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

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

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

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


Accounts of U.S. empire building in Latin America typically portray politically and economically powerful North Americans descending on their southerly neighbors to engage in lopsided negotiations. Dennis Merrill's comparative history of U.S. tourism in Latin America in the twentieth century demonstrates that empire is a more textured, variable, and interactive system of inequality and resistance than commonly assumed.

In his examination of interwar Mexico, early Cold War Cuba, and Puerto Rico during the Alliance for Progress, Merrill demonstrates how tourists and the international travel industry facilitated the expansion of U.S. consumer and cultural power in Latin America. He also shows the many ways in which local service workers, labor unions, business interests, and host governments vied to manage the Yankee invasion. While national leaders negotiated treaties and military occupations, visitors and hosts navigated interracial encounters in bars and brothels, confronted clashing notions of gender and sexuality at beachside resorts, and negotiated national identities. Highlighting the everyday realities of U.S. empire in ways often overlooked, Merrill's analysis provides historical context for understanding the contemporary debate over the costs and benefits of globalization.


I have enjoyed good-natured ribbing from friends. Brows furrowed, they ask, ‘‘The history of tourism? and where do you do your research?’’ I honestly can’t say that I have endured hardship on my research trips, but it has been immensely challenging to mine multilingual archives, to probe the many points at which the history of international tourism intersects with the history of international relations, and to analyze and explain the findings.

What comes into focus when the history of twentieth-century U.S. relations with Latin America is viewed through the lens of leisure travel and tourism rather than the traditional prism of diplomacy? How has the history of holidaymaking paralleled and helped shape the history of U.S. military occupations and dollar diplomacy? What might interwar leisure travel to Mexico teach us about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy in the 1930s? What role did tourism play in the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath? What was the relationship between Yankee sun worshippers in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress? How can the seemingly trivial pursuits of North American vacationers reflect on the history of dictatorships and dirty wars that consumed so much of Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s? These are just a few of the questions that drive this study.

After perhaps too many years of preparation, I have found the answers to be compelling enough to share with others. Readers familiar with current historiographical debates among foreign relations scholars will recognize how I have been influenced by the field’s recent ‘‘cultural turn,’’ with its emphasis on nonstate actors, transnational interest groups, identity formation, and popular constructions of race, class, and gender. On close examination, readers will also detect that I use cultural analysis to build on and complicate but not necessarily overturn conventional wisdom. in addition to Clifford Geertz, Edward Said, and Joan Robinson, the text reflects insights . . .

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