(No) Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán: An Investigation of the Talk in Pisté, México, Revolving Around the Influenza Phenomenon of 2009

Justin Quinn
OSEA and New College of Florida 07/04/2009 This project studied the talk of the residents of Pisté, Yucatán, México that revolved around the H1N1 “swine flu” phenomenon during the summer of 2009, specifically focusing on the talk of the relationship residents considered the phenomenon to have with a contemporaneous economic slump. I examined the various ways residents of this community talked about these phenomena during a five week period spanning the months of May and June, 2009. I focused on Pisté because of its dependence on international tourism. Due to its proximity to Chichén Itzá, a United Nations World Heritage site, the community serves as a “base camp” for many of the tourists who visit this location by providing them with hotels, restaurants, and essential goods and services. Additionally, it also serves as a place of residence for the many members of the community who derive their income from the tourist industry that physically takes place at Chichén Itzá. In turn, a large part of the local economy is dependent on the continued influx of revenue generated by international tourism. Because of this, Pisté is likely to experience considerable problems if tourism, and by extension, tourism revenue, declines. This paper outlines a historical account of Pisté and the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá1, with a brief overview of previous scholarly research in the area to contextualize my investigation; I will then follow this with a detailed description of my research project and problems, the fieldwork dynamics and processes of research, and finally, I will describe the results of the fieldwork and project, including my suggestions for future research. The paper is organized as an analysis, using the phenomena mentioned above, as well as employing the previous work of other anthropologists, to produce the interpretive material I have employed to make sense of the social, cultural and economic spheres that exist in Pisté as they relate to the period of my investigation. The community of Pisté has been closely associated to Chichén Itzá for over half a millennia, and has, by virtue of this association, served as point of contact for increasingly complex mixtures of cultures – first, for the pre-Columbian people collectively referred to as the Maya and the colonizing Spanish, then expanding to include Euro-American antiquarians and archaeologists, down to the present-day mélange of tourists one comes to expect at a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town went from a population of nearly fifteen hundred persons in 1811 to about three hundred in the aftermath of the anti-colonial rebellions known as the Caste Wars, which lasted from 1847 until 1902. Pisté was entirely abandoned in 1883, probably due to raiding by the Cruzob Maya, a group of rebels who periodically raided this area throughout the Caste



Justin Quinn

Thompson had purchased Chichén Itzá during the first decade of the twentieth century to facilitate his research. and the economic opportunities provided by archaeologists – particularly Edward H. Castañeda 2000. It was at this time that Edward H. Pisté slowly regained population in the two decades following this period. 2006. was a business venture. and a lack of archaeological research until the Carnegie Institute of Washington’s project began under the leadership of Silvanus Morley in 1924. like any other. and Chichén into a factory of knowledge” (2000:48). 2006.S. (an antecedent to INHA) to excavate – and more importantly – consolidate the site. The Carnegie period marked another important development. signaling the beginning of an era that would see the town’s economic future become increasingly bound to the business of archaeology. and the Mexican government. the local population dropped. Castañeda 2000. and less than a year afterward that the Mexican Monumentos Prehispanicos became the National Institute of Anthropology and History. The bulk of the workforce that served as the labor pool. Thompson sold the hacienda he had been renting to the Carnegie Institute to a wealthy non-Maya Yucatecan family. though possibly aided by a plague of locusts which were said to have descended upon the area at this time (Castañeda 2003:624). and the publication of a book by Luis Arochi that popularized a symbolic interpretation of a shadow cast on the Castillo at Chichén Itzá on the spring and fall equinoxes.Wars. 2009). 2003. 2003. Many residents of Pisté would join others from across the Yucatán in Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 2 . characterized by intermittent violence between the Liberal and Socialist political parties in the area. but remained a relatively low-volume destination until the Cuban Revolution effectively removed the island as a potential vacation spot for U. tourism (Castañeda 2003. the Carnegie Institute rented Thompson’s hacienda to conduct Morley’s research. being put to work to further the designs of both the Carnegie Institute of Washington. in the words of Quetzil Castañeda. Monumentos Prehispanicos. 2009). picking up considerable momentum after both the creation and development of Cancún as a tourist destination. (INHA). who wished to employ Chichén Itzá as a means of creating a primordialist national patrimony (Breglia 2005. by the end of the Carnegie Institute’s project in 1938. and later. which was now administered by INHA via the custodios (custodians). It was at about this time the first wave of archaeologists also descended upon the area. and elsewhere in the peninsula and México. 