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A Return to Servitude

Maya Migration and the Tourist Trade in Cancún

2010
Author:

M. Bianet Castellanos

A Return to Servitude

Tourism, consumption, migration, and the Maya in Cancún

A Return to Servitude is an ethnography of Maya migration within Mexico that analyzes the foundational role indigenous peoples play in the development of the modern nation-state. Focusing on tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula, M. Bianet Castellanos demonstrates how indigenous communities experience, resist, and accommodate themselves to transnational capitalism.

Weaving Avery Gordon’s notion of haunting with theories of transnationalism and modernity, M. Bianet Castellanos argues that the cultural and material shifts that accompany Maya migration for work in Cancún’s tourism industry enable negotiation, accommodation, and even resistance to Mexico’s neoliberal reforms. A Return to Servitude dismantles romantic representations of tourism and illustrates vividly how the Maya struggle to survive.

Patricia Zavella, UC-Santa Cruz

As a free trade zone and Latin America’s most popular destination, Cancún, Mexico, is more than just a tourist town. It is not only actively involved in the production of transnational capital but also forms an integral part of the state’s modernization plan for rural, indigenous communities. Indeed, Maya migrants make up more than a third of the city’s population.

A Return to Servitude is an ethnography of Maya migration within Mexico that analyzes the foundational role indigenous peoples play in the development of the modern nation-state. Focusing on tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula, M. Bianet Castellanos examines how Cancún came to be equated with modernity, how this city has shaped the political economy of the peninsula, and how indigenous communities engage with this vision of contemporary life. More broadly, she demonstrates how indigenous communities experience, resist, and accommodate themselves to transnational capitalism.

Tourism and the social stratification that results from migration have created conflict among the Maya. At the same time, this work asserts, it is through engagement with modernity and its resources that they are able to maintain their sense of indigeneity and community.

A Return to Servitude

M. Bianet Castellanos is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota.

A Return to Servitude

Weaving Avery Gordon’s notion of haunting with theories of transnationalism and modernity, M. Bianet Castellanos argues that the cultural and material shifts that accompany Maya migration for work in Cancún’s tourism industry enable negotiation, accommodation, and even resistance to Mexico’s neoliberal reforms. A Return to Servitude dismantles romantic representations of tourism and illustrates vividly how the Maya struggle to survive.

Patricia Zavella, UC-Santa Cruz

M. Bianet Castellanos introduces us to Mayas serving in the tourist meccas of the Yucatan where their ancestors built the temples and pyramids that draw people from all over the world. As they refashion their lives in the playgrounds of transnational tourists she reveals how they are acquiring new notions of personhood and gender, leaving behind the old markers of dress and language as they negotiate and sometimes resist neoliberal premises.

June Nash, author of Mayan Visions: The Quest for Autonomy in an Age of Globalization

A Return to Servitude should be read widely and carefully by students, teachers and activists throughout disciplines, as it reveals an inspiring story of indigenous peoples struggling to combat marginalization in an increasingly globalized and capitalist economy.

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources

This is a fine book, and the author (and I) would appreciate the irony of your taking it along with you on your next visit to the Yucatan. Perhaps to nibble on a bit between your next serving of shrimp and tequila there on the beach. With it, you'd know exactly how you are changing the lives of the unseen workers right there in front of your eyes.

Lolita Lark, The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities

The author weaves field observations and theory into a highly accessible text, which makes for engaging reading.

Journal of Latin American Geography

A Return to Servitude presents a carefully drawn ethnography of migration among indigenous residents of a Maya Yucatec village in Mexico who travel in search of employment to the Caribbean tourist mecca of Cancun. Castellanos has offered us an exemplary and engaging work on lives that have undergone dramatic change as a younger generation acquires new experience, skills, desires, and (frequently unrealized) dreams in the quintessential tourist town of Cancun.

American Anthropologist

A Return to Servitude is fully engaging from the very first pages.

Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

Integrates classic themes in ethnography—kinship, household economic organization, indigenous communities, gender roles—with the most recent scholarship on state-led development agendas, transnational tourism, and rural–urban migration. The text’s theoretical arguments regarding modernity and the reconfiguration of social life under Mexico’s neoliberal reforms will prove insightful to advanced scholars and graduate students in anthropology, Latin American studies, and Native studies. The author’s clear, engaging prose and attention to ethnographic detail make this an ideal text for classroom teaching.

American Ethnologist

A Return to Servitude

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Phantoms of Modernity

1. Devotees of the Santa Cruz: Two Family Histories

2. Modernizing Indigenous Communities: Agrarian Reform and the Cultural Missions

3. Indigenous Education, Adolescent Migration, and Wage Labor

4. Civilizing Bodies: Learning to Labor in Cancún

5. Gustos, Goods, and Gender: Reproducing Maya Social Relations

6. Becoming Chingón/a: Maya Subjectivity, Development Narratives, and the Limits of Progress

7. The Phantom City: Rethinking Tourism as Development after Hurricane Wilma

Epilogue: Resurrecting Phantoms, Resisting Neoliberalism


Appendix: Kin Chart of Can Tun and May Pat Families
Notes
Bibliography
Index

A Return to Servitude

UMP blog: Tourism in Cancún and its social and economic effects on indigenous communities.

11/17/2010
As a free trade zone and Latin America’s most popular destination, Cancún, Mexico, is more than just a tourist town. It is not only actively involved in the production of transnational capital but also forms an integral part of the state’s modernization plan for rural, indigenous communities. Indeed, Maya migrants make up more than a third of the city’s population. Today, M. Bianet Castellanos discusses tourism to this popular destination and its impact on local indigenous communities.
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