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Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space

in Mexico
a b
Rebecca Maria Torres & Janet D. Momsen
Department of Geography , East Carolina University , Davis
Department of Human & Community Development , University of California , Davis
Published online: 29 Feb 2008.

To cite this article: Rebecca Maria Torres & Janet D. Momsen (2005) Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in
Mexico, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95:2, 314-335, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00462.x

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Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist
Space in Mexico
Rebecca Maria Torres* and Janet D. Momsen**
*Department of Geography, East Carolina University
**Department of Human & Community Development, University of California, Davis

With Cancun, the site of the 2003 World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, being presented as a met-
aphor for the inequities purported to emerge from globalization, this is an opportune time to examine the resort
and its surrounding region as a product of transnational forces. Locals refer to Cancun as Gringolandia, a term
that reflects the circus-like spectacle of the overbuilt resort, embedded in a region deeply divided by uneven
development and the ensuing inequitable power relations. The principal objective of this article is to understand
how transnational forces have reshaped local realities and power structures in the Yucatan to construct and
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reproduce Gringolandia as a new tourist space. We commence with an historical overview of the planning,
inception, and subsequent evolution of the physical and socioeconomic spatial divisions manifest in the resort
today. We then analyze the two forces that have played perhaps the greatest role in constructing Gringolandia:
the transnational economic structure of the resort and the consumption- and production-led migratory flows to
Cancun. Detailed understanding of the construction of Gringolandia, and its regional influence, holds valuable
lessons for future tourist resort planning and development in lesser-developed countries. Key Words: Cancun,
Mexico, migration, tourism, transnationalism, globalization

This city, or at least its heavily trafficked hotel zonea Gringolandia by locals. This term not only reflects the
mirage, as Castejon calls itis neither Mexico nor even Disneyesque quality of the spectacle that is large-scale
an extension of the United States. It is a place that floats mass tourism in Cancun (Torres 2002a), but it also im-
suspended in its own unique physical, psychological and plies the invasion and expropriation of Mexican space by
commercial spacea sort of globologoland. an American place (Torres and Momsen forthcoming a).
(Cooper 2003) The reality, however, is far more complex. Cancun has
become a simulacruman artificial reproduction and
The worlds gaze came to rest upon the tropical resort representation of the Yucatan physical environment
enclave of Cancun during the September 2003 World and Maya heritage manifest in a constructed physical
Trade Organization (WTO) fifth ministerial meetings. and cultural landscapeand the result is Gringolandia, a
The divide between poor and wealthy nations deepened dynamic hybrid-space in which elements of Mexican,
as negotiations collapsed with the failure of leaders to American, and artificial Maya culture have been re-
reach consensus on a series of issues, most notably, ag- constituted for tourist consumption.
ricultural subsidies and trade. The irony of conducting Recognizing the often problematic and multiple
the meetings in Cancun was not lost on the activists and meanings ascribed to the term space, we define it for
reporters who flocked to the resort. Many saw Cancun as the purposes of our examination of Gringolandia to be a
a metaphor for the gross inequities manifest in the global phenomenon constituted by social relations. Our un-
economic system, a globologoland. Food First co- derstanding and use of space is grounded in Masseys
director, Anuradha Mittal (8 September 2003), com- (1994, 4) contention that the spatial can be seen as
mented, The development it [WTO] promises is what constructed out of the multiplicity of social relations
the Cancun hotel strip offers to the local people across all spatial scales, from the global reach of finance
commodification of nature, and of labor . . . where the and telecommunications, through the geography of the
American tourist need not even convert currency and tentacles of national political power, to the social rela-
can feel right at home. Reporter Marc Cooper (2003) tions within the town, the settlement, the household
observed, If the goals of an expanded WTO are ever and the workplace. Gringolandia is fabricated of dy-
achieved, the world will be full of Cancuns. namic and multiple social relations and interactions
The extravagance and overbuilt nature of Cancun has conducted by a diversity of actors. These social relations
transformed it into a circuslike spectacle referred to as are based on tourism-related transnational forces oper-
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95(2), 2005, pp. 314335 r 2005 by Association of American Geographers
Initial submission, April 2002; revised submissions, April 2004 & September 2004; final acceptance, October 2004
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, U.K.
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 315

ating at multiple scales, including at that of the state of

Quintana Roo, the physical morphology of the Cancun
resort, and the migrant household level. We focus on the
two major forces that have played the greatest role
in constructing Gringolandia: the government-driven
mode of planning and economic development of the
resort, which has created the economic landscape of
Cancun today, and the consumption- and production-
led migratory flows to Cancun. Our view of how trans-
nationalism has played out in Cancun is multiscalar, and
includes: multinational tourism franchise agreements,
international tourist flows, national government devel-
opment strategies, domestic elite tourism industry in-
vestment, and migration-related livelihood strategies at
the household level. We link tourism development and
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transnationalism, thus providing an extension of trans-

national theoretical perspectives. We draw on our more
than ten years of collective study findings, observations,
and experiences conducting research on issues rela-
ted to tourism development in the Yucatan (Torres
2002a; Momsen 2003; Torres and Momsen 2004).
Throughout our fieldwork, we have had the opportunity
to interview, survey, and observe tourists, tourism in- Figure 1. Map of Quintana Roo and relevant places.
dustry entrepreneurs, hotel and restaurant administra-
tors, local farmers, ejido1 comisariados (directors of
communal landowning structures), village people, and of planned tourism development (PTD) (Cothran and
urban immigrants and have watched the physical growth Cothran 1998; Clancy 1999, 2001). Since establishment
of Cancun for more than two decades. While all ele- of the Cancun resort in the 1970s, Quintana Roo has
ments of our collective research experience inform the evolved from the production space of Maya peasant
analysis, in this article, we draw on selected qualitative subsistence farmers into Gringolandia, a transnational
and quantitative data collected during our studies in the consumption space for millions of visitors from across the
region. globe, as well as a production space for hundreds of
thousands of immigrant workers. This abrupt transition
from the empty quarter to a Fordist mass tourism
The Construction of Cancun: From the resort (Torres 2002a) serving the pleasure periphery of
Quintana Roo Empty Quarter to the first world, has inserted the region into the global
Gringolandia capitalist sphere (Torres Maldonado 1997) in a new re-
lationship of dependency.
For centuries, Quintana Roo was a space of exile, At its inception in the 1970s, Cancun was seen as an
imprisonment, isolation, and refuge. Quintana Roo has expensive, exclusive, and exotic playground of the rich
been referred to as the empty quarter (Torres Mal- and famous. Since the 1980s, seduced by the success of
donado 1997), a double periphery (Pi-Sunyer and the resort, tourism authorities have failed to enforce the
Brooke Thomas 1997), or the periphery-of-the-pe- environmental and social carrying capacity limits estab-
riphery (Torres Maldonado 1997). The isolated barrier lished in the original master plans (Enriquez Savignac
island of Cancun, situated in the northeastern corner of 1972; FONATUR 1982). Consequently, Cancun has
the Yucatan Peninsula (see Figure 1), in what would grown rapidly, receiving almost two million stay-over
become in 1974 the state of Quintana Roo, was selected visitors in 2002, with an additional 1.9 million in Co-
by the Mexican government as the site for the nations zumel and the Rivera Maya and over two million cruise
first master-planned resort or Tourist Integral Center. ship passengers (Caribbean Tourism Organization
The Cancun experiment took on national importance [CTO] 2004). Cancun is now Mexicos leading resort
as it represented the cornerstone of a new externally (Cothran and Cothran 1998) and exhibits all the classic
oriented, state-driven, economic development strategy signs of an overbuilt mass tourism destination: loss of
316 Torres and Momsen

exclusivity, excess room capacity, heavy discounting, and

reduced per capita tourist expenditures. In its transfor-
mation into Gringolandia, Cancun has become a disso-
nant collage of pyramid-shaped hotels (see Figure 2), jet
ski jungle tours in the lagoon mangroves, Maya waiters
dressed in authentic Mexican garb, restaurant-caged
tigers, and the aptly named Crococun crocodile park,
among an almost endless list of subscribed spectacles
all neatly packaged expressly for the American mass
tourist collective gaze (Urry 1990).

