Tourism, Power, and Indigeneity in Yucatán, México

Meet anthropology major Elena Carmen Turner.

September 22, 2022

Hometown: Costa Mesa, California

Thesis adviser: Alejandra Roche Recinos [anthropology]

Thesis: “Reconfigurations of Indigeneity and Tourism in Yucatán, México”

What it’s about: Indigeneity is used in tourism to conjure fantasies of the landscapes and culture of Mexico that appeal to tourists, and tourism in general relies on the movement of foreign bodies and creates power imbalances between tourists and those on the other side of the tourists’ gaze. My thesis focuses on an ecotourist destination that relocates agency in the local community through its work. I argue that​​ Indigenous communities in Mexico are using the channels provided by tourism to co-opt and rewrite narratives of Indigeneity to serve their own ends within the broader contexts of state intervention and the tourism economy.

What it’s really about: A really cool ecotourist destination in Yucatán, Mexico, managed by a cooperative of Indigenous women.

In high school: I was earnest, gregarious, and sanguine.

Influential class: Prof. LaShandra Sullivan introduced me to anthropology and fundamentally changed how I see the world. I learned that affective and bodily knowledges tell us more than intellectual, mental knowledge, and that we are all always in relation with each other, across physical and temporal boundaries.

Concept that blew my mind: Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, which asserts that every act of language is always positioned in relation to an audience, whether imagined or real. This means that everything we say is always already in dialogue; no act of language is ever isolated or independent from the contexts that surround and foreground it.

Cool stuff: I worked in the Reed canyon, made amazing friends—human, plant, and animal—and learned a lot about ecological restoration techniques and native plants.

How Reed changed me: I’m more gullible now, which is a way of saying that I’ve learned to entertain multiple simultaneous truths rather than seek out a singular end-all, be-all answer.

What’s next: Working year-round at a summer camp in California that empowers LGBT+ and BIPOC youth through outdoor education.