2009). working alongside the Mexican government’s archaeological management organization. but began to expand much more rapidly as the military defeat of the Cruzob Maya made the region safer for settlement. as before. 2009). Chichén Itzá slowly grew in popularity as a tourist attraction over the next two decades. with the Barbachano family operating hotels for the tourists who began to visit the site. taking almost two decades to recover to pre-revolutionary levels (Castañeda 2003. When the proverbial smoke had cleared. A period of political instability which followed the Mexican revolution lasted from 1910 to 1923. the population of Pisté had recovered and even surpassed its pre-revolutionary level. “Yucatán into a laboratory. “transforming”. Again. Thompson – made the town particularly attractive for settlement by Maya from throughout the Yucatán Peninsula as well as Mexicans from beyond the peninsula. primarily came from Pisté. These two events set the stage for Chichén Itzá to become a tourist destination. but also attracted workers from other local communities. archaeologist Edward H. who wanted to use Chichén Itzá as a means of generating public interest in (and thus revenue for) archaeology. many of whom were former employees of the excavations of the Carnegie period (Breglia 2005. the Barbachanos. This “factory”. but had abandoned it in the period of unrest following the revolution. tourists.

which began in this period and continue to the present. With this economic success came an increase in conflict due to contested visions of the direction and legal status of the site’s development and use rights discussed in detail in the work of Quetzil Castañeda and Lisa Breglia2. The project was an ethnographic study that drew heavily from the work of Quetzil Castañeda for historical. which. I also Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 3 . the government’s embracement. spurred by the continued growth of Cancún. as no local bus service or car rental agencies are available.migrating to Cancún for work in building the resort community in this period (Castañeda 2003. 2009). in turn.308 persons at the start of the decade.196 by the close of the decade. This information is crucial in understanding why the residents of Pisté discussed the “swine flu” phenomenon. I also incorporated questions designed to obtain information about the strategies used by the residents of Pisté to make ends meet when drops in tourism occur. I worked primarily with local taxi drivers because of their unique positioning at a focal point in the tourist economy. these conflicts. In addition to exploring the talk about these two phenomena. At about the same time. Taxis are the primary means for tourists to travel between Chichén Itzá and the town of Pisté. helped create a more complete understanding of the social and economic issues involved in an economy almost entirely based on tourism. the invention and sale of carved wooden handicrafts by an INHA custodio grew into a profitable business that was successfully imitated by others. and also made use of thick description as advocated by Clifford Geertz (1977) for obtaining and interpreting data. With the exception of recent (and incongruous) claims laid more for publicitygenerating purposes than for factual accuracy (Castañeda 2009). particularly by men who had returned to Pisté after the first phase of construction in Cancún was over. I used focused. and participant observation to record spatial and experiential data related to employment and subsistence in Pisté. and the lobbying for and eventual achievement of Chichén Itzá being designated an official UNESCO World Heritage site. informal interviews with key collaborators to this end. 2003. many of these individuals also found work in the nascent hotel. and retail sectors that were emerging in Pisté in response to the increased volume of tourists (Castañeda 2003. and promotion of the equinox phenomena to tourists. and because of the widespread underemployment of this group. These “invasions” are motivated and justified by conceptualizations of usufruct rights derived (in the eyes of these vendors and artisans) their association to INHA custodio families and/or membership in the communal agricultural concern. The 1980s saw the advent of Chichén Itzá as a mass tourism destination. 2009). The population of Pisté had almost doubled from its 1970 level of 1. the economic recession. I created data about how the phenomena were talked about in Pisté. Castañeda 2000. 2009). as well as what was said about the concurrent economic recession and the relationship between the two. 2006. and economic contextualization. facilitation. these claims of usufruct rights based on participatory and land-tenure bases represent what has given the residents of Pisté an effective means of repeatedly leveraging a situation to their economic advantage in ways claims based on an indigenous cultural heritage could prove to be less effective. In brief. or ejidetario. are a complex series of political and legal maneuvers by the Barbachanos and (Mexican) INHA elite punctuated by periodic “invasions” of the archaeological zone by the vendors that are facilitated by sympathetic INHA custodios. By eliciting and studying the talk about swine flu. political. service. and would more than triple to 4. and the relationship between these two phenomena3 in the manner they did (Breglia 2005.