Physical Manifestations of Gringolandia:

The Morphology of the Cancun Resort
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Edensor points out that the production of tourist

space should not be conceived as being only represen-
tational. He warns that overemphasis on discourse and
representation can miss the fact that much of the
conceptualization is embodied in the sense that it is
structured by physical experience (Palmer and Jan-
kowiak 1996, 253, as quoted in Edensor 1998, 61). This
observation suggests that a closer examination of the
physical spatial morphology of Cancun can reveal, in a
very tangible sense, the uneven development and ineq-
uitable power relations underlying Gringolandia. Fer-
nando Mart (1985), in his journalistic account of the
Figure 2. The heart of Gringolandia: The 14-km-long island of
development of Cancun as a resort, Cancun, Fantasa de
Cancun is one of the most intensively developed tourist strips in the
world. This north-facing view of the northeastern tip of the island Banqueros, divides Cancun into three faces or geo-
shows the Caribbean to the right and ahead, and the Nichupte graphical spaces: (1) the tourist zone comprising the
Lagoon complex to the left. In the foreground are a few of the many hotel strip on the island of Cancun (section #7 in Figure 3
pyramid-shaped megahotels that house thousands of tourists. Map); (2) the FONATUR (National Tourism Promotion

Figure 3. Physical morphology of

Gringolandia: Map of social and spa-
tial divisions of Cancun resort and
city [Source: Base map elaborated by
Ricardo Macario V. of CIQROO,
published in Arnaiz and Dachary
(1992). Chloropleth adaptation de-
veloped by author.]
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 317

Fund)-planned service city for local government and these spatial divides to provide labor to support the
workers (section #2 in Figure 3); and what Mart terms tourism industry, returning to the impoverished periph-
the lost city, the Colonia Puerto Juarez shanty town,2 ery to live. Local expatriates and Mexican elites operate
which spontaneously developed with the arrival of in the core tourist zone and the tourist and nontourist
impoverished immigrant populations seeking work downtown, rarely ever seeing the periphery. Tourists
(sections #4 and #5). Prior to its acquisition by remain in the core hotel zone, and to a lesser degree, the
FONATUR, private smallholder coconut farmers occu- tourist downtown area. They almost never venture into
pied the island of Cancun. The area of the planned the nontourist downtown or the marginal regions of
downtown was pieced together from lands owned by Cancun.
the federal government, local ejidos, and a few private According to N. Smith (1984), geographical differ-
landowners through purchase or expropriation. entiation is a product of the spatial centralization of
Cancun was carefully planned by FONATUR to capital. Such differentiation is clearly evident in the
segregate tourist space from the living space of local concentration of capital, investment, infrastructure, and
residents, the intention being to avoid the Acapulco resources in the fourteen-kilometer-long island of Can-
pattern where ghettoes and their waste flows intermingle cun (Figure 2; Figure 3, section #7). There is no finer
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with beachside resort hotels. Hiernaux-Nicolas (1999) representation of the classic tourist bubble. It has the
contends that Cancun was an expression of Taylorist very best facilities, amenities, and infrastructure and is
principles, with a total separation between labor and the heart and lifeblood of Gringolandia. Many visitors
recreation, workers and tourists, and production and to Cancun never leave this bubble, remaining oblivious to
consumption. There are huge disparities between the the extreme poverty that lies only a few miles away on
core tourist zone (the island), the tourist downtown, the mainland (see Figure 4). The island is linked to the
the nontourist downtown, and, at the outermost edge, the mainland at both its northern and southern extremities,
Franja Ejidal, where the newest, poorest arrivals settle but it remains separated from the local residential areas
(see Figure 4). There is a continuum ranging from ex- to ensure privacy and exclusivity for tourists. Beach
treme luxury to abject poverty and a complete absence access for local residents is also highly restricted (Pi-
of basic services. Lower-income Mexicans move across Sunyer and Thomas 1997; Hiernaux-Nicolas 1999). Marc
Cooper (2003) reported, Ive worked here twenty-two
years, and never once have I been able to bring my kids
to this beach, complains Sonia, a middle-aged single
mother of two who serves drinks and snacks to sun-
bathers at a four-star ocean front hotel (Cooper 2003).
For most of Cancuns residents, the tourist zone on the
island of Cancun is an exclusive place of conspicuous
tourist consumption to be experienced only from a bus
window, a kitchen, an unkempt hotel room, or through
the prism of some other subservient role. For those local
residents not involved in tourism-related work, the
tourist bubble is vivid in the geographical imagination,
a luxurious, inaccessible place providing sustenance to
the city, a skyline in the distance across the water (see
Figure 5).
Neil Smith (1984, 155), in his seminal work Uneven
Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space,
could have been writing about Cancun when he ob-
Figure 4. The other face of Cancun: The Franja Ejidal houses served, Uneven development is social inequality bla-
thousands of peopleoften with the most recent immigrants living zoned into the geographical landscape, and it is
in impoverished and squalid conditions such as this tar-paper shack. simultaneously the exploitation of that unevenness for
Despite government efforts to keep up infrastructure construction, certain socially determined ends. In Cancun, uneven
much of the Franja Ejidal remains without paved roads, running
water, sewerage, and electricity (or with only informal hook-ups to
development, inequitable power relations, and the con-
grid). Many tourism-industry workers, critical to the construction, trol of space by the powerful are manifest in the physical
production, and reproduction of Gringolandia live in the Franja morphology of the resort. While most discussions of
Ejidal on the periphery of the resort. Cancuns spatial hierarchies concentrate on the three
318 Torres and Momsen

become addicted to the easy money realized from un-

authorized sale of residential plots of land to members of
the Cancun elite who seek second homes. Such illegal
sales of land remain controversial and unresolved,
leaving the ultimate fate of this space contentious.
Sections #9 and #6 are both examples of the recon-
figuration of rural production space to urban consump-
tion space for the core elites, a critical element of the
larger regional process of rural restructuring.
The concentration of capital in Cancun as a center of
tourism production has served as a catalyst for the rural-
to-urban exodus of impoverished populations in search
of improved income earning opportunities. This mass
migration has resulted in the explosive and chaotic
growth of urban squatter settlements on the Cancun
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Figure 5. Childs vision of Gringolandia: This drawing produced by periphery (section #5). Marx could have been describ-
a Cancun second grader reveals the clear spatial division between ing this process in Cancun when he said, [T]he greater
the tourist zone bubble (separated by water) and the Franja Ejidal
the centralization of the means of production, the
shanty town where he lives (small figure playing soccer in fore-
ground). The plane bringing tourists to Cancun is centrally placed
greater is the corresponding heaping together of the la-
and dominates the drawing. borers, within a given space, that therefore the swifter
the capitalistic accumulation, the more miserable are the
dwellings of the working people (Marx 1967, in N.
regions (Arnaiz and Dachary 1992; Dachary and Arnaiz Smith 1984, 134). The Cancun master plan originally
1998; Torres and Momsen forthcoming b)the tourist included a ten-kilometer by one-kilometer fringe to
zone, the planned FONATUR downtown, and the house immigrants working in construction and low-end
marginal Colonia Puerto JuarezFigure 3 presents service jobs (section #4). This area and the new fringe
the more complex reality of today as these regions have beyond grew rapidly into a series of unplanned and un-
evolved with Cancuns maturation. With tourists seeking controlled squatter settlements that framed the entire
alternatives to the crowded beach, tourist space has, for resort across its northern perimeter (section #5). The
example, now extended beyond the island to what was poverty begins at Avenida Lopez Portillo, the original
originally the planned FONATUR local resident down- boundary between the federal lands controlled by FO-
town (section #2). NATUR (in section #4) and those of the Ejido Isla
The extraordinary growth experienced by the Cancun Mujeres (section #5). The contrast is stark, with a
tourism industry has created a requirement for more neatly planned, grid-patterned city to the south of Lopez
upper-middle-class residential areas to accommodate Portillo degenerating into an unattractive, disorganized
those who can afford better housing but are unable to chaotic, dirty, and very evidently poor collection of
pay the astronomical property prices of the hotel zone. spontaneous settlements to the north. In 1982 the
Consequently, there has been significant growth of af- Quintana Roo state government, under Pedro Joaqun
fluent, well-appointed residential neighborhoods near to Coldwell, initiated a program, Nuevos Horizontes, to
downtown and with easy access to the hotel zone, but formalize land tenure and improve basic infrastructure
maintaining discrete separation from the shanty towns and services for the fringe, then known as Colonia
(section #3). Section #6 represents an area of adjacent Puerto Juarez (Mart 1985; Haydt de Almeida 1994).
rural space once belonging to the Ejido Bonfil, which has The local housing authority, Instituto de Vivienda de
now been expropriated to accommodate expansion of Quintana Roo (INVIQROO), now sells lots already oc-
urban space, specifically, new shopping areas and upscale cupied by squatters back to them at affordable prices.
residential developments. Section #9 also represents The ejido fringe, or Franja Ejidal, has continued to ex-
rural space that is under increasing pressure from the pand gradually through expropriation of Isla Mujeres
urban sphere. This land, which still belongs to the Ejido ejido land. This program has succeeded in converting the
Bonfil, was conceived in the master plan as an agricul- earliest shantytown immediately adjacent to Avenida
tural zone from which to supply the food needs of the Lopes Portillo into a lower-middle-class neighborhood
tourist pole. Today, the ejido is involved in few produc- (section #4). The migratory flows to Cancun neverthe-
tive activities of any kind, its members having long since less continued and even accelerated with Mexicos early
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 319

1990s economic crises and the consequent reduction in to produce and reproduce Gringolandia as a transna-
farm subsidies, credit, and assistance programs adding to tional space. As time and spatial barriers are reduced,
the rapidly growing Franja Ejidal squatter population societies are increasingly interconnected, with the glo-
(section #5), the majority of whom are forced to live in bal and local blending in a context of continuing,
increasingly dense and squalid conditions (Pi-Sunyer, routine, daily social practices (Georges 1992; Jones 1992;
Brooke Thomas, and Daltabuit 1999; Torres and Skilli- Rodrguez 1995). The widening of social relations and
corn 2004) (see Figures 3 and 4). This lost city remains the development of networks, or social fields, bridging
home to a large proportion of Cancuns low-paid, un- nation states results in the creation of globalized hybrid
skilled laborers and recent immigrants. social and cultural spaces (Featherstone 1990; Gupta and
Gringolandia not only affects the resort city itself, but Ferguson 1992; Landolt, Autler, and Baires 1999).
it also reaches beyond to affect, in some fashion, every Within this hybrid reconstituted social space, migrants
aspect of life in the Yucatan Peninsula. The region is reconstruct their national, racial, ethnic, and political
highly dependent upon tourism, which accounts for identities as an adaptation to their fluid, bi- or multi-
approximately 7580 percent of the gross domestic national existence. Transnational migrants assume mul-
product (GDP) of the state of Quintana Roo (Arnaiz tiple identities as they negotiate their position between
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and Dachary 1992; Castro Sarinana 1995; Cothran and and within nation states (Kearney 1991; Glick Schiller,
Cothran 1998). However, planned tourism development Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1992; Glick Schiller and
has failed to create effective backward linkages to other Fouron 1999). Mexican migrants to Cancun, although
economic sectors such as agriculture and industry (Tor- not technically transnational migrants, have to adapt to
res Maldonado 1997; Torres 2003). The overbuilt nature the new hybrid cultural space, and they play a key role in
of the resort, combined with a population explosion in the construction and (re)production of Gringolandia.
the Franja Ejidal, has also taken a severe toll on Can- P. Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer (2004, 1) note that
cuns fragile environment (Dachary and Arnaiz 1985; many early transnational studies have under-played the
Merino, Sorensen, and Gutierrez 1993; Skillicorn 1997; transformation of space, arguing that space is constitutive
Kandelaars 2000). Additionally, various detrimental so- of transnationalism in all different forms. They put forth
cial impacts resulting from resort development and as- an expansive notion of transnational space, which,
sociated immigration of workers have been recorded throughout this article, we ascribe to in furthering our
(Momsen 2003). understanding of Gringolandia:

