South of The Border
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
DILLON, SOUTH CAROLINA- South of The Border, a Mexican themed tourist attraction, was founded in 1950 by Alan Schafer, and has been known as a cultural destination for almost seventy years. South of The Border started as a small depot and beer stand. Schafer bought the location in Dillon County, South Carolina, in 1949, directly south and adjacent to Robeson County, which was part of the remaining dry counties in North Carolina. Shafer bought alcoholic beverages from neighboring counties and sold them from his depot according to Alcohol Problems and Solutions (APS).
Over the years, The South of The Border has expanded to include an arcade, motel, restaurant, truck stop, and firework shops. The location marks the halfway point between Florida and New York. During the day, the family amusement locality appears to be a ghost town. It is not until the sun falls in the evening that the rides and the locals of the park seem to come alive. Various sounds and vibrant lights turn the park into a magical wonderland. Schafer designed each advertising billboard, currently around 175, which spread on I-95 from North Carolina to Georgia. Many billboards boast about the park in humorous and quirky ways like, “Smash Hit! South of the Border 5 miles,” to give perspective the billboard has a 3D car crashed through the sign. “You Never Sausage a place! (You’re always a wiener at Pedro's),” and “Pedro’s weather report: Chili today Hot Tamale” one time there were more than 250 different billboards from Philadelphia, PA to Daytona Beach, FL according to South of The Border.
Its most noticeable landmark is a structure built in the shape of a man adorning Mexican bandito attire, which they call Pedro. Boasting a cheerful smile, sombrero, and large mustache with a poncho, Pedro is the stereotypical Mexican bandito and has become South of the Border’s mascot. There has been much debate surrounding the racist nature of Pedro directed towards the Mexican culture. Schafer argued it was only intended to be a “light-hearted joke.”
For decades, Schafer dismissed commentary from people who complained Pedro unfairly propagated a “lazy, crafty Mexican” stereotype. Pressure mounted, as complaints from the Mexican Embassy urged Schafer back off the Pedro theme. According to the book, “Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South,” the point was not well-taken by Schafer, who felt his diverse workforce and the millions in merchandise he purchased annually from Mexico were proof of his good intentions (The Post and Courier).
Nevertheless, Pedro has made some appearances in pop-culture. Famous American storyteller, radio and TV personality, Jean Shepherd began his Television program, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, with a trip to South of the Border. Pedro is also in the opening scene of Season 3, Episode 5 of Eastbound & Down.
Three hundred people, composed chiefly of local employees, work at The South of the Border. Although this might not seem like a large-scaled operation, its influence has spread beyond North and South Carolina. At one time, with seven hundred workers, it was the largest employer in Dillon County, South Carolina. South of the Border is cherished by both locals and those who stop by to get a taste of the southeast American culture, along with the many billboards which advertise this mysterious tourist destination. There is little to no chance that anyone who has driven north or south down I-95, in North or South Carolina, has not come in contact with one of the many South of The Border billboards. South of the Border will continue to remain as one of the most culturally dazzling, a noticeable landmark between the South Carolina and North Carolina border.
By Alex Fernandez