December 28, 2008

Castillo and Tourists, Chichen Itza 2008

Archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza are a major tourist attraction in Mexico. People come from all over the world to see these monuments first hand. The site, like many others in that part of Mexico, is linked to the mythical past of the Maya people, who are idealized and romanticized--and often written out of contemporary society. Many of the narratives about these sites are about the "ancient" Maya people, but there is often little mention of the Maya people who still happen to live today. The reasons for this include attitudes, power relations, and histories of many interested parties who have taken part in the reconstruction, reinvention, and re-presentation of sites like Chichen Itza--including the Mexican government, archaeologists, ethnographers, historians and so on (CastaƱeda 1996)*.

I think part of what tourist sites do--sometimes--is divorce places from any recent political history. A focus on the ANCIENT Maya at Chichen Itza conveniently avoids any of the more recent historical contestations that occurred at and around the site. The past is comfortably and apolitically put on display, despite the actual histories of the place (which aren't always very pretty).

*I have just started reading the book In the Museum of Maya Culture: Touring Chichen Itza by Quetzil E. CastaƱeda.

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