Our use of the term encompasses all of those engaged in

Transnationalism, Geography, and Tourism transnational cultures, whether as producers or consumers.
It includes not just the material geographies of labour migra-
Transnational Perspectives and Geographical
tion or the trading in transnational goods and services but
Extensions also the symbolic and imaginary geographies through which we
attempt to make sense of our increasingly transnational
In its broadest form, transnationalism refers to mul- world. Transnational space is, we argue, complex, multi-
tiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions dimensional and multiply-inhabited (cf. Crang et al. 2003).
across the borders of nation-states (Vertovec 1999, People from various backgrounds enter its spaces with a
447). The concept of transnationalism was first used in whole range of investments and from various positionalities.
the economics literature to refer to movement of capital, They may occupy its spaces momentarily (during the con-
commodity chains, and the impact of transnational sumption of a meal, for example) or for a lifetime (as
corporations (TNCs). It was then extended to interna- members of ethnically-defined transnational communities).
tional migration flows and their role in increasing cross- They may have residual affinities to the transnational
border linkages through return visits and remittances. In identities of earlier migrant generations or emergent identi-
this article, we focus on the role of TNCs in ownership of ties as a result of their own current transnational experi-
tourist facilities and on individual migrants involved in ences. Focusing on the spaces of transnationality, rather than
the production and consumption of Cancun. just identifiable transnational communities distinguished
Transnationalism not only reshapes local realities, but from other (and often still normative) national communities,
local factors also mediate transnational practices, al- opens up ways of exploring this multiplicity of transnational
experiences and relations.
though the latter has been the focus of far less research
(P. Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer 2004)
(Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999). For example, the
frequency of inexpensive flights to Cancun from major Bearing this notion in mind, our examination of the
U.S. cities (most only one to four hours away) has helped construction of Gringolandia and the role of transna-
320 Torres and Momsen

tional forces in reshaping local realities and power The ethnography of these tourist locations is just beginning
structures is a geographical project that seeks to con- to be written in detail, but what little we do know suggests
tribute to a deeper understanding of the geographies of that many such locations create complex conditions for the
the transnational spaces of tourist places. production and reproduction of locality, in which ties of
P. Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer argue for an expanded marriage, work, business, and leisure weave together vari-
notion of transnationality that is not restricted to ous circulating populations with kinds of locales to create
the geographies of transnational migrant communities neighborhoods that belong in one sense to particular na-
tion-states, but that are from another point of view what we
themselves. They suggest that, increasing numbers
might call translocalities.
of people participate in transnational space, irrespective of
(Appadurai 1996, 192)
their own migrant histories or ethnic identities (2004, 2).
They also (2004, 13) argue for the development of Clearly the actors, institutions, agencies, structures, and
more encompassing notions of transnationality including processes associated with tourism are transnational in
those who are not themselves transnational migrants. nature.
This expansive vision of transnationality is consistent Despite the relative lack of inclusion of tourism in
with our understanding of Gringolandia, a space occu- transnational studies, and the scarcity of tourism research
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pied by transnational tourists and expatriate settlers, but conceptualized from transnational perspectives, increas-
which includes production-led domestic migrant laborers ingly, there are tourism geographers calling for greater
drawn to the tourist pole whose families often remain integration between tourism and transnationalism. Coles,
behind in their rural villages of origin. The daily lives and Duval, and Hall (2005) suggest, A transnational frame-
social practices of these national migrants are inextri- work of analysis within tourism would allow for the rec-
cably bound to, and form part of, Cancuns transnational ognition of interconnected social networks and the
social fields. These migrants play a critical role in the resulting movement between and among multiple locali-
construction, production, and reproduction of Gringo- ties. Duval suggests that transnational perspectives have
landia as transnational space. the potential to elucidate the cultural meanings of tourist
flows, particularly issues of multistranded identities, con-
cepts of home, of building diasporic networks in the
Transnational Perspectives and Tourism context of travel to second homes, and return visits of
emigrants to their home places (Duval 2003, 2004a, b, c).
Tourism has been identified as a transnational phe- Applying P. Jackson, Crang, and Dwyers (2004) more
nomenon (Appadurai 1990; Kearney 1995; Appadurai expansive notion of transnationalism to tourism also
1996; Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999), but there permits us to consider interconnections and social net-
have been relatively few applications of transnational works and relations not only between hosts and guests
perspectives on the nature of tourism. Coles, Duval, and within tourist poles, but also extends our analysis to in-
Hall (2005) argue, The reality, however, is that very clude those multiple actors and places that are intimately
little tourism literature has explored the tourist in the linked to, affected by, and playing a critical role in the
context of transnational behavior. They observe, At construction and (re)production of transnational tourist
the same time, it should be noted that many studies of spaces.
migration, transnationalism, and diasporas either fail to According to Duval (2004a, 51), For the study of
take into account, or offer only passing mention of, the tourism, transnationalism provides an insight into pat-
degree to which travel and temporary mobility is an in- terns of touristic movement, meanings and the linkages
tegral part of linking social spaces, locales, stations and within and between broad social networks, but it also
networks. Hall and Williams (2002, 277) note that considers notions of the local and the global beyond
much recent migration research fails to acknowledge static notions of host and guest. Coles, Duval, and Hall
the significant role of tourism in contemporary migration (2005) note that tourism has been largely absent from
processes. There is, nevertheless, a growing recognition the geography discipline-based push toward under-
that an intrinsically transnational tourism industry is standing mobilities in globalized environments. Williams
both the outcome and the source of increasing global- and Hall (2002) observe that there have been very few
ization. Appadurai (1996) in his treatise on modernity attempts to disentangle the changing relationships be-
and globalization acknowledges that tourists and the tween tourism and migration that are inherent in the
tourism industry are part of the transnational landscape. life course of many individuals. Hall and Williams (2002)
He also recognizes that there is still little known about emphasize placing mobilities, particularly temporary
the special translocalities they produce: mobilities, as the nexus of tourism and migration rela-
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 321

tionships. To capture the complex and multidimensional namic and continually changing system of connections
nature of temporary mobility and circulation, they pro- and interrelationships.
pose the loose distinction between consumption and Three interconnected spheres comprise Cancuns
production-led mobilities. They focus primarily on five transnational social fields: the international sphere, the
forms of tourism-informed mobility, including pro- urban Mexican sphere, and the Quintana Roo rural
duction-led labor migration, entrepreneurial migration, periphery (see Figure 6). While portrayed in this graphic
return (labor) migration, and consumption-led, eco- as separate spheres, in reality, the individuals, informa-
nomically active migration, and retirement migration. tion, and resources in these spheres constantly interact
at different scales with all spheres to construct Gringo-
landia. The international or global sphere exerts
Conceptualizing Gringolandia influence in constructing Gringolandia by the continu-
ous circular flow of tourists, foreign second home owners
This article suggests that tourist resorts may be con-
and retirees, Mexican elites with strong ties to the U.S.,
ceptualized as transnational spaces. Within that con-
foreign professionals and entrepreneurs, and expatriate
text, the tourism industry business structure serves as
tourism-industry workers. Through this sphere move
a transnational economic landscape, hosting tourists as
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foreign direct investment, franchise and management

short-term migrants and labor migrants as integral actors
contracts, and products. Conversely, profits are extracted
in the construction, production, and reproduction of
from the resort through expatriation, management and
tourist spaces. Global tourism becomes, in effect, a
franchise agreements, and foreign exchange leakages
transnational force restructuring local realities.
associated with product imports.
The Mexican Urban Sphere consists of back-and-
forth flows of immigrants from other parts of Mexico
Cancuns Transnational Social Fields working in tourism-industry-related employment, rang-
ing from unskilled to senior management positions, and
Compression of space and time related to increasing
domestic tourists and Mexican elites with second homes
globalization has reduced geographical barriers and in-
and businesses. Significant inputs are domestic invest-
creased international tourism as well as other forms of
ment, imported agricultural products, and other goods
temporary and permanent migration. Societies are in-
and services. The bulk of food products in Cancun, for
creasingly interconnected, with the global and local
example, are brought in from the Mexico City Central de
blending to reshape local realities. Figure 6 is a visual
Abastos, which concentrates production from the entire
representation of the continual flow of people, goods,
country (Torres 2003). Profits and taxes are extracted
capital, services, information, and ideas across interna-
from the resort, contributing primarily to the Mexican
tional and national urban and rural borders that makes
urban sphere, predominantly Mexico City and Mon-
Cancun a truly transnational hybrid space. The actors
within these fluid social fields move about in this dy-
The third and most subordinate sphere, the Quin-
tana Roo rural periphery, has a circular flow of tem-
porary migrants and permanent settlers who maintain
ties with both Cancun and their cities, towns, or villages
of origin. The most marginalized populations of Quin-
tana Roo supply low-end temporary labor to the Cancun
growth pole/corecirculating back and forth between
the city and their villages. Typically, these temporary
laborers fill the lower-paying, seasonal jobs because they
have neither the training nor education for the more
senior positions occupied by urbanites from other Mex-
ican states. The Quintana Roo periphery, to a lesser
degree, supplies the tourist center with agricultural
products. This supply is limited to low volumes of a few
products that are provided on an irregular, highly sea-
sonal basis (Torres 2003). The most significant value
Figure 6. Conceptualizing Gringolandia as transnational space: extracted from the resort by the Quintana Roo rural
Cancuns social fields. periphery consists of remittances channeled back to the
322 Torres and Momsen