had much in common as well. as they are absolutely central to the local tourist economy. Through the course of my investigation. but also at the nearby Chichén Itzá archaeological zone during the period I described earlier.included other people whose employment is dependant on tourism revenue. The research periods were used for gathering information about these phenomena. vendors. ranging from an increased focus on the talk about the economic aspects of these phenomena. shifting from one group of collaborators to another as planned. equally valuable information came from individuals whose income was affected less than the shape of their daily routine by these phenomena. Participant observation was used daily to gather information about employment (or the lack of it) and the use of space in downtown Pisté and at Chichén Itzá. More than once. according to the individual responses of the collaborators. such as taxi drivers or educators. cutting expenses wherever possible. artisans. has gone from bad to worse in the same period. Furthermore. and in turn support numerous other businesses through the purchases they make with the revenue gained through the sale of their products to tourists. and employees of hotels and restaurants. Other questions were employed in interviews to elicit opinions about other causes of under. Informal interviews were conducted to elicit talk from collaborators revolving around the swine flu phenomenon. and also where and how people participated in the local economy. with the usual necessary shuffling of plans to accommodate unforeseeable events. such as artisans. and again between 4pm and 8pm. which is also dependent on tourism. Each day’s research was organized to focus on a specific profession. a large part of my data came from vendors. Sarasota’s economy. and participant observation occurred at their places of employment throughout Pisté and the surrounding area. my collaborators and I realized that our experiences of these phenomena.or unemployment. I additionally included those employed in local government. and the ways in which the people of Pisté have dealt with these issues. the financial difficulties experienced by my collaborators resulted in changes to the project. public health and education. although the taxi drivers were indeed a central part of this investigation. though very different in many ways. and having little in the way of savings to fall back on. This was facilitated by creating and employing a list of questions designed to obtain this data. My friends and family in Florida were having many of the same difficulties as the people I was talking to here. and vectors of transmission of swine flu. Specific questions were used or excluded as needed. I specifically focused on how these people talked about the swine flu phenomenon in terms of its relationship with the economy. to the not infrequent need to reschedule appointments to accommodate the employment needs of Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 4 . place of origin. and vendor-artisans. or sought a means of doing so. Interestingly. The afternoon and evening periods between noon and 4pm and again between 8pm and 9am were used for data entry and coding. as well as the talk about the existence. as I assumed these sectors of the community would also be significantly affected by these phenomena. such as canceled appointments. I also explored the talk concerned with appropriate governmental responses to the swine flu phenomenon. I conducted my field research primarily within the community of Pisté. and the talk about the connection between the two. and particularly the relationship it was said to have with instances of current under. These methods were used between 8am and noon. such as educators and health care professionals.or unemployment in Pisté. the contemporaneous economic downturn. People are looking for work wherever they can find it. The project followed this schedule of methods daily.

