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Breglia, Lisa - Mayas in the Marketplace. Tourism, Globalization, And Cultural Identity. Review

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Mayas in the Marketplace: Tourism, Globalization, and Cultural Identity. Walter E. Little. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. 320 pp. Lisa C. Breglia Wesleyan University When Walter Little describes how Maya vendors in Antigua’s Compañía de Jesus market a series of products, the objects over and through which social relations and cultural identities are structured and negotiated are probably familiar to us all. Brightly colored and busily patterned coinpu
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  Mayas in the Marketplace:Tourism,Globalization,and Cultural Identity. Walter E. Little. Austin:University of Texas Press,  2004 .  320 pp. Lisa C.BregliaWesleyan University  When Walter Little describes how Mayavendors in Antigua’s Compañía de Jesusmarket a series ofproducts,the objectsover and through which social relationsand cultural identities are structured andnegotiated are probably familiar to us all.Brightly colored and busily patternedcoinpurses,belts,tablecloths,eyeglassholders—what have you—all signify “Guatemala”beyond the borders ofa ruralMaya community ofcraftspeople,beyondthe transactional moment between a ven-dor and tourists,beyond the discrete spa-tio-temporal confines ofa “Guatemalanvacation.”What,then,ofthe Mayas whonot only produce these goods,but also ne-gotiate how these objects will enter into in-ternational circulation as tokens of authenticity,simple souvenirs,or symbolsofan exoticized (and feminized) MayaOtherness? Little provides us with a clearly written,accessible,and interesting accountofKaqchikel Maya handicraft ( típica  ) ven-dors (many ofwhom are artisans them-selves),who commute between their ruralhometowns and Antigua—a popular nodein the regional tourism circuit.The book’s eight chapters deal withtourism/típicamarketplaces,the marketingoftípica to foreign tourists,and the inter-play between transnational processes andeveryday life and its effects on the commu-nity the and households.Chapter 1 is con-cerned with the popular modes of representing both the Maya and Guatemalaas exotic place ofOtherness.Little thusholds back his ethnographic material on 442  J  ournal of  L atin  A merican  A nthropology  Maya vendors in favor ofa seemingly thin-ner and more random engagement withthe perspectives oftourists (gathered whileworking as a tourguide and later by survey).These tourists painfully fulfill our expecta-tions:they are naïve,orientalist searchersfor the authentic Indian.I do commendLittle’s attempts to provide some empiricaldata concerning the tourists themselves.Indeed,it is all too easy to lump touristsinto a homogenized mass ofvoraciousscopophiles who rapture at the chance tophotograph the bared breast ofa Mayawomen nursing her child.Yet I found my-selfnot wanting to be introduced to Mayavendors through the tourist gaze.When we do get the “politics ofvending”in subsequent chapters,Little’s ethno-graphic and historical work is satisfying,constituting a close but comprehensiveanalysis ofthe social dynamics oftheCompañía de Jesus in Antigua.Notably,Chapter 5 presents a gender analysis,takingthe presence ofwomen in the marketplacefor the existence ofa “feminized socialspace.”Little demonstrates that women areat the reigns in this marketplace and thatthis new gender dynamic finds its way back to the household.Ifone were to link thisphenomenon to broader trends and dy-namics in the global marketplace,Little’sconclusions could be extended in a com-plementary direction,toward sheddinglight on the underbelly ofthis “feminiza-tion”(when the overwhelming presence of women in a site ofproduction or exchangeindicates exploitation oftheir flexibility inthe conditions ofadvancing capitalism).Though the típica market in Antiguaserves as the primary site ofLittle’s research,he realizes the artificial nature ofstrictly confining his research,especially as he be-gins to learn ofthe importance of“homecommunities”to these commuting vendors.Chapter 6 through Chapter 8 map connec-tions between the Antigua marketplace andvarious hometowns,looking for linkingpractices that ground the peripatetic ven-dors with a strong sense ofstability and be-longing.Chapter 7 focuses on a fascinatingand oddly troubling practice of(literally)turning Maya homes into stages for the per-formance ofMaya culture in San AntonioAguas Calientes.Chapter 8 is a historically grounded study ofSanta Catarina Polopó,documenting the community’s participa-tion in the marketing ofMaya culture to thetourism industry (the beginnings ofwhich,interestingly enough,are encouraged alongby the purchase oftextiles by noted anthro-pologist Sol Tax and his wife Gertrude in the 1930 s).Little finds that rather than being“sold out”by the exploitative nature ofthetourism industry,Mayas from these com-munities maintain a strong sense ofculturalidentity.Vendors indeed play up to stereo-types.Yet the commodification ofMayaculture is both strategically and tactically manipulated by Maya vendors to enhance amore equitable participation in the transna-tional marketplace.This book has several admirablestrengths,the most significant ofwhich is thethoroughgoing ethnographic engagementwith Little’s primary group ofinformants:típica vendors from across the Guatemalancountryside who converge on Antigua’sstreetcorners,plazas,and commercial zones.I am duly impressed with the intense yet sen-sitive manner with which Little both de-signed and carried out his enthographicwork.His accounts ofconversations,ex-pressed opinions,and keen-eyed descrip-tions ofsituations he witnessed constitute,without a doubt,the high points ofthis book.Another strength (about which the author isall too humble) is Little’s remarkable adept-ness in the Kaqchikel language. Book Reviews   443  At the outset,Little positions this book as part ofan effort to “bring more detailedethnographic data into studies ofglobaland transnational processes”( 12 ).But inthe end,it seems that the author fails to see“The Marketplace”(the space ofglobal po-litical economy) for “the marketplace”(Compañía de Jesus,a traditional handi-crafts market in Antigua,Guatemala).Inother words,we get a terrific description of the everyday work and lives ofKaqchikelMaya vendors,yet,only in all-too-fleetingmoments are we able to catch a glimpse of the broader social,political,cultural,andeconomic structures and ideologies con-straining and enabling the dynamics andmeanings ofthe negotiations which neithersolely emanate from nor culminate in thesuccessful sale ofa handicraft item.Thisproblem is exacerbated by Little’s constant,though uneven,recourse to the nebulousinterpretive framework of“identity”(rather than,for example,political econ-omy).In the author’s own reckoning,theKaquickel Maya subjects ofthis study areindigenous people who ( 1 ) do not questionwho they are;( 2 ) are not concerned withthe politics ofidentity;and ( 3 ) are notexperiencing an “identity crisis”( 17 ).Thisinsight rather inconveniently begs thequestion:to what extent should an anthro-pologist be concerned with an interpretiveframework that his own informants reject? 444  J  ournal of  L atin  A merican  A nthropology
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