villages through permanent settlers sending money to 93). Relphs analysis extends beyond the properties of
their families or temporary laborers circulating between places to include the attitudes of people. He suggests
Cancun and their villages (Momsen 2003). there is a disappearing sense of place or an inauthentic
Together, these three spheres, through continuous attitude to place (p. 83), which is frequently evident in
flows, interrelations, and exchanges of people, capital, tourists who often care more about collecting places
goods, services, and ideas across time and space, com- rather than truly experiencing them.
prise the transnational social fields that construct With respect to representation of tourist spaces and
Cancun as a unique, globalized, transnational space, places, Edensor (1998, 7), comments that they are di-
developed expressly for mass tourist consumption, but versely represented, with contesting notions about what
now having evolved to become the production and they mean being articulated by different groups of peo-
consumption space for multiple and segmented groups ple. Oakes (forthcoming) argues, Representations of
of both international and domestic migrants. Through space are necessarily ideological, and are mobilized in the
the routine daily practice of tourism production and service of power, for they conceive an idealized space in
consumption in the resort, the local and global which the needs of capital, of the state, and other forms
continually negotiate relations of economic, social, and of social power, are met. Our analysis in this article
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political power. The boundaries between and within focuses primarily on conceptualizing Gringolandia
these spheres are fluid and often blurred as individuals through an encompassing notion of transnational social
may shift their practices over time. For example, the space. Transnational perspectives, taking into account
temporary tourist who returns to buy a second home may their multiple ever-changing social relations stretched
eventually settle to become an entrepreneur, forging among different human agents over distant places, are
links to the Mexican urban sphere, and even the useful in understanding the construction, production,
Quintana Roo rural periphery. This conceptualization of and reproduction of Cancun as Gringolandia. This vision
Cancuns transnational social fields provides the back- of Gringolandia allows the inclusion of marginalized
drop for the remaining analysis of tourism in the region spaces such as the Franja Ejidal and even abandoned
from a transnational perspective. rural villagesthe backdrop of the quotidian practices of
local people who often play a critical role in producing
Cancun as Transnational Space and reproducing tourisminto our conceptualization of
Gringolandia as a transnational space.
A radical transformation of space and place through Lury (1997) suggests the creation of a new in-be-
tourism development has had a profound effect on the tween tourist space of artifacts and flows in which the
Quintana Roo empty quarter. Despite its approxi- lines are blurred between traveling, dwelling, and other
mately half a million residents,3 143 hotels and almost social behavior (Oakes 1998), and production and
two million stay-over visitors annually (Ayuntamiento consumption (Hall and Williams 2002). In Cancun, this
Benito Juarez 2002; CTO 2004) Cancun remains, for blurring is particularly the case, with increased timeshare
some critics, metaphorically empty space. Authors sales,4 repeat visits,5 retirees, and expatriates. Cancun,
such as Perez Taylor (1996) and Hiernaux-Nicolas which from its inception was planned as a consumption
(1999) suggest that mass-tourist, high-rise development space for international tourists, constitutes this in-be-
has transformed Cancun into a cultural vacuum, a non- tween transnational tourism space. It was not a city
place (Auge 1995), or no-place, that is a space in which a tourism industry evolved gradually through
without history, identity, or any possibility of being ap- early stages of exploration and involvement, as with
propriated by social groups (Hiernaux-Nicolas 1999, Butlers (1980) tourism resort life cycle model. On the
131). Relphs (1976) treatise on placelessness, which contrary, it was an instant resort built from the
reflects upon the loss of diversity, significance, and emptiness for the specific purpose of tourism production
meaning of landscapes, is consistent with the above and consumption. According to Torres Maldonado
characterizations of Cancun. Relph points to mass cul- (1997), Cancun is a post-industrial tourist place that
ture and tourism as factors contributing to the geography has succeeded in reinserting the peripheral empty
of placelessness. He states that tourism is an homoge- quarter into global capitalist space.
nizing influence and its effects everywhere seem to be A sustained flow of tourists, large numbers of Amer-
the samethe destruction of the local and regional ican expatriate settlers, and strong American business
landscape that very often initiated the tourism, and its influences have transformed Cancun into a truly trans-
replacement by conventional tourist architecture and national city. A significant population of Mexican elites
synthetic landscapes and pseudo-places (Relph 1976, in Cancun who mimic American consumption patterns
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 323

and behavior reinforces this sense of American influ- tourist strip and the popular Xcaret eco-archeological
ence. Cancun is neither Mexican nor American. With its nature theme park further south. The local environment
large U.S. expatriate community, foreign tourists, and has also been commoditized, reproduced, and packaged
Mexican immigrants, Cancun has become Gringolandia. for global mass tourist consumption. This process is ev-
As Gringolandia, it has evolved into a unique, transna- ident in the numerous examples of the environment
tional hybrid-space incorporating elements of American being reinvented as a spectacle (Urry 1990). In par-
and Mexican life, along with artificial representations of ticular, Cancuns hotel zone fits with Edensors (1998)
Mayan culture reconstituted for mass consumption (see notion of enclavic space, which is typical of a carefully
Figure 7). Many of Cancuns synthetic elements are planned, managed, and segregated tourist bubble.
based on idealized artificial reproductions of pre-
Hispanic Mayan imagery and culture (Pi-Sunyer, Brooke
Thomas, and Daltabuit 1999) packaged for collective Role of Transnational Forces in the
consumption (Urry 1990) by tourists. In this sense, Construction of Gringolandia
Cancun could be considered an example of an other-
directed architecture (J. B. Jackson 1970, 6465, cited The remainder of this article will focus on an analysis
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in Relph 1976, 93) constructed expressly for the outside of the two major transnational forces that have played an
gaze of spectators. According to Relph (1976, 93), the important role in the construction of Gringolandia. We
total effect of such architecture is the creation of other- shall first examine Cancun as a transnational econom-
directed places which suggest almost nothing of the ic landscape, the product of both state-led domestic
people living and working in them, but declare them- investment and development combined with foreign
selves unequivocally to be Vacation land or Consum- influence and control through capital investment,
erland through the use of exotic decoration, gaudy franchises, and management contracts. The second
colours, grotesque adornments, and the indiscriminate transnational force we shall examine is the migratory
borrowing of styles and names from the most popular flow of international tourists and expatriates, outside
places of the world. Cancun, or Gringolandia, is argu- Mexican elites, and rural peasants to Cancun as a center
ably a product of Disneyfication of the Yucatan envi- of capital concentration, and, therefore, perceived eco-
ronment and pre-Hispanic Mayan heritage. According nomic opportunity.
to Relph (1976, 95), the products of Disneyfication
are absurd, synthetic places made up of a surrealistic com- Cancuns Transnational Economic Landscape
bination of history, myth, reality and fantasy that have
little relationship with particular geographical setting. Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt (1999), in their dis-
Relphs vivid description of this Disneyfied con- cussion of transnationalism as an emergent research
sumerland accurately describes the feel of the Cancun field, suggest that tourism development is a type of
economic transnationalism. In this section, we seek to
understand how the transnational economic structure of
Cancuns tourism industry has contributed to the con-
struction of Gringolandia as a transnational space, fo-
cusing primarily on the hotel tourism industry subsector
and, to a lesser extent, on the restaurant sector. Both
foreign and Mexican capital, in addition to strong state
intervention in planning, policy, and investment, created
the international resort. FONATUR (National Tourism
Promotion Fund), the Mexican tourism development
authority, was the driving force in conceiving, planning,
constructing, financing, and, to some extent, investing in
Cancun (including direct equity participation).
Because of the flexibility and fluidity of capital per-
mitted by increased globalization, the Cancun scenario is
complex. The naive, reflexive assumption frequently
Figure 7. The spectacle of Gringolandia: Actors in pre-Hispanic quoted by critics of the resortthat it was built, and is
Maya costumes make a living posing for photographs with tourists dominated by, foreign capital, is widely believed. A 1997
in exchange for tips. survey of sixty Cancun hotels (50 percent sample)6 re-
324 Torres and Momsen

Cancun's Transnational Economic Landscape ordinate to domestic overall, a disproportionate share of