collaborators were quite willing to speak to me at length about my research questions. This was probably at least partially due to my choice of words in seeking interviews. considering how many people in both communities do not have the luxury to worry about what they are going to do after they run out of money. as accurate as it may be. In many ways. Upon altering my choice of words per the suggestion of my colleagues to a potentially less daunting term (plactica). as they (the taxi drivers) would be the perfect candidates to talk to about these issues. More than once I wondered how I was going to find a job to pay for my own food and rent when I returned home. and when interviews were granted. It became clear to me fairly early on that many of my collaborators had a fairly detailed knowledge of the activities of social scientists in the area as well. I also thought a lot about how lucky I was to be here in the first place. it was not uncommon for me to find myself relating that it was only what they thought about these subjects that I was interested. led to active recruiting of other collaborators through an unintended snowball sampling. The steady flow of patients. Interestingly. worried that my lack of experience in these areas would make me somehow suspect in the eyes of my collaborators. because it’s something that happened some time ago. both past and present. It took numerous visits and a number of personal requests combined to land interviews successfully with all collaborators with this group. public health. incidentally. as they were in the perfect position between all the other tourist-oriented businesses in town. in truth. On at least one occasion. Health care professionals proved to be the only individuals I had any degree of difficulty interviewing. I approached the project with a good deal of trepidation. or economics. During the summer. and not whether they had any degree of expertise in these areas. but shied away from even informal interviews. the temperature in Pisté can frequently reach forty degrees Celsius. As much at it might have seemed like an obstacle at first. (entrevista) which implied a formality and grasp of the subject that contradicted my assertions that such qualities were unnecessary. interrupted by other medical staff or patients. this absence led one doctor to initially suggest I travel to Valladolid until I was able to explain what it was I was in fact researching. or both. I found it noticeably less difficult to find people to speak with me about these issues. I must admit I did not include the entire reason this anthropologist recommended the taxi drivers. On more than one occasion. Another obstacle I had in obtaining and conducting interviews was the climate. and in at least two cases. which in some cases proved to be very helpful. because it kept us focused on what we felt we were qualified to talk about – what was said about these phenomena in Pisté. I even (truthfully) related that another anthropologist had suggested that I speak to a particular group about my the research questions. I shared similar concerns with my collaborators regarding having the qualifications to speak definitively about these issues. as they might not be excited to hear me mention that I was also told that the lack of business they are dealing with makes them especially available to be interviewed. In a notable reversal of trends. and almost Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 5 . it was not uncommon for my collaborators to suggest other people they thought it would be good for me to talk to. as I have no background in medicine. I also needed to emphasize that I was a social scientist and not a reporter before the doctor would speak to me. it turned out to be an asset. they were almost always either short. with a sun intense enough to give you a serious sun burn well inside an hour.my collaborators. I was surprised to find them reticent to speak on these issues for the same reasons. On at least one occasion. had absolutely nothing whatever to do the H1N1 influenza virus – there has yet to be a single confirmed case in Pisté at the time of this writing.

