space functions as a sexually permissive locale, there exists the idea that the space is blatantly gendered, and economically exploitative. The narrative both perpetuates and provides attention to these through Ameera and her interactions specifically. Tourist treatment of her as a mixed race woman encourages her eagerness to uncover the truth about her paternal lineage, in addition to the similarities and differences of treatment between her and her colleagues. Ultimately, the foreign resort is a space that one can use to explore one’s identity, but only in recognizance of both its limiting and freeing properties.

In the collaborative essay, Sex in Public, Laura Berlant states that since the days of Ancient Greece, “…sex was a transitive act rather than fundamental dimension of personhood or an expression of intimacy” (Berlant 2606). Ameera still approaches sex as a transaction, but simultaneously uses it as a phase in her process of self-discovery, while pairing it with travel. In contemplation of her sexual identity and behaviour since arriving at Atlantis, Ameera concludes that, “being far from home allowed [her] to travel outside the borders [she’d] once drawn for [her]self” (Doctor 50). In essence, a partial reason for the way that she conducts herself is due to the environment that she has found herself inhabiting. She is a Canadian woman, and therefore cannot ignore the expectations and sentiments that she innately has towards the foreign resort space and its culture. According to tourism theorist Liza Berdychevsky, “the Four S’s — sun, sea, sand, and sex — are the hallmarks of the tourist experience” (Berdychevsky 144). This is primarily fostered through looking at the tourist experience through a Western lens. In evaluation of all of the casual sex she has had since her arrival in Mexico, Ameera concludes that “couples…were more reliable, their discretion guided by a respect for privacy or the taboo of their desires. I knew my interests weren’t exactly the norm, but come on, they weren’t sexually inappropriate” (Doctor 25). She advocates for her sexual experimentation because it provides her with a means of self-discovery, as well as agency in the prescriptive space of her work environment. She both lives and works in the resort space, but she is able to transcend its constraints as a workplace by covertly meeting with people that are like her in a number of ways, primarily in where they come from. Regardless of the consequences that are ever-looming, Ameera declares that she wants “…to live in a way that allowed me to do as I wished. I mean, despite the risk, I hadn’t stopped seeing swingers. Being a swinger. Being myself” (Doctor 274). This is an exceptional moment in her process, as it is the exact instance that defines who she is sexually.

Enrique, a fellow colleague that she is attracted to, is still bartending at the end of her shift. She recalls him compliment a dress that she wore saying, “That colour is perfect for you against your brown skin, Ameera; you should show off your back more…” (Doctor 22). In one succinct statement, Enrique both sexualizes and exoticizes Ameera, commenting on her skin tone and encouraging her to be less clad. In his sub-essay titled In Praise of Cosmetics, Charles Baudelaire claims that “woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural” (Baudelaire 689). Being that she is woman of mixed race, people are inherently fascinated by Ameera and her appearance. The tourist population of Atlantis is intrigued by her as a presumed local that is both young, single, and sexually experimental. The co-worker population is equally as intrigued by her as a mixed race woman that appears to be a local, but is a Canadian, representative of the differences that exist in terms of treatment and probability of success. This leaves Ameera in an identification limbo of sorts, not unlike her deceased biological father, Azeez. He is caught between the realms of the living and the dead. His location in the in-between space successfully parallels his search for answers about Ameera and, vice versa, the search for answers about her father that she commits herself to. The willingness that Ameera has to investigate her sexual preferences is undeniably rooted in the fact that she lacks confirmation about who she is and where she comes from.