Nationality of Cancun Hotel Ownership (N=60) the hotel industry value pertains to foreign TNCs and
Foreign influence in the Cancun hotel industry is
exerted more through franchise relationships and man-
86.7% agement contracts rather than through direct equity
participation. Franchise chains are often associated with
1.7% foreign transnational corporations. Typically, larger and
1.7% more luxurious hotels subscribe to franchise agreements
that impose rigidity, efficiency, quality control, and
5.0% standardization in the tourist product. Fifty percent of
Cancun hotels surveyed in the Torres (2000) study,
Mexican (52) Combined (3) representing 71 percent of all study sample hotel rooms,
Spanish (2) Japanese (1) have a franchise agreement, and 50 percent of those
Dominican (DR) (1) Other Foreign (1) franchises are foreign. Study data confirm that higher-
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end hotels tend to be part of franchises, with 93 percent

Figure 8. Nationality of Cancun hotel ownership (Source: Field-
work, Hotel survey 1997; Torres 2000).
of all GT and 72 percent of all five-star Cancun hotels
surveyed subscribing to a franchise relationship (see
Table 1). Similarly, the level of foreign franchise partic-
vealed that 87 percent of all hotels surveyed were ipation is greatest in the top-flight hotels. Fifty percent of
Mexican owned7 (see Figure 8), with the vast majority of all GT hotels and 22 percent of all five-star hotels sur-
that ownership concentrated in the hands of companies veyed were foreign franchises. Overall, however, only 25
or families from Mexico City, Monterrey, and Merida percent (fifteen total) of all hotels surveyed held foreign
(particularly wealthy Mexican-Lebanese families). Other franchises. Given the American flavor of the resort, the
nationalities owning hotels in Cancun are American, assumption one makes when visiting Cancun, or Grin-
Spanish, Dominican Republican, and Japanese. The golandia, is that it is completely dominated by American
ownership patterns with respect to nationality are close chains. This is not the case. Mexican chains, surprisingly,
to, but not completely consistent with, estimates of dominate Cancuns hotel industry, with 25 percent (fif-
Cancun hotel industry investment provided to Torres teen) of all hotels surveyed being Mexican franchises
Maldonado (1997) by Cancun entrepreneurs and representing 50 percent of all franchise hotels surveyed
FONATUR employees. According to Torres Maldonado, (Figure 9). There is, however, a strong American influ-
international investors represent 2535 percent, na- ence in the tourism industry exerted through the rela-
tional investors 5570 percent and local investors 515 tively high presence of American franchise chains (30
percent. Torres Maldonado notes that international in- percent of all franchise hotels surveyed) (Figure 9). This
vestment is concentrated in the hotel zone and in the influence is reinforced by American managers, tourists,
expensive, middle-to-upper-class hotels. Data presented and expatriate settlers hired to work in upper-manage-
by Torres (2000) confirm that foreign ownership is ment positions and in the local recreation industry.
highest among the GT (Gran Turismo)8 and five-star Tourism industry TNCs were granted preferential fi-
hotels. This indicates that while foreign equity is sub- nancial treatment by the Mexican government that is

Table 1. Cancuns Transnational Economic Landscape: Structure of Cancun Hotel Ownership by Class
# Foreign % Foreign # Foreign % Foreign
Hotel # Franchise % Franchise Franchise Franchise Ownership Ownership
Class # Hotels Hotels by Class Hotels by Class Hotels by Class Hotels by Class Hotels by Class Hotels by Class

GT 16 13 92.9% 8 50.0% 3 18.75%

5-star 18 13 72.2% 4 22.22% 3 16.66%
4-star 14 3 20.0% 2 14.28% 1 7.14%
3-star 7 1 14.3% 1 14.28% 1 14.28%
2-star 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
1-star 3 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 60 30 50.0% 15 25.0% 8 13.33%
Source: Fieldwork, Hotel Survey 1997.
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 325

Cancun's Transnational Economic Landscape Torres Maldonado 1997; Clancy 1999). This need for
Nationality of Cancun Hotel Franchises (N = 60) franchises, as well as the government policies outlined
Mexican above, opened the floodgates to TNC control over
50.0% Cancuns tourism industry, particularly at the more lux-
urious end of the spectrum. Ultimately, franchises and
management contracts have proven more attractive to
TNCs than has direct equity capital investment in local
hotels because they represent a mechanism by which
TNCs are able to extract significant value at much lower
Dominican (DR) risk than can be achieved with direct investment capital
3.3% (Britton 1982). Additionally, this mechanism allows
9 4
TNCs greater flexibility, fluidity, and the ability to pull
3.3% out quickly, if necessary.
USA Spanish Following hotels, restaurants represent the second
30.0% 13.3% most important tourism industry subsector in Cancun.
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According to CANIRAC (National Chamber of Res-

Figure 9. Nationality of Cancun hotel franchises (Source: Field-
taurant and Food Industry) there are more than 600
work, Hotel survey 1997; Torres 2000).
restaurants in Cancun (Interview with Cancun CANI-
RAC Director 1997). Torres Maldonado (1997) divides
not afforded to foreign investors in other economic restaurants into three types: multinational restaurant
sectors. A unique trust mechanism (Cothran and chains, national and regional restaurants, and local
Cothran 1998; Clancy 1999) was developed specifically restaurants. Multinational restaurants include all of
to allow circumvention of Mexican foreign investment those contained within the international hotel chains, in
laws prohibiting the ownership of coastal lands by for- addition to international franchises such as McDonalds,
eigners. To entice investment, the government also of- KFC, Dominos, Pizza Hut, and others. As with hotels,
fered soft loans, discounted land prices, infrastructure, national, regional, and local restaurants outnumber in-
and assistance with project design (Enriquez Savignac ternational franchise chains, but these chains represent a
1972; Mart 1985). During early resort development, the disproportionate share of the value invested in and ex-
state even built, owned, and operated its own hotel tracted from the restaurant sector. While there is some
chain to attract international tourists (Mart 1985; foreign equity participation, restaurant ownership mir-
Clancy 1999). Mexicos commitment to neoliberal eco- rors that of hotels, with the vast majority being Mexican,
nomic policies in the 1980s and 1990s reinforced tourism even in the case of international franchises.
development as part of the states economic develop- Cancuns economic landscape is complex, with con-
ment agenda. The Mexican government also directly trol shared among the following key players: the Mexican
solicited foreign investment from prominent tourism state (through FONATUR), international entrepreneurs
TNCs with offers of favorable franchise agreements. and franchises, domestic and foreign tour operators, and
During the 1980s, the government offered swaps in Mexican entrepreneurs and franchises. Immigrants from
which private investors were allowed to purchase na- other Mexican states and abroad occupy managerial
tional debt that could subsequently be converted into positions. Finally, the Quintana Roo rural periphery
discounted tourism development investments. Some enters this landscape to provide essential low-paid labor.
observers have suggested that the swap mechanism Rural workers migrate permanently and on a temporary
was the primary impetus behind the 1980s Cancun hotel basis to work in construction, food service, cleaning,
construction boom, which has resulted in excess room domestic work, and room service. This group extracts
capacity and heavy discounting in order to maintain the least value and fewest benefits from the resort, but it
occupancy rates (Constandse Madrazo 1995; Paz Paredes is their backs upon which the resort has been built and
1995; Torres Maldonado 1997). by whom it is sustained.
The Mexican government also recognized that the Analysis of the economic structure of Cancuns in-
special nature of the tourism industry required the in- dustry reveals the important role transnational forces
volvement of large, well-recognized franchise chains that have played in constructing Gringolandia. It is note-
tourists could trust. Franchises were needed to imple- worthy that tourism industry control and foreign influ-
ment the quality controls necessary to attract wealthy ence is exerted more through franchise and management
domestic and international tourists (Paz Paredes 1995; contracts than direct ownership, which is dominated by
326 Torres and Momsen

