Ethnic tourism and indigenous activism: power and social change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

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Willett, Benjamin Michael
University of Iowa
Tourism; Indigenous Activism; Power; Maya; Ethnic; Guatemala; Anthropology
thesis / dissertation description
This dissertation analyzes the politics of representing Mayan ethnicity in Guatemalan tourism. Most importantly, it demonstrates the importance of cultural representations in tourism events to local Mayas themselves. It does this by demonstrating how tourism organizations are, in some cases, dynamically challenging long-held stereotypes of Guatemala's Mayan populations and creating new economic resources that are helping to empower local Mayan communities in Guatemala's second largest city, Quetzaltenango.However, through this examination it is also evident that not all tourism organizations in Quetzaltenango share these goals or produce these particular types of social and economic changes. How a tourism organization affects change on social and economic landscapes is often determined by its power to make its goals a reality. By examining tourism organizations with a wide range of ethnic and economic characteristics (be they for-profit, non-profit, indigenous, or non-indigenous), and how these characteristics are managed and manipulated, this dissertation analyzes how tourism organizations accumulate the power to make some changes in Quetzaltenango's social and economic landscapes more possible than others.Additionally, within anthropological literature there is rich material that examines the foundation and growth of indigenous movements in Latin America and the ability of these movements to mobilize political support for collective indigenous rights, cultural diversity, and the celebration of ethnic pride as well as to overcome indigenous political marginalization and poverty. However, within this body of work there is rarely mention of the political potential of tourism to mobilize support, celebrate diversity, and to overcome indigenous marginalization and poverty. This dissertation also demonstrates how the political potential of tourism can help indigenous movements accomplish these goals.