I also expected to discover considerable displeasure over the handling of the swine flu pandemic by the Mexican government. Taxi drivers tended to have more fares at the times I chose to speak with them.no air conditioning available anywhere. The waiters I worked with were frequently the only person working in a restaurant besides the cook. if possible. at the hottest times of the day. Because I was investigating the relationship between the “swine flu” phenomenon. would likely have been less-than-desirable in terms of depth and length due to the weather. and made it effectively impossible to speak to women alone in any capacity without being viewed askance. and were eagerly looking to the future for an economic recovery. My goal was to create data that would assist me in understanding the local significance of these phenomena in the context of what residents in Pisté said about these subjects. and the limited time frame I had to work in. and put me in the unusual position of wanting my research to be interrupted. I was acutely conscious of approaching tourists. I found this to be problematic. I had expected at least a small degree of receptiveness to the idea of expanding the economy to include Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 6 . given that so many individuals I spoke to about the subject readily offered that this was by far the worst situation they had ever seen economically. Yet another problem I had with conducting my research was directly related to my research questions. whose 15 day quarantine brought the country’s tourism economy to a stand-still. it was unfortunately a fact I had to accept. in addition to the talk about its relationship to a simultaneous economic downturn. so even a single customer was capable of putting my research on hold for a half hour or longer. I was surprised to discover that many people were actually sympathetic to the government’s handling of the pandemic. Local culture made it particularly difficult for me to talk with members of the opposite sex without at least the suspicion that my research might be cover for the exercise of prurient interests. I inevitably found myself at their places of work. as I was not the only person in Pisté who avoided doing things at the peak of the day’s heat. but less fares to interrupt. Finally. at least in this manner4When I was speaking to a vendor. the project was an investigation which specifically elicited and documented the talk revolving around the 2009 swine flu phenomenon in and near the community of Pisté. one of the biggest hurdles I had to contend with in my project was one of access. requiring the presence of family or friends in every instance but one. As I have previously stated. I fully expected that people who relied a great deal on tourist revenue would be displeased with anything that might affect tourism negatively. but given the dynamic involved. and its relationship to the economic downturn via the talk of the people of Pisté. and found myself making many of the same calculations I assumed they made – (“Is this person going to stop and look here?”) along with some I imagine they might not have been – (“Will me standing here looking like a tourist attract or repel them? Should I just leave before they lose a sale they might really need?”) all the while trying to keep myself as engaged as possible with conducting my research without being a hindrance to my collaborators when they really needed it least. Although I did encounter talk which supported these assumptions. as I mentioned above. and educators at the time I was interviewing them) it was actually still quite common for our talks and interviews to be interrupted or rescheduled due to work. making conversation particularly difficult. which caused me to further adjust my research schedule to focus on the later evening when there were still a good number of them left working. and for all the lack of employment (excluding doctors. if not impossible. I intentionally adjusted my schedule of research to avoid wasting time and energy attempting to conduct interviews that. I found this puzzling.

When that happened. noted the Fox administration’s handing of the Avian flu as evidence of the Calderon administration’s mishandling of the pandemic.Yes.No! They are the problem. a local educator offered a similar opinion in the following exchange: “JQ. The Calderon government blames everything on the swine flu. His government is irresponsible.They aren’t helping? Arnaldo. The truth is they closed the borders.Oh yes. There is much less business. and the economy. but found none whatever outside of educators and health care professionals.Yes. the avian flu. specifically citing the Calderon administration’s handling of the crisis as being particularly responsible for making the situation worse than it could have been. It is logical. and at least one artisan I worked with. like it blames everything on the narcotraffickers.Just those who need it. yes?” Others were less than supportive of the government. and also the state government have been helping with medicine for the flu.Is it the swine flu. JQ. the narcotraffickers.Yes I do.” Influenza-Piste 7 Justin Quinn . they have. or the economic crisis. as is related in the following exchange: “JQ. and they lay the blame on swine flu. as I have mentioned above. Another artisan noted that the state government provided excellent health care services during the initial outbreak of the epidemic. Do you remember the government of Vicente Fox? JQ. human flu. and how people talk about it. Arnaldo. who. and followed up after by providing food aid and economic subsidies to attempt to spur the local economy towards a recovery.Exactly. and does not think of the people.They have been helping everyone? Juan. I am an anthropologist studying the swine flu.Has the government been helping in this situation? Juan. and scared everyone.Is business good? Arnaldo. have been affected the least financially by both the influenza phenomenon and the recession. though they did not expect them to change things very much.Yes. The federal government. The story keeps changing. Juan. Some artisans hoped that the European and Mexican vacations that were coming up in July and August would help increase business. JQ.Ah. JQ. Vicente Fox did not close the borders. an artisan noted the government itself was actively pursuing a strategy to assist in such a recovery through its “Vive México” promotional campaign. They have also been helping people with food. Arnaldo. Arnaldo.Do you remember when there was the flu that was carried by birds? JQ. It has. do you think? Arnaldo. JQ. and it did not affect the economy. helping with health issues.jobs which did not require tourism to function.It was the swine flu. but take no responsibility for the economy. On at least on occasion. Your business has not been affected? Arnaldo.