national capital. While this mode of consumption gives reshape local realities in the most isolated places on
the resort an American feel, the Cancun tourism earth.
business is owned by Mexican interests. The advantage
of such an arrangement to the TNCs is that they are able Transnational Consumption-Led Migration and
to extract value through management and franchise Domestic Production-Led Migration
agreements without needing to invest capital. This
economic structure is a good example of how the in- Much current transnational research focuses on mi-
creased flexibility and fluidity of the global economic gration and immigrant communities because the move-
system enables new forms of control and influence be- ment of people across the globe is arguably the most
yond direct ownership of enterprises. Gringolandia, with powerful transnational force in forging circuits through
its Wal-marts, Sams Club, Blockbusters, Office Depot, which people, capital, ideas, cultural practices, and labor
Ace Hardware, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Huts, Dominos, spread between and interconnect distinct nation states.
Papa Johns, Subway, Fridays, Hardrock Cafe, Outback Migratory forces have played a critical role in con-
Steakhouse, Rain Forest Cafe, All Star Cafe, Sheratons, structing Gringolandia as transnational space and, thus,
Hyatts, Hiltons, Holiday Inns, Best Westerns, and so on, reshaping all facets of life across the Yucatan Peninsula.
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is a direct product of transnational business forces fa- We consider the construction of Gringolandia as trans-
cilitated by increasing globalization. national space to be a function of social relations in-
While constructing Gringolandia as a hybrid space, volving multiple actors, many of whom, although not
the interaction between the various forces and actors themselves transnational migrants, play a critical role in
embedded in Cancuns transnational social fields (Figure creating, producing, reproducing, and consuming Grin-
6) has also created inequalities that have become im- golandia. The multiple and continually shifting mobili-
printed on the landscape. In the case of economic forces ties of different actors, and their intersections, have
and actors, the collaboration by foreign and domestic played a key role in constructing Gringolandia as an
investors with the all-powerful FONATUR has, for in- ever-shifting and dynamic transnational space. There-
stance, constructed a highly inequitable economic and fore, to understand the construction and (re)production
physical landscape in which the wealthy tourist bubble of Gringolandia, it is imperative to understand the var-
remains the targeted beneficiary of capital, infrastruc- ious mobilities of key actors in the equation. Following
ture, and services, while the workers shantytown con- Hall and Williamss (2002) typology of tourism-migra-
tinues to struggle with squalid conditions and poverty. tion mobilities, we distinguish between consumption-led
Aside from the increased employment opportunities for mobility and production-led mobility, each defined by the
certain segments of the local population, the majority of primary motivation for travel. Consumption-led mobility
wealth generated by Gringolandia accrues to domestic may include short-term tourists, long-stay tourists, hol-
and transnational corporations, Mexican and foreign iday second home owners, retirees, and repeat visitors,
entrepreneurial elites, and the Mexican government. among others. Production-led mobility responds to op-
This wealth translates into the political and economic portunities associated with tourism growth and includes
power that shapes daily life and social interactions in circular migration of seasonal workers (temporary
Gringolandia at every level and between all actors, in- migration), permanent migration of domestic and in-
cluding workers, tourists, employers, entrepreneurs, ternational employees, and migration of entrepreneurs,
managers, and government officials. Asymmetrical among others. While there has been considerable re-
geometries of power (Mitchell 1997; McEwan 2004), search on consumption-led migration, until recent-
evident in Cancuns transnational economic landscape, ly, production-led migration has not received much at-
can also be traced to deeply entrenched regional his- tention, although it is arguably of equal importance in
torical inequities based on race and class and rooted in reshaping local realities and constructing transnational
colonialism. Gringolandias uneven landscape of power is space. Hall and Williams (2002, 10) contend, In prac-
also, in part, a reflection of the unequal and uneven tice, the origins and composition of these labor migration
nature of tourism development on a global scale manifest flows are likely to be highly differentiated, responding to
in the domination of the third-world tourism industry by the existence and re-casting of social and spatial divi-
first-world TNCs and entrepreneurs and monopolization sions of labor.
of travel flows by first-world tourists (Mowforth and Two principal types of migration must be examined in
Munt 1998). Construction of Gringolandia in a remote order to understand how Gringolandia has come to be
region of the Yucatan Peninsula illustrates the immense the transnational space it is today. First, we argue that
power of the capitalist forces of international tourism to tourists to the Yucatan Peninsula should be considered
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 327

consumption-led transnational migrants to the region. 2002a). The explosive growth of the timeshare industry
The second type of migration important to our analysis is in Cancun also reinforces the pattern of regularity seen
that of local and nonlocal Mexicans to the tourist poles in tourist visits. Many tourists own a week in a par-
in search of work. We believe that while this migration is ticular resort and return on an annual basis. Also, the
domestic, it is appropriately viewed through the lens of large expatriate community in Cancun, many of whom
transnationalism because Cancun is itself a global hybrid came initially as tourists, certainly qualify as transna-
space. It also enables us to understand how transnational tional migrants. According to Cancuns U.S. Consular
forces, and their product, Gringolandia, have set in Officer, there are approximately 4,500 U.S. citizens re-
motion a process of rural restructuring that has changed siding in the Cancun area, which includes the Riviera
every facet of life in even the most remote Maya villages Maya, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and all points
of the peninsula. We do not attempt to represent the full south, including Akumal and Tulum (personal commu-
complexity of migration streams that are, in fact, highly nication, Lynnette Belt, U.S. Consular Agent in Cancun,
segmented and multifaceted. We highlight production- 27 January 2004, via e-mail).9
led migration, in particular, as we believe this important The increasing number of American retirees choosing
dimension of tourism and migration has been under- Cancun as their final destination also supports the no-
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represented in earlier tourism, migration, and develop- tion that visitors to Cancun are increasingly forging
ment studies. permanent links. There is a long tradition in Mexico and
the Caribbean of retirees and second-home owners
Consumption-Led Migration and the Construction of (Henshall Momsen 1977; Truly 2002) who eventually
Gringolandia. According to Coles, Duval, and Hall settle on a permanent basis. Often, these communities
(2005), An approach toward tourism as a form of tem- form enclaves, interacting little with locals but never-
porary mobility is perhaps useful for understanding how theless exerting an influence on localities through their
communities, particularly global communities, are for- patterns of consumption, expenditures, and behavior. In
mulated, re-tasked, re-imaged, re-positioned, and ulti- the Cancun context, these retirees are typically per-
mately (re)packaged. We agree that conceptualizing ceived more as an extension of tourism rather than as
tourists as temporary short-term migrants is critical to permanent immigrants. Cancun in this sense is a case of
understanding the construction of tourist places such as transnationalism turned on its headAmericans settling
Gringolandia. Thus far, this notion has either not been in Mexico as transnational migrants. Through these
embraced by scholars of transnationalism or mentioned various forms of short-term migration (repeat and return
only in passing. Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt (1999, visits, second homes, retirement), tourists establish so-
219) confine transnational processes to occupations cial, economic, and political ties that create linkages
and activities that require regular and sustained social between their home places and Gringolandia. In so do-
contacts over time across national borders for their im- ing, they have a profound impact on the construction of
plementation. While this limitation may appear to ex- Gringolandia through their consumption, entrepreneur-
clude tourism as a transnational process, we contend ial activities, social interactions, and exchange of infor-
that, given the continuous, regular, sustained influx of mation and ideas with locals.
tourists into Cancun, tourism can be considered a form Tourists leave behind not only dollars but also,
of transnational migration. Furthermore, tourists, as a through their continuous flow, the demonstration effect,
whole, represent a constant influx that exerts a very and a variety of direct and indirect and temporally and
powerful effect on Cancun and surrounding Quintana spatially patterned interactions with residents, they re-
Roo towns and villages. Americans, in particular, dom- structure host destination societies. Given the large
inate the Cancun tourism landscape, comprising nearly presence of American tourists in particular, this influ-
75.3 percent of hotel guests in 2002 (CTO 2004). The ence is manifest in a process of Americanization of
largest segment of these tourists is made up of vacation- consumption, dress, culture, language, and moral values.
ing middle-class families seeking an economical sun and Consumption of American products and, in a broader
sand experience (Torres 2002a). American dominance sense, culture has become a status symbol for local res-
of tourist flows to Cancun contributes to the strong U.S. idents. For example, the Cancun downtown McDonalds
influence in the Gringolandia construct. is doing a booming business, teeming not only with
Cancun tourists behave almost as short-term migrants tourists but also with middle-class Mexican families.
because they exhibit high rates of return. One tourist McDonalds, the American archetype of cheap fast food,
survey revealed that 40 percent are return visitors and has become a special place of entertainment for middle-
90 percent planned to return in the future (Torres and upper-class families who take pride in being able to
328 Torres and Momsen

buy their children a cajita feliz (costing more than a transnational migration contexts where the migrants are
multicourse meal at a local family restaurant) and give drawn to the host country for economic opportunities
them access to a playland that is better equipped than and are in fact dependent upon host country residents
any local public playground. for employment. Unlike tourists who wield the economic
Tourists also have a profound effect upon local power, transnational migrants in other contexts are often
economies through their consumption patterns. For ex- the marginalized other, struggling to improve their
ample, tourist consumption helps define tourism industry economic status in the host nation. In the case of tourist
demand for food that dictates, in part, opportunities for resorts, local residents are placed in a position subser-
developing linkages with local agriculture (Torres 2002b, vient to the tourist transnational migrants they serve
2003). Tourists also take back with them to their and depend upon. In turn, the migrants (tourists) come
countries of origin, memories, cultural artifacts, and, in to consume local places, services, and products. Tourism,
some cases, new consumption patterns. In Cancun, therefore, represents a unique and powerful form of
tourist consumption is dominated by American tastes transnational migration, one that operates differently
and habits. While Americans are familiar with Tex- than typical migration, but exerts, nevertheless, equal or
Mex foods, tourism literature suggests that, in general, greater impact on host country destinations and people.
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Americans, more entrenched and reticent in their con- Conceiving tourists as transnational migrants offers sig-
sumption patterns than many other nationalities, tend to nificant potential for enhancing comprehension of the
reject local foods (Belisle 1983, 1984a, b). According tourists role in reshaping the local realities of tourist poles.
to tourists surveyed by Torres (2002b), 26 percent of all In conclusion, consumption-led migration of tourists
meals consumed by tourists were American cuisine. Not has played a profound role in constructing Gringolandia
surprisingly, consumption of American food was even as hybrid space characterized by uneven geometries of
higher among American tourists, who consumed ap- power. Tourists are empowered by the relative strength of
proximately one-third American meals. With high levels the dollar and the extreme differences in wealth between
of demand for American food, the potential to offer local themselves and local residents. Tourists, often of middle-
products and indigenous dishes is constrained. This di- class origin, enjoy luxury accommodations (through
minished opportunity to offer local products, in turn, heavily discounted packages) and are served by Mexican
limits the creation of backward linkages to local agri- workers in a manner that many have never before ex-
culture (Torres 2002b, 2003). perienced. The middle-class American factory worker
Aside from nationality, another factor influencing is converted, if only for a short while, into a person of
consumption patterns is the type of tourist. Edensor relative wealth and prestige who commands respect and
(1998) contends that it is essential that tourism be un- attention. The extreme differences in wealth and power
derstood as varieties of practices rather than types of between tourists and local workers also leave Mexicans
people. Torres (2002b) classifies Yucatan visitors as vulnerable to the subordinate position of catering to
mass or alternative, based on their consumption of tourists more lurid desires through prostitution and drug
tourist places, and the nature of tourist practices in such dealing.
places. According to this categorization, 77 percent of Many expatriate settlers come initially to Cancun as
Yucatan Peninsula visitors are mass visitors. Study results tourists and become intoxicated by the instant elevation
revealed that mass tourists consumed significantly less in status they achieve, not to mention the lure of the
local food than other travelers. This finding suggests that beaches, American amenities, and resort life style. Be-
mass tourist consumption practices in Cancun have in- cause of their nationality and ability to speak English,
hibited the creation of linkages between tourism and these expatriates are able quickly to gain employment in
the regions local agriculture, a result that supports the positions such as realtor, time-share dealer, activity in-
findings of other studies in which mass tourists are structor, and small business manager that place them
considered to be more reluctant to experiment with local in direct contact with tourists. Other expatriates are
dishes than are off-beat travelers (Sharkey and Momsen brought in by high-end transnational and Mexican
1995; Momsen 1998; Telfer and Wall 2000). franchises to occupy upper-level management positions.
Unlike other transnational migration circumstances, A third category of expatriates chooses a binational ex-
the touristthe short-term transnational migrantis istence by purchasing timeshares and second homes,
usually more economically and socially empowered than thus acquiring their own piece of paradise. Traveling
are local residents. The relationship between tourists and regularly between their Cancun and their U.S. homes,
local residents is typically unequal and based on de- they gradually reconstruct hybridized identities as snow
pendency. This circumstance contrasts starkly with other birds or adventurous retirees. The interaction be-
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 329