Although she has only been involved in heterosexual relationships in Canada, after two years in Atlantis Ameera confirms: “…I like dating couples. Men and women” (Doctor 225). Her liberal sexuality and progressive sexual practices are also a manifestation of this state of limbo, being that she has no preference when it comes to engaging sexually with either of the biological sexes. She primarily engages with heterosexual couples, but later experiments with a lesbian couple and even participates in an orgy with two heterosexual couples. This confirms that “defining sex as penile-vaginal intercourse limits and narrows… the research of sex in tourism, ignoring activities like oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation” (Berdychevsky 145). None of these aforementioned activities are sex, gender, or sexual orientation exclusive, entailing fluidity. The couples met after arriving at Atlantis, and focused on Ameera as the final member needed for the completion of their orgy fantasy. According to Wagner, “…postmodern sexuality defined by fluid sexualities and fragmented identities” (Wagner 290). Outright, the couples tell her: “The four of us have been having a lot of fun together these last couple of nights and were wagering whether you’d want to join us” (Doctor 214). In this instance, Ameera is presented with a complex schemata of sexual engagement. For the first time, she sleeps with multiple heterosexual couples, which hold the possibility of homoerotic experimentation on several levels. In his work titled The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault writes that “…where sex is concerned, the most long-winded, the most impatient of societies is our own” (Foucault 1512). This is emphasized through the casual nature of the sexual encounters that Ameera has. Sex has lost all convention, and is malleable to any relationship context; Ameera is the only common denominator. Her appearance is not static, being that she does not fit into a particular category of race. Berlant also states that “affective life slops over onto work and political life; people have key self-constitutive relations with strangers and acquaintances; and they have eroticism, if not sex, outside the couple form” (Berlant 2610). The creation of affect is dependent on how context both fosters and contributes to an emotional reaction. In this specific case, this life intrudes on the work life that Ameera has at the resort, as well as the discourse surrounding her exoticization. She repeatedly engages in sex outside of the couple form and, in fact, prefers to have sex in any form other than the societally conventional heterosexual form. In relation and addition to this and the aforementioned notions presented by Foucault, the adaptability that Ameera exudes and embraces in terms of being sexually liberal is a coveted asset, especially in the demarcated space of the resort.

Whether Ameera is of mixed race or not, she is still worthy of the universal rights of women. In her essay titled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecraft states that patriarchy works to, “…degrade one half of the human species, and render women pleasing at the expence of every solid virtue” (Wollstonecraft 499). The parents of the visiting Doige family extort money from the resort by booking luxury suites with false confirmation numbers. Mr. Doige in particular, is irate when his transgression is discovered and he is asked to either leave, or pay for the time spent at the Atlantis resort. Ameera has been working with the family from the beginning, and reported the presumed fraud to Anita, her superior that works in the office in Ottawa. After rendering the ultimatum and awaiting the response, in a display of strength Ameera “forced [her] attention back to Mr. Doige, who was now yelling… alternating his gaze between [her] face and cleavage” (Doctor 176). Not only does he disrespect her demand because she works at the resort, but simply because she is a female in a position of authority. Even in anger, he still manages to degrade her sexually. Foreign women, on the other hand, fully immerse themselves in the artificial exoticism of the resort space. In fact, “the women often favoured aliases more exotic-sounding than their own names…” (Doctor 37). During the aforementioned orgy, one of the wives demands that the two husbands engage with Ameera at the same time. In this specific encounter the visiting females are in the highest position of power, followed by their husbands, and then Ameera. Although Ameera is more like them because she is a woman, she is hindered from making any sort of demand because of her position as a worker at the resort, and as a woman of mixed race identity. In reflection on the experience, Ameera says, “I recognized the sexual slang, but had never imagined I’d ever be in in such a position. I felt like a porn star” (Doctor 215). In relation to ideologies perpetuated by Western patriarchal society, it is ironic that the visiting Western women hold the greatest amount of power. In her essay A Room of One’s Own, author Virginia Woolf claims that the mind can be both masculine and feminine, and thus the conventional roles can be adopted by both genders. Specifically, she states that, “…the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent, and undivided” (Woolf 901). Thus, it is by nature that the wives in these heterosexual relationships are able to flawlessly orchestrate the desired details of the orgy, and likewise it is by nature that their husbands oblige them. Woolf goes on to state that “one had a sense of physical well-being in the presence of this well-nourished, well-educated, free mind, which had never been thwarted or opposed, but had had full liberty from birth to stretch itself in whatever way it liked” (Woolf 901). In essence, the mind thrives on opportunities to create, adapt, and grow. The mind also works in tandem with the body, dictating all of its movements and contemplations. Therefore, they cannot be viewed as separate entities.

