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Cultura y representaciones sociales

On-line version ISSN 2007-8110


ELBEZ, Mélissa. Who are the Maya in a tourist setting? Patrimonialization and cosmopolitanization of Mayan identity in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Cultura representaciones soc [online]. 2017, vol.11, n.22, pp.34-64. ISSN 2007-8110.

This paper is based on ethnographic observations carried out in Tulum between 2009 and 2015 on the diverse modalities used to refer to the Maya and seeks to enlighten paradoxes that are implicit in the process of patrimonialisation of indigenous identities. On the one hand, this paper shows how the need to make the indigenous a shop window of the nation has led to the tourist enhancement of anything Maya and to the joint discrediting of contemporary Mayan ways of being, which encourages discrimination against Mayan citizens whose lifestyle is not consistent with the imaginary identity attributed to them. However, despite the normative pressure exerted by heritage representations on the Mayan inhabitants of Tulum, they use their agency to counter their own alternative denominations and interpretations, that have much to do with their historical memories and their individual aspirations. On the other hand, my observations revealed that by making the Maya a concept defined by specific practices and aesthetics, heritage discourse opens access to this identity to people from outside the Yucatan Peninsula. Indeed, while heritage representations of the Maya continue to meet their goal of providing indigenous ancestors to the nation, its broadcast through cultural, tourist and media industries as well as some New Age theories has led to a process of cosmopolitanization of Mayan identity. I use this concept to refer to its entry in the register of alterities (“otherness”) likely to be appropriated by people from all over the world in the framework of singular identity bricolages. By combining historical and anthropological perspectives, this paper questions how both historical and recent elements from local national and global scales, merge to lead to a complex and fascinating identity configuration.

Keywords : Maya; heritage; cosmopolitan; tourism; nationalism; identity; social representations; discrimination; New Age; plural; agency.

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