tween tourists, Mexican and expatriate elites, and growth in the state of Quintana Roo and Cancun itself
workers creates new wants, needs, aspirations, and de- has far exceeded expectations. The state experienced
sires among local residents. Gringolandia residents are dramatic population growth, increasing from 88,150 in-
constantly surrounded by the conspicuous consumption habitants in 1970, before the resorts development, to an
and apparent affluence of tourists, enticed by the rise of estimated 874,963 in 2000 (see Figure 10) (INEGI
new shopping centers and megastores, and bombarded 2000). According to the 2000 Mexican census, 70 per-
with advertisements for the latest consumer goods. The cent of Benito Juarez Municipality residents, of whom 95
effect has been a restructuring of consumption patterns percent live in Cancun, are immigrants from outside the
oriented toward imported goods and luxury items (par- state. Over a quarter of those immigrants are from the
ticularly American). The valorization of the American neighboring state of Yucatan, followed by Mexico City (9
and foreign over the indigenous or Mexican ele- percent), Veracruz (8 percent) and Tabasco (7 percent)
vates foreigners, cosmopolitan elite Mexicans, and im- (Ayuntamiento Benito Juarez 2002). While Cancun and
ports (from outside the region) and further exacerbates other major tourist poles (Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and
the uneven geometry of power inherent in Gringolandia. Playa del Carmen) have attracted significant numbers of
migrants from other regions of Mexico, ironically, these
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Production-Led Migration and the Construction of resorts have served further to decimate the already
Gringolandia. The second type of migration that has thinly populated rural areas of Quintana Roo (Arnaiz
played a critical role in the construction of Gringolandia is and Dachary 1992). In addition to people who migrate
that of the domestic production-led migration of Mexi- and settle permanently, a large number of temporary
cans from outside the region and local rural people from laborers float between the tourist pole and their villages
Quintana Roo and the greater Yucatan Peninsula. Can- (Momsen 2002, 2003). The mass exodus of poor rural
cun not only belongs to the imagined world (Appadurai people from Quintana Roo in search of improved in-
1996) of tourists, it also inhabits the imagination of im- come-earning opportunities has resulted in an explosive
migrants seeking improved livelihoods and living condi- growth of urban squatter settlements on the outskirts of
tions and, in the case of many young people, the Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and other tourism
excitement of an urban place. Tourism-driven migration centers (Bosselman 1978; Hiernaux-Nicolas 1989; Car-
is arguably the greatest impact Gringolandia has had on din Perez 1995). Squatter settlements are growing more
Quintana Roos rural landscape. Transnational perspec- rapidly than infrastructure and service development,
tives are useful in conceptualizing internal rural-to-urban resulting in a fringe of urban poverty at the periphery of
processes of migration occurring between Cancun and the all of these resorts. In a 1997 survey of Cancun Franja
Quintana Roo rural periphery. While migration in this Ejidal households, Torres (2000) found that less then 1
case is domestic, it shares several characteristics with percent had sewered toilets and none had access to
transnational migration as it involves the flow of impov- piped water in the home.
erished Maya peasants to the urban Cancun tourist pole
where foreign economic interests and the Mexican elite Quintana Roo Population 1910 2000
dominate social and cultural structures. The ethnic, cul- 1,000,000
tural, economic, and physical differences between the re-
ality of a Maya village and that of Gringolandia are as 800,000
great or even greater than those between the nation states
of Mexico and the U.S. As with Mexican migrants to the 600,000
U.S., rural immigrants establish fluid social fields that link
their villages to Cancun through a circular flow of family 400,000
members, money, material goods, and cultural norms.
Through these rural-urban networks, they are able to en- 200,000
hance their income-earning abilities and survival strate-
gies. In many cases, migrant families are able to achieve 0
upward mobility within their villages through their ties to 1930 1970 2000
1910 1950 1990
Cancun; however, such ties harm rural productivity
Quintana Roo State Population (INEGI)
through the loss of family farm labor to the tourist poles
(Dufresne 1995; Re Cruz 1996; Torres 2003). Cancun Resort Development (1970)

While Cancuns developers planned for immigration Figure 10. Dramatic Quintana Roo state population growth after
of workers to support the tourism industry, population establishing the Cancun resort.
330 Torres and Momsen

Explosive tourism-driven urbanization has led to the Pi-Sunyer, Brooke Thomas, and Daltabuit 1999). Ac-
reconfiguration of rural production space into urban culturation is gradual, as immigrants initially maintain
space for consumption by Mexican elites and tourists. strong ties to their village, returning regularly to partic-
Even before recent changes in land reform legislation ipate in seasonal agricultural activities during their first
permitted privatization, there were numerous reported five to ten years in the city (Arnaiz and Dachary 1992).
cases involving expropriation and sale of both ejido land The earliest immigrants are typically men who engage in
(communal land) and small-scale private holdings in temporary wage labor in the city while their wives,
Quintana Roo (Green 1995). Most of what is now the children, and other household members remain in the
Franja Ejidal, housing the majority of low-paid, tourism- villages, providing a social safety net (Daltabuit and Pi-
industry workers in Cancun, once belonged to the Isla Sunyer 1990; Momsen 2002). This separation alters
Mujeres Ejido. First occupied by squatters with nowhere family structure, gender relations, labor structures, local
else to go, the land has been gradually expropriated by production patterns, and the productivity of migrant
government housing authorities for sale to those same village households. There are an increasing number of de
squatters. Daltabuit and Pi-Sunyer (1990) report the ex- facto single mothers and female-headed households
propriation of large tracts of village farmland in Coba for (Torres 2000). Other social impacts of tourism include
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tourism purposes. While villagers were compensated with increased social stratification between tourism industry
title to forest acreage, the land they received was invari- beneficiaries and the have-nots, due to extreme wage
ably less productive and less accessible than the land differentials and commodification of environmental and
taken away from them. Rising land values in the vicinity cultural heritage (Daltabuit and Pi-Sunyer 1990; Arnaiz
of tourist poles has fostered a growing number of land- and Dachary 1992; Momsen 2002, 2003).
related conflicts and greatly heightened social tensions. The mass exodus to Cancun and other tourist poles has
The most prominent example, mentioned previously, had profound effects on Quintana Roo agriculture. Agri-
is that of the Ejido Bonfil, on the outskirts of Cancun cultural employment has dropped from 54 percent of all
(see Figure 3). Ejidatarios (individuals with usufruct jobs in 1970 (Lopez Portillo 1979) to 11 percent in early
rights to communal land) have illegally sold large tracts 2000 (INEGI 1970; Ayuntamiento Benito Juarez 2002). In
of land to wealthy Cancun elites for second homes. In turn, those working in the tertiary sector have continued
fact, local lore has it that anyone who is anybody in to increase proportionately. A growing number of Quin-
Cancun has a plot of land in Bonfil. Government offi- tana Roo and neighboring Yucatan farmers find them-
cials have engaged in numerous disputes with the eji- selves trapped between two worlds: working in Cancun
datarios to stop the illegal sales, but they are hesitant to while trying to maintain milpa11 plots in their villages. The
prosecute peasants for political reasons (Interview with motivation for many farmers to plant is no longer sub-
Programa Certificacion de Derechos Ejidales y Titulacion de sistence but rather to maintain a claim on communal ejido
Solares Urbanos [PROCEDE] official quoted in Torres lands that are currently undergoing a process of privati-
2000). The fate of the elite neighborhoods being con- zation through the PROCEDE program (Torres 2000).
structed on lands originally designated for agricultural Inevitably, agricultural production and productivity are
use in the Cancun MIP (Master Integral Plan) remains adversely affected by the irregular and erratic farming
unresolved. As land values skyrocket and the stakes practices that are the hallmark of absentee farmers. In
become higher around Cancun, the consequences (ex- many instances, farming is abandoned altogether. A
propriation with minimal compensation) will become growing number of farmers now circulate between Cancun
increasingly unfavorable to ejidatarios. There are already and their milpa plots in their villages, living as migrants
a number of cases involving alleged assassination of eji- with one foot in both worlds (Torres 2003). All of these
datarios who were defending rights to their Quintana processes have converged to produce a discernible drop in
Roo land holdings (Rudino 1996).10 total subsistence production in Quintana Roo.
The effects of tourism and migration on rural immi- While the Maya of Quintana Roo, circulating be-
grants and their households have been overwhelming. tween rural and urban spheres, appear to be experiencing
Once in Cancun, migrants reconstruct their ethnic, ra- deterritorialization (Appadurai 1996), in some indige-
cial, and political identities to negotiate their positions in nous villages, there are indicators of a struggle for re-
the tourist pole and renegotiate their situation in their territorialization. This reterritorialization is evident in a
home villages. Evidence suggests that rural immigrants conscious assertion of the rootedness of place (Relph
generally undergo changes in language (replacing Maya 1976) as well as an overt rejection of Gringlolandia.
with Spanish), dress, and consumption patterns follow- Momsen (2002, 2003), in a study of the Quintana Roo
ing their arrival in the city (Arnaiz and Dachary 1992; village of San Juan, observed low levels of out-migration
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 331

