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Mayas in the Marketplace: Tourism, Globalization, and Cultural Identity

By Walter E. Little

University of Texas Press, Austin, 2004, 320 pp., ISBN 0-292-70567-0

Mayas in the Marketplace: Tourism, Globalization, and Cultural Identity is the first ethnographic study of Maya handicraft vendors in the international marketplace. Focusing on Kaqchikel Mayas who commute to Antigua to sell their goods, the author explores three significant issues:

  • how the tourist marketplace conflates global and local distinctions;
  • how the marketplace becomes a borderzone where national and international, developed and underdeveloped, and indigenous and non-indigenous come toghether;
  • how marketing to tourists changes social roles, gender relationships, and ethnic identity in the vendors' home communities.

A wide-ranging research presented in the book challenges our current understanding of tourism's negative impact on indigenous communities. It demonstrates that the Maya are maintaining a specific, community-based sense of Maya identity, even as they commodify their culture for tourist consumption in the world market.

International tourists and tourism institutions affect Maya handicraft vendors' lives; however, the book does not present the study about the impact of international tourism on Mayas. The Mayas described do not have to enter the tourism business; they choose to participate and in the process use various kinds of identity in calculated ways. Instead of focusing on the impact of international tourism, this book concentrates on how Maya handicraft vendors participate in global economy and construct and use dynamic and flexible cultural identities to provide livelihoods for themselves.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide overviews of Maya típica vendors' practices and show how vendors are located within transnational economic spaces, international tourism structures, and debates about who Mayas are.

Handicraft market that is aimed primarily at foreign tourists who visit Antigua is looked at in chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the market, the various places típica is sold throughout the city, and who is selling it. Chapter 4 concentrates on the Compañía de Jesús Artisan Marketplace, the largest típica marketplace in Antigua, by discussing the historical and political contexts in which these vendors are embedded.

In chapters 5 through 8, the connections between the marketplaces in Antigua and the hometowns of the vendors are analyzed. Firstly, it is discussed how vendors' concepts of identity and ideologies about gender roles are shaped by the social relations and particular activities in which they partake in the marketplace. Chapter 6 explains why community origins are of continuing significance to vendors who spend more of their time away from their hometowns. Steep competition for customers among vendors has led to new selling strategies that directly incorporate households into global touristic process. This is the subject of Chapter 7. The following chapter deals with the possibilities for increasing women's economic opportunities, which in turn contribute to greater prestige when they reinvest their earnings in community traditions.

The book is well-written, in the best radition of anthropology since it combines ethnographic elements with comparisons to studies in the Maya region. This is analyzed in the context of globalization.

Although rather specialized, the book is quite easily readable since it puts the reader in the heart of the atmosphere and gives the impression of understanding the Maya identities with ease. The text is enlightened with humour, which enriches the overall impression.

To obtain the book or to find out more, please contact: University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, Texas 78713-7819, USA; tel.: +1 512 232 7652; fax: +1 512 232 7178; e-mail: cs@utpress.ppb.utexas.edu; www.utexas.edu/utpress