In the 1950′s, the once sleepy fishing village of Punta del Este, Uruguay, vied with Havana and San Juan as most happening landing strip in Latin America. Now, after surviving a dictatorship and economic woes, Punta is luring back the jet set.

Perhaps it’s a function of my having been born as common as mud in a landslide, in the working-class suburbs of Montevideo, Uruguay, but I’ve always dismissed the summer resort town of Punta del Este as a vulgar party paradise for the continent’s alleged beau monde: the Uru-trash, as I would later refer to my garish upper-class compatriots; the tasteless Brazilians with millions; and the ricos y famosos of Argentina—socialites and celebrities who divide their summers between Buenos Aires, Punta del Este (or “Punta”), and the party pages of society magazines like Gente.

My family emigrated from Uruguay in the early 1970′s, months before the democratically elected government acquiesced to the military regime that would plunder the country for more than a decade. I like to joke that I was a six-year-old political dissident at the time, even though there is a photo of me at the airport looking anything but threatening in a safari suit and holding a pink man-bag; in truth, my parents just lucked out when they chose to move elsewhere. In any case, my mother, who is neither rica nor famosa, but who like me has the natural dark skin color that sun worshippers travel to Punta to acquire, is largely responsible for my unfavorable mental picture of the place. I vividly recall one anecdote about how she and her sisters saved up their money and hightailed it to Punta for the weekend only to be shunned by the old white ladies on the beach, who clutched their handbags for dear life as my mom’s mulatto teenage posse walked by. The story sometimes changes—in one version the overcooked old hags have décolletages “like leathery old saddles”; in another, the ending is punctuated by a rosary of expletives not fit for publication—but the message is always the same: Punta is evil and must be destroyed.

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