despite the villages proximity to major tourist poles such In summary, we note that our analysis of the way
as Coba, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen. People articu- particular transnational forces interact to create a hybrid
lated a preference to remain in the village, which offered space marked by inequality includes the migration of
significantly better living conditions than the shanty- production-led laborers who work both to construct and
towns on the resort peripheries. The handful of villagers (re)produce Gringolandia. We employ a more encom-
who worked outside the community only did so on a passing notion of transnationalism (P. Jackson, Crang,
temporary basis as a secondary activity to milpa during and Dwyer 2004) that includes these workers, who
periods of low agricultural labor demand. are not transnational migrants themselves but who are
The village of Tixcacal de La Guardia (Torres 2000), critical participants in Gringolandias transnational space
reputed to be the home of the most conservative Maya, and social fields. We challenge the notion that trans-
the descendants of Cruzob who fought the Spanish- national analysis should be limited to those who are
descent Creoles during the regions nineteenth-century transnational migrants, that is, those migrants who cross
Caste Wars (Reed 1964), also revealed a struggle for the physical borders of nation states. To ignore these
reterritorialization and a rejection of Gringolandia. The internal migrantsa distinct group whose social prac-
community, which remains an important Maya cere- tices and daily lives are deeply embedded in Cancuns
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monial center and retains its military structure from the social fields, a group that plays such a key role in
Caste Wars, jealously guards its customs, language, tra- (re)producing Gringolandiawould be to provide an
ditions, and autonomy. Uninvited outsiders are not incomplete picture.
permitted access to the community, and the ejido has Primarily through their labor and service to the
resisted the PROCEDE program, which distributes tourism industry, rural immigrants interact with the
communal property and provides individuals with titles other principal actors of Cancuns social fields including
to once communal land, as is also true in San Juan. The tourists, Mexican and foreign corporations (as employ-
community exhibits a strong sense of place, rooted in ers), and Mexican elites and expatriate elites (as super-
what villagers describe as the tradicion de los antiguos visors). While employment has been a major benefit of
(tradition of the ancestors). While neighboring vil- tourism development, differences in education, class,
lages are losing nearly all their youths to Gringolandia, race, and nationality create significant asymmetries as to
there is virtually no out-migration from Tixcacal. The who benefits the most from a Cancun job. Those who
cohesion of Tixcacal, in part, stems from a sense that the acquire the higher-paying, permanent jobs that involve
Maya are under threat of elimination by the outside direct interaction with tourists are the educated, middle-
forces of global capitalism, manifest most evidently in and upper-class mestizos (particularly lighter skinned) or
government-driven tourism development in this region. expatriates from outside the region. Maya from the re-
Both Tixcacal and San Juan explicitly reject Gringo- gion occupy the lowest rung of the employment hierar-
landia, nurturing instead a strong sense of place rooted chy doing the less desirable temporary and seasonal jobs
in ancestral traditions, although San Juan is a relatively as construction workers, hotel maids, gardeners, kitchen
new ejido. In this manner they also avoid the deterri- workers, and other low-skilled positions.
torialization experienced by other Maya communities. Nevertheless, Gringolandia, the center of capital and
Echoing action also being taken by Australian aborigines employment concentration for the entire peninsula,
on the other side of the world, this may be a new trend as continues to serve as a magnet for Maya peasants who,
the deplorable living conditions experienced by rural through their migration, reshape economic and social
Mayans in Cancun become more widely known and fa- relations within their households and home villages.
cilities in Quintana Roos villages continue, gradually, to This creates new relations of inequity within rural
improve. In contrast to rural Chiapas, the Zona Maya of communities between those households that receive
Quintana Roo has been, for the most part, without social remittances and those that do not. The differences in
unrest in recent years. It is possible that the availability wealth are glaring, as two-story cement block homes go
of tourism-related employment has served to relieve up next to former palapas (traditional thatched huts),
economic pressures that might otherwise have caused serving as visceral trophies of the gains acquired through
conflicts. Recently, however, we discovered that, as migration, visible and omnipresent reminders that prove
tourism jobs begin to dry up, rural people are beginning irresistible to local youth. In only one generation, many
to look mas al norte, forging new migratory circuits to Maya households have been transformed from predom-
the United States. This new trend will add yet another inately rural subsistence farmers to an urban proletariat
dimension of mobility to the already complex transna- who serve the tourism industry and its associated ur-
tional social fields of the region. banization. This shift has reconstituted all aspects of life
332 Torres and Momsen

including the core essence of Maya ethnic identitynow nities, regions, and nations. While there are transna-
being replaced by new hybrid identities as people tional flows and other factors not transnational in origin
transform into Cancunense urbanitesunique, and that contribute to producing uneven development and
distinct from other Mexicans. inequity in the Yucatan, we have focused on the eco-
nomic structure and the production/consumption-led
migrations to Gringolandia because we consider these to
Conclusions and Future Research be most significant. Inherent in our analysis is a critique
Directions of the top-down PTD model of tourism development,
the national neoliberal economic development para-
With technological innovation continuing to lower digm, and, at a larger scale, the current processes of
temporal and spatial barriers, there remain few places on global capitalism. Understanding Cancun as a transna-
earth that have been untouched by tourism. Global- tional space provides insights into the power of global
ization has facilitated the growth of international tour- capitalism to expand geographically, to transform and
ism, which is expected to reach over one billion annual commodify spaces, and to tighten its grip on all aspects of
international arrivals by the year 2010, generating a total life. In doing so, globalization and capitalist development
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of $US 1,550 billion in earnings (World Tourism Or- in the Yucatan have exacerbated existing inequalities
ganization 2002). Given the inherently transnational and created new uneven geometries of power at multiple
nature of tourism, there are numerous areas in which scales. These inequities involve not only power and
transnational perspectives can enhance our under- economics but are also evident in the subordination of
standing of the dynamics of the global tourism industry local cultures, social structures, and environments. By
and of outcomes resulting from interaction between examining the role of transnational forces in reshaping
global tourism and local realities. This potential is par- local realities in Cancun, it may be possible to avoid the
ticularly great if scholars caste a wider net, utilizing the WTO critics dire warnings of creating a world full
more encompassing notion of transnational migration of Cancuns, characterized by asymmetrical geometries of
put forth by several geographers (Mitchell 2002; P. power, inequitable social relations, and uneven devel-
Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer 2004; McEwan 2004). With opment.
analyses that extend beyond transnational migrants to
include those individuals and households who are deeply
touched by and who play a critical role in producing and Acknowledgments
reproducing transnational spaces, we can improve our We gratefully acknowledge the financial support over
understanding of the intersection between the global the years for our collective Mexican research from the
and local and how everyday social practices are recon- following sources: an East Carolina University (ECU)
stituted in specific places through transnationalism. For Research/Creative Activity Grant and Thomas Harriot
example, a transnational perspective situates rural mi- College of Arts & Sciences Research Award, a UC-
grants within the transnational social field, creating a MEXUS Research Award, a National Science Founda-
greater awareness of how a group that is peripheral, tion Award (#9627457), a US-Mexico Fulbright Award,
seemingly far removed and isolated, is highly dependent and the University of California (Davis) Humanities and
upon and yet also helps to sustain the global economy. Jastro Shields Awards. We wish to thank Dr. Karen
The tendrils of transnational forces, particularly global Mulcahy for producing the Figure 1 Map of Quintana
tourism, are far-reaching and persistent, irresistibly Roo for this article. Finally, we are grateful to the anony-
stretching out to engulf even the most isolated corners of mous referees and Annals of the Association of American
the world. The expansive and unintended ramifications Geographers People, Place, and Region editor Audrey
of globalizationthe ability to restructure quickly Kobayashi for their insightful comments on earlier ver-
seemingly remote, unattached areasprovides a cau- sions of this manuscript. Nevertheless, any errors,
tionary tale for all tourism development initiatives. omissions or inaccuracies remain our own responsibility.
Over the course of thirty years, the isolated tropical
forest enclave of Quintana Roo, the empty space, has
been transformed into the tourist Mecca that is Grin- Notes
golandia today. The case of Gringolandia illustrates the
1. Ejidos are communal lands cultivated by farmers with
complex web of actors and social relations occurring at usufruct rights.
multiple scales that construct transnational spaces that 2. Colonia Puerto Juarez was the informal shantytown settle-
(re)produce inequalities between local people, commu- ment that evolved north of Cancun, on the Isla Mujeres
Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico 333

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Correspondence: Department of Geography, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, e-mail: (Torres); Depart-
ment of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, e-mail: (Momsen).

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