The physical female body is what provides Ameera with the means of exploring herself through sexual acts, as well as awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of her physical body specifically. In her essay Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Susan Bordo claims that “the body… is a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed… (Bordo 2240). Fundamentally, the physical human body bears the intrinsic ability to visually provide information about an individual and how that individual should be approached. Ameera is objectified by the Western tourists that consider her to be universally liberal due to her mixed race appearance, coupled with the space that she is found working in. The expectations that the tourist cohort possess are in accordance with Western ideologies about foreign places and people. Despite the multiculturalism of Canada, Ameera is not immediately presumed to be Canadian due to the similarity of her appearance to those workers belonging to the local Mexican population. Bordo goes on to state that “…the discipline and normalization of the female body — perhaps the only gender oppression that exercises itself… across age, race, class, and sexual orientation — has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control” (Bordo 2241). This assertion is multi-faceted, as it addresses females in a number of different contexts. In relation to Ameera living and working in the foreign resort space, her race, class, and sexual orientation are all riddled with ambiguity. She is of mixed race, being that she is both White and South Asian, and therefore does not meet all of the criteria of either one of those race categories. While in Canada she is undeniably classified as a member of the middle class. Once she is propelled into the resort space, her status is likened to those of the Mexican locals that she works alongside, thus the type of treatment that she receives from both her co-workers and the tourists she serves.

In a space that is governed by guest experience and entertainment, such as the foreign space, “…workers are like hosts to the guest, but they also function like route guides to the social rules that govern the space” (Riach 332). From the moment that they arrive in Huatulco, Mexico, the tourists are provided with a personal guest experience. All of the employees of Atlantis perpetuate a façade of eagerness to serve and attend to all needs and desires. In their joint essay titled The Working-Day, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels put forth the notion that “…the working-day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose…” (Marx 671). Even though there are specified hours of service for Ameera and the other tour representatives, she still exceeds the requirements of her job description by entertaining the requests that some of the tourists make to her about erotic interactions. Albeit, she does this because of the simultaneously satisfying result, as well as the aid it provides her with in the process of self-discovery and subjective understanding.

