Academic journal article Centro Journal

The Imperial Gaze: Tourism and Puerto Rico - A Review Essay

Academic journal article Centro Journal

The Imperial Gaze: Tourism and Puerto Rico - A Review Essay

Article excerpt

In 2016, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported that tourism supported 292 million jobs, or one in ten of all jobs worldwide, of which 725,000 were in the Caribbean (Freiermuth 2017).1 Geographically in the "American Mediterranean" (Bonsal 1913), the Caribbean (Gaztambide-Géigel 2004; López-Marrero et al. 2012; Meniketti 2009), and Puerto Rico in particular, have been travel destinations for over a century (Bennett and Gebhardt 2005; Daye et al. 2008; Deavila Pertuz 2014; Harrigan 1974; Kempadoo 1999, 2004; Padilla 2007; Patullo 2005; Schwartz 1997; Sheller 2004; Skwiot 2010; Wood 2000).2

While tourism has not been central to the economy of Puerto Rico,3 its impact belies its importance in valuing how the Island and its people have been explained, represented, and commodified through the "Imperial Gaze" of the United States (Anazagasty Rodríguez and Cancel 2011; Crespo-Armáiz 2012). Essential components of tourism, such as photography, postcards, travelogues, maps, and tourist guidebooks, offer windows on the way a people are portrayed, explained, or represent themselves (Clifford 1996, 1999; Crick 1989; Elsner and Rubiés 1999; François 2012; Fraser 1980; Rice 2011). Indeed, travel writing co-produces landscapes of the imagination (Duncan and Gregory 2002; Kuehn and Smethurst 2008). Examining Puerto Rican tourism under US colonialism offers an opportunity to trace the colonizing discourse(s) that shaped the industry, and perhaps how the rest of the world "knows" and "imagines" the Island.

Scholarship on tourism and Puerto Rico has reached a critical mass. Triggered by a contemporaneous upsurge in the study of tourism in the Caribbean and other parts of the Third World in the 1960s, this scholarship has explored: a) tourism as an economic development tool and the institutional development of the industry; b) the cultural production of the Island's identity through the lens of imperial actors; and c) the industry as an important element shaping the territorial and built environments. Needless to say, the research encompasses a wide range of academic disciplines. However, the scholarship has not charted the development of the tourism industry in Puerto Rico systematically.

Background: Cartographies of Puerto Rico and the Imperial Gaze

A starting point to the study of tourism can be found by probing the succession of concepts like "explorer," "traveler," and "tourist": "Before tourism there was travel, and before travel there was exploration. Each is roughly assignable to its own age in modern history: exploration belongs to the Renaissance, travel to the bourgeois age, and tourism to our proletarian moment" (Fussell 1982, 38).4 The author admits that "the terms exploration, travel, and tourism are slippery" (1982, 38). Although these categories advance a "Eurocentric" view of the world (Blaut 1993), their association to European imperialism reveals their historical origins in the study of travel and tourism, what John Towner identifies as "a history of western cultural experience" (1995, 339).

The Spanish Legacy.

Andovimos por esta costa lo mas deste día, hasta otro día en la tarde, que llegamos a vista de otra isla, llamada Burenquen (3), cuya costa corrimos todo un día; juzgábase que ternia por aquella banda 30 leguas. Esta isla es muy hermosa y muy fértil á parecer; á esta vienen los de Caribe á conquistar... (Fernández de Navarrette 1922, 224-5).

With the "discovery" by Columbus in 1493 (Castellar 1892; Fernández de Navarrette 1922), under the Imperial Gaze of Spanish chroniclers and cartographers (Abbad y Lasierra 1866; Butzer 1992; Fernández de Oviedo y Valdės 1851), Borikén, a small territory inhabited by Tainos, metamorphosed into Puerto Rico: an "island" represented in maps of the so-called "new world," and part of an archipelago, the "Antilles," in a newly minted "Caribbean Sea." It was purported to be a tropical utopian paradise, "not merely reflective of social and political practices but were in fact constitutive of them" (Adorno 2007, 4). …

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