Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Latin America

By Dennis Merrill | Go to book overview

Introductíon
Mass Tourism, Empire,
and Soft Power

This book examines how tourists armed with suntan lotion, maps, golf shirts, straw hats, cameras, and swimsuits extended the U.S. presence in twentieth-century Latin America and helped internationalize U.S. culture.1 The massive U.S. influence in Latin America is typically explained in terms of centralized power and systems of domination and dependence. According to traditional historiography, a small group of Washington policymakers, assisted or pressured by U.S. corporations and cooperative Latin American elites, have determined the key elements of interAmerican relations. This study by no means dismisses the importance of political economy and the state, but it draws on postcolonial theory and poststructural concepts of ‘‘self’’ and ‘‘other’’ as well as on a growing literature on international cultural interaction to illuminate how tourists, hosts, and the transnational travel industry generated multistranded contacts across the Americas, actively shaped the social and cultural life of the empire, and influenced U.S. foreign relations.2

In contrast to many studies of empire, this one does not present tourism as a uniform system that Yankees imposed on Latin Americans, although in some circumstances tourism did mimic conquest. This volume instead explores tourism as an ongoing international negotiation and empire as a textured and fluid structure. Tourists, hosts, and the myriad of pressure groups that comprised the travel industry negotiated natural and built environments, the location of tourist attractions, the cultural meanings infused into those sites, the wages paid to labor, and the divvying up of profits. They struck deals on transportation routes, hotel ownership, and the legality and illegality of leisure activities. At the grassroots level, visitors and hosts negotiated etiquette, language, monetary tips, the boundaries of personal space, and meanings of race, class, gender, sexuality, and national and international identities.

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