Although visits to the all-inclusive resort space are generally flawless for visitors, primarily due to the obligation of maintaining ingrained Western expectations, the employee population has an immense amount of pressure placed on it. In the case of the Atlantis resort, it is owned and operated by a tourism company in Ottawa, Canada. Following the recent probations that have occurred at the resort, Oscar asks, “we don’t have much control over what a multinational company based in Canada thinks of us, do we?” (Doctor 234). He acknowledges that there is a dividing line between Canada and Mexico, visitors and employees, and even more specifically, Canadian and Mexican employees. Although Ameera has experienced prejudice that prompts her to acknowledge her difference, both racially and otherwise, there exists the notion that her prejudice is of a lesser degree than that which her fellow employees experience. Early on in the text, there is discussion of a promotion that is to be awarded for tour representatives to supervisors. Roberto, another one of local Mexican employees, says, “well, I think it should be Oscar. He’s been working in the industry since he was a teenager” (Doctor 8). However, Ameera knows that her chances of receiving the promotion are greater because she is a Canadian employee, and has a good rapport with her Ottawa-based boss, Anita. It is not until concerns about her conduct with sexually forward tourists that her reputation is marred. Ameera is placed on probation after multiple complaints about her alleged sexual dalliances are submitted, while Oscar is later placed on probation because he “…received a bad memo from head office… his numbers have to go up over the next two months” (Doctor 207). Oscar successfully maintains a balance between cultivating a positive guest experience and exhibiting the utmost amount of professionalism, but his age and gender reduce his appeal to guests. Ameera is a young, single, mixed race woman who demonstrates a willingness to enhance the guest experience, taking it from ordinary to extraordinary. Manuela says to her, “maybe you don’t understand, coming from Canada. I know you were only having fun. But we have to be careful. It’s not easy for us to get these jobs. Oscar feels protective of our status” (Doctor 97). Up until this point, Ameera has acknowledged her difference in terms of her racial identity, as well as in her progressive sexual practices. Now, she is beginning the process of realizing that she is in a socioeconomic bracket that differs from that of her Mexican co-workers, no matter their gender. Ameera even admits to herself that she “…hadn’t been negotiating an industry hierarchy the way [her] Mexican colleagues were” (Doctor 97). Her amount of privilege is inherently linked to her nationality. Marx and Engels also declare that in the interest of profit, “capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power” (Marx 672). In this instance, labour-power is only applicable to human labour, which is the very form of labour that the resort space requires in order to flourish. Chiefly, it does not matter that Oscar is an older male with back pain and a nearly life-long association with the tourism industry. He is still obligated and expected to maintain a performance level equivalent to that of his fellow employees.

Ameera later learns that “Oscar has been working in the industry his whole life. His family used to live in this area before the resorts were built…” (Doctor 207). He has seen first-hand what capitalism and consumerism have done to his place of origin, and although the landscape around him has experienced a level of progression, he has not. Oscar represents a unique relationship with the land of Huatulco where Atlantis now stands, having experienced the mandated relocation of his family and friends. According to the novel, “the official story was that the relocation process was an amicable, negotiate solution among local residents, the resort owners, and the government. That story was repeated on all the tourist brochures until fiction sounded like fact. The truth wouldn’t make for good marketing copy” (Doctor 207). The mistreatment of these locals spans a larger chronotope than the one that thrives within the constraints of the resort space. Instead, the resort space is only a micro-version that represents the larger instances of economic exploitation against the Mexican locals. For the sole purpose of capitalist gain, the true nature of this exploitation has been buried. Those who come from Huatulco are inarguably the most connected to it, yet these individuals benefit the least. The lack of security that they possess is a direct repercussion of who they are and where they originate from. This contributes to scepticism about Ameera and the amount of allegiance that her co-workers wish to display towards her. In a moment of reflection, Ameera “…squinted and imagined the land before it was expropriated, before it was called Atlantis, when its inhabitants were Mexicans: verdant farms, thatched buildings, rolling hills” (Doctor 41). In the process of subscribing to the artificial lifestyle that the resort space offers, she forgets that it used to be a space inhabited by those who worked to build the nation of Mexico. The resort space of Atlantis is a direct result of capitalist culture, which pays no heed to the prosperity of the local population. Oscar personifies this specific act of political discrepancy because his entire life has been dictated by the tourism industry. The way that he grew up was impacted by the relocation, and now he is engaged in what some likely view as a traitorous relationship with the very manifestation that misaligned his way of life. Although it has been his primary source of income for the majority of his life, it is a lifestyle and culture that he in no way agrees with or subscribes to. He takes such a high level of care in performing professionally in an active effort to reverse the level of liberty that visitors to the resort feel that they are entitled to. He holds such a grievance towards the revelations about Ameera because it disrespects his endeavours, and further taints the overall reputation of the resort staff, being that she is inherently placed in the same category as they are.

