The Tourism Encounter: Fashioning Latin American Nations and Histories

The Tourism Encounter: Fashioning Latin American Nations and Histories

The Tourism Encounter: Fashioning Latin American Nations and Histories

The Tourism Encounter: Fashioning Latin American Nations and Histories


In recent decades, several Latin American nations have experienced political transitions that have caused a decline in tourism. In spite of- or even because of- that history, these areas are again becoming popular destinations. This work reveals that in post-conflict nations, tourism often takes up where social transformation leaves off and sometimes benefits from formerly off-limits status.

Comparing cases in Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru, Babb shows how tourism is a major force in remaking transitional nations. While tourism touts scenic beauty and colonial charm, it also capitalizes on the desire for a brush with recent revolutionary history. In the process, selective histories are promoted and nations remade. This work presents the diverse stories of those linked to the trade and reveals how interpretations of the past and desires for the future coincide and collide in the global marketplace of tourism.


Anthropologists notoriously worry about being mistaken for tourists, and this is particularly so for those who study tourism, conducting research in places where tourists gather. While carrying out the research for this book on tourism in contexts of change in Latin America, I was sometimes happy to blend in with other travelers, to see as they see and interact with them freed of the trappings of my trade. Nonetheless, conversations soon turned to what we do back home and our travel plans—or to what I was recording in my notebook— and I quickly revealed the ulterior motives for my repeated sojourns to Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. Moreover, my internal checks had me constantly monitoring myself to be certain that I was working hard enough on a research topic that involved leisure and travel even if it also frequently involved tourists’ (like anthropologists’) desires for knowledge of culture, heritage, and politics in foreign lands.

To be sure, I was just as interested in the other side of the tourism encounter, the experience of those local populations that were toured in postrevolutionary and postconflict societies in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that regard, it was easier to feel in my element as an ethnographer and in touch with my subject position as a U.S. researcher as I considered the active ways in which those of culturally different backgrounds sought opportunities to make good on tourism. With both tourists and toured as the focus of my inquiry in fairly equal measure, the methods of cultural anthropology were indeed useful to exploring the terrains on which all of these actors came together.

Like some others who have come to appreciate the importance of tourism for understanding the co-construction of cultural identities, histories, and . . .

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