In her essay titled Contingencies of Value, Barbara Herrnstein Smith claims that “like its price in the marketplace, the value of an entity to an individual subject is also the product of the dynamics of an economic system: specifically, the personal economy constituted by the subject’s needs, interests, and resources…” (Herrnstein Smith 1798). The human body, in its purely physical form, has an economic value attached to it. An able body is a body that can be put to work, and the value placed on one’s work force varies in terms of appearance and cultural context. In the resort space of Atlantis, the body of the employee is the entity and the subject is the tourist. The conventional needs and interests are satisfied by the local Mexican employees, but the sexual desires that they announce are satisfied by Ameera. Therefore, even though she occupies the same position as the rest of the tour representatives, her value is higher because she does not judge or hesitate to go above and beyond to provide an unforgettable guest experience. Her personal economy is strengthened, and she has a heightened price in the archetypical marketplace. Additionally, Herrnstein Smith states that “…our purposes are continuously transformed and redirected by the objects we produce in the very process of implementing them, and because of the complex interrelations among human needs…” (Herrnstein Smith 1800). This applies directly to the service that is both expected and required in the foreign resort space. For Ameera, sex is paired with the quest for agency in the process of self-discovery. The more that she learns about herself through these experiences, the greater the span of her individual purpose. Her sexual involvement with the lesbian couple Wanda and Jessie has the most profound impact on the shift of her purpose, because she learns that Jessie has the knowledge and the resources to assist her in the search for her paternal figure. The complex interrelation of sex and self are what concretely redirect this sort of process of purposeful transformation.

Ameera has been told by visitors to Atlantis that she looks like one of the Mexican locals due to her skin colour. They have made presumptions about both her racial background and the religion she subscribes to, purely on the basis of her physical appearance and her name. These, in addition to other instances, cause her a great deal of anguish whilst she considers her enigmatic qualities. In one of these instances, she asks herself, “what am I?” before responding “…Half South Asian. Half white” (Doctor 24). That is a politically correct response, but only the most basic aspects of one’s genetic composition. When she had begun asking questions, her mother responded saying, “…you’re half East Indian. Your biological father was from India.” She always said “biological” to emphasize that my connection to him was not parental” (Doctor 122). Nora is only able to provide Ameera with a matter-of-fact description of her identity due to the short-lived nature of her interaction with her biological father. The detachment that she feels is propagated onto Ameera, as if her father did not contribute to her existence in any way, shape, or form.

Her colleagues in Mexico are rather aware of the fact that she is treated similarly to them by the tourists due to her appearance, but even they question her physical identity and biological origins. Ameera speaks to Manuela about her decision to pursue information about her biological father. As her closest friend at work, Manuela is supportive of Ameera, but fails to mask her curiosities. She states, “I wonder if you look like him. I don’t think you look like your mother at all” (Doctor 57). Manuela has met her mother, Nora Gilbert, on two separate occasions, and thus makes these statement with a natural confidence. It is through this particular interaction that Ameera realizes that “having an unknown father marked [her] as different, even more different than [she] already felt as a light-brown-skinned daughter of a white single mother…” (Doctor 59). In this realization, she not only remarks on the race of her mother, but also her relationship status. The lack of a romantic relationship is something that she and her mother both share, in the same way that they share a portion of a racial identity. Her legal name is Ameera Gilbert, being that her mother bestowed her surname on her. In the beginning stages of research, Jessie, one half of the lesbian couple that Ameera engages with, discovers the name of her father; it is Azeez Dholkawala. Relieved by the breakthrough, Ameera keenly attaches the surname of her father with her first name. “Dholkawala. I tried it on. Did it fit me? Dholkawala. Ameera Dholkawala” (Doctor 212). After Jessie completes the research that Ameera requests of her, she confirms that her biological father, Azeez, perished in the Air India bombing in 1985, the day after he met her mother. Even though she has never met him and only recently learned what his first and last name — by extension her last name — are, she felt as though she “…was a changed person, almost as though [her] DNA had been altered. [She’d] found and lost [her] father in the same day” (Doctor 248). Being that she has never met him, she is not truly able to grieve his death. Her sentiments of loss are attached to the realization that she will have no chance to ask Azeez any personal questions about himself, his relationship with her mother, or how he views himself subjectively. Without this, her connection to him is stifled almost immediately. This is worsened by the fact that her mother barely knew him; she did not even know his last name prior to the research that Ameera conducted. The only real attachment to her father that Nora was able to provide Ameera with is her birth name; she is named after her aunt. Riach also states that, “sexuality… emerges from connections between histories, memories, and bodily habitation” (Riach 333). The willingness that Ameera has to both experiment with and officially label her seemingly atypical sexual preference is her lack of connection with her familial history, particularly from a paternal standpoint. She knows that she is of mixed race, and that her biological father is from India, but she has no definite history or memory of him to call her own. Her earnest in determining her sexual preference undoubtedly stems from a willingness to belong in a specific ideological category, even if it is a category that is defined as a preference for all biological sexes, genders, and sexual orientations. Not only is the foreign resort space all-inclusive, but Ameera personifies this through the declaration of her sexual orientation and preference for sexual practices.

The resort space is rendered useless until human interaction occurs within its walls. It is a paradisiacal entity in the Western worldview, but its flaws come forth after careful scrutiny. Although Huatulco, Mexico, is a real place, the Atlantis resort is only a mere fabrication, providing an opportunity for omniscient observation. The resort space is innately demarcated, offering a specific type of experience to a specific type of consumer — the Western traveler in search of an authentic local experience. Along with their sunscreen, sandals, and swimwear, these visitors also take along with them the expectations instilled through Western stereotyping and marginalizing of foreign individuals. Marketing of the foreign resort space provides the Western traveller with an allusion of paradise, as well as the belief that the foreign resort place is synonymous with an authentic cultural experience. Even though she is travelling to Mexico to fill a long-term position, Ameera still views Atlantis and those that work there through a Westernized lens. She attempts to empathize, but does not truly understand the disdain that her colleagues feel towards the resort space and the sort of people that it attracts. For them, who they are can only flourish outside of the parameters of the Atlantis walls, while for Ameera, it is the superlative location for her to create her identity. She enters the resort space as a mixed race woman from Canada who was raised by a white single mother, and leaves the daughter of a white single mother and an Indian Ph. D student. In essence, the space where she works allows her to define who she is sexually, racially, and otherwise.

As a result of the widespread resort propaganda that has been popularized in the West, the resort space is incredibly sexualized, gendered, and economically unbalanced. Despite the negative connotations that all of these aspects hold, Ameera is able to provide attention to them through her journey of self-discovery. Firstly, her unconventional sexual relations with tourists allow her to solidify the parameters of her sexual identity; she is a single swinger who prefers to engage sexually with couples. She is malleable in her attitude towards sexual orientation, as well as the quantity of couples that engages with at a time. All of this drastic experimentation allows her to determine what she likes and dislikes about the swinger lifestyle, and that it is a sexual lifestyle that she wishes to adhere to. Secondly, Oscar is the oldest male employee at Atlantis, with the most seniority in the tourism industry. He has been working in the industry since he entered into his teenage years, but is chastised by the upper echelons of the company because he does not appeal to guests as much as his compatriots. Even though she can be termed as sexually ambivalent, Ameera ultimately subscribes to the gender role of the single, mixed race woman. Despite the norms of patriarchal society, she is privileged because of her birthright as a Canadian. The Mexican locals that she works with are deeply concerned with the security of their jobs, something that she never considered until she and Oscar both fell victim to a period of probation. Although Ameera is associated with her colleagues by the tourist population, this is only on the basis of physical appearance. Prior to probation, she has never been subject to the same treatment as her fellow employees by upper administration; she is paid more and treated better as a Canadian. Through her novel All Inclusive and the character of Ameera, Farzana Doctor offers an immaculate critique of the issues of the resort that the West should problematize, rather than praise or perpetuate.

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Khadijah Plummer

Written by

MA English Graduate & Writer