the timing of the disasters is generally agreed to be particularly problematic. My collaborators were nearly all in agreement that the “swine flu” and the H1N1 pandemic were distinct phenomena. he replied. but it is possible. maybe two. Based on the testimony of my collaborators as a whole. a local educator: “This has never happened before. or if it merely added to the drop in tourism that was said to have accompanied worldwide economic troubles following the collapse of the U. no business. and there have been hurricanes.There was a problem before the flu. For example. In the opinion of one local doctor. It is a bad situation. and many people move to Pisté. My research indicates that the global nature of these phenomena makes them different from other disasters experienced by the people of Pisté. Influenza-Piste 8 Justin Quinn . Padilla. while amenities that fostered positive tourist experiences received the lion’s share of attention from government. particularly when tourism (usually) provides such good money. no? JQ. The educator further emphasized that basic infrastructure in the town such as the water delivery apparatus were frequently irregularly functional and operating at far less than the capacity they should be. There was a global economic crisis before.It caught my attention that one did not need to be beholden to tourism revenue to be critical of the government’s relationship to these crises. Dr. there was debate as to whether the cause of the current economic situation was swine flu. At least one educator I interviewed laid at least some of the blame on the lack of emphasis education receives in this area. it was merely a bad economy getting worse: Dr. but nothing like these events had ever happened before. Never like this. However. housing market in the previous year. and the flu just made it worse. Predictably.There was. Twenty three years I have worked here in Pisté. as evidenced by the following statement from Hugo.I think this is what affected the economy. and they have wives and children. I’d have to agree. believe that there would be much chance of things changing locally. no jobs. Hurricanes and regional recessions had indeed affected the local economy before. Padilla. Now they have nothing – no money. Padilla-I’m not able to answer that. He did not. no food – nothing. not like this. however. a government employee of the town of Pisté what he thought caused the flu pandemic. with the swine flu pandemic crushing any hopes of even a partial recovery from the recession in Pisté for the foreseeable future. or what caused it.S. the data was lacking in consensus about where swine flu comes from. I have seen it be rediscovered. even after the recession and the influenza phenomenon.So there is a connection between the economic crisis and the flu? Dr. but the tourists only stay at home for a few months. JQ.” Furthermore. though there was some disagreement as to whether the H1N1 virus responsible for human illness was a mutation or an entirely different and unrelated strain. when I asked Octavo.

they listen to television. and in the paper how it brought the news to the people. and they say it is from the avian flu. JQ. which is something only an animal can get. When they can’t buy things. It affected the economy. for example. You can’t have a vaccine for a mutation because it is new. it affects others. Calling it a serious illness caused the people caused the people to have the mentality that this is a serious illness.“The swine flu is something only pigs can catch.” His answer framed the pandemic in a very positivistic manner. it should be possible to create a vaccine. They closed the schools.Most people know there is no one cause. The name swine flu is also important because the people here eat and raise a lot of pork. in México. Now there is no work. and affected the economy. This situation has caused many jobs to be lost. It is called H1N1 because it has changed. not washing the hands or cleaning where you are living or eating. making them nervous. and unfortunately. responded: “Felix. various members of the family are not able to feed the many mouths they have when there is no money for food. and restaurants. It is always a process with vaccines. there are whole shows on the Discovery Channel about H1N1. if it is true. it became the pandemic that it is today.You mean h1n1? Felix. scientifically they are investigating it. that is the nature of viruses. The virus mutated. People. This is what you hear on television. hotels. It is incredible how the money has affected them. they don’t consume. when they don’t have the money. and it is something we weren’t properly prepared for. JQ.But do you know how it started? Felix. It affected people psychologically. no one can know for sure. it has affected the whole world now. because it depends on tourism.” Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 9 . Most people depend on tourism – for example. and it is a circle that in turn affects others. how fast. how it got them listening and thinking. It is not swine flu. The effect on the economy has lowered job security. the artisans in Chichén Itzá can’t buy food in this emergency.It is something new. as an economic problem with a technical solution. and unfortunately. and it began with the quarantines. There was already a risk there for that. for example.It started in central México. México was not prepared because this was a new virus. people aren’t used to listening and seeing much news on television and the internet. The people are most affected in their families. and now they can’t sell it because of this illness. and the economy. lowered the number of jobs. Contrast this with my response from Felix. it has the name it has now because it is a virus that humans can catch.Exactly! Basically. Also. and became something it was possible for humans to catch. artisans. when I asked him what caused the “swine flu”. Now. but it spread because of the lack of a vaccine. The secretary of health tried to minimize the risk to people after the first case in a person came out positive. because this epidemic. you see and hear on television and the radio. the internet. they have changed the name to a human flu – JQ.Why is this flu different? Felix. a local restaurant worker5 who. and other plans of prevention. Now that it has been detected in humans.

and I watch a lot of news on television. For a time there was a big loss because of that confusion. a health care professional who works at a local clinic in Pisté. More importantly. The government worked to control that problem. It is a world sickness.No one knows exactly where. but now it spreads from humans to other humans. Some people were quite ambivalent about what the flu was beyond that it was a virus that humans could indeed catch. a vaccination to destroy this sickness. but is very clear in her opinion that the problem is one of representation: “JQ. This illness is global. there is no Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 10 .Where does swine flu come from? Lupe. it affected agriculture. it is far from a foregone conclusion what the “truth” of the matter actually is. it is a human flu. whether it was used. There is no cure for this disease. there is no money. for example. Everything was out of control. If there is no tourism. was equally ambivalent about the origins of “swine flu”. but they already knew it was human flu.” Lupe. because the people would not eat pork. the flu is still there even if you cannot see it. This mistake had had a lot of influence. it differs in that Felix does not claim to know the material cause of the phenomena that has brought about the collapse of the tourist economy in Pisté. when I ask Wilbur what has changed because of the flu. In many states. only that he believes the portrayal of the of this phenomena is to blame for the economic troubles he is dealing with. he replies “Everything. I say that because I am interested in this subject. In the US.” Wilbur. It is always in the air. or if it is some sort of mutation or a different virus altogether which humans are capable of being infected by. They were not able to control this sickness. It is not “swine flu”. Nevertheless.For Felix. Some people say it comes from pigs. magazines have made the pandemic look very bad. The government worked very hard to resolve the crisis. because you could not buy anything. Rather. or if such a truth even exists. and though he acknowledges there are indeed “experts” trying to get to the bottom of what happened. It affected tourism very much. now. he is focused on the tangible aspects of the phenomena he relates to be of importance – a relationship he considers to exist between the representation of the phenomena in the media and the precipitous drop in tourism revenue he was experiencing during my investigation. a retired woman I spoke with told me: “For a time they were confused but then they proved it was a human flu. and because people were afraid. instead focusing on describing the economic significance of the virus to me. I am watching to see how this dilemma fucked everyone. it affected many places in México. that humans are being infected with no opinions being offered as to whether this has always been the case. there were no flights for tourists. I would hear this term frequently during my research. There is no work. Because they closed everything fell apart. mostly of eating pork. Edwina. the problem lies in the representation of the phenomena. Although it can easily be argued that this is also a cause-and-effect relationship. is unusual in that he is the only person I spoke to who explicitly does not believe there is a difference between “swine flu” and what he refers to as “the human flu”. Nevertheless. They closed many borders. as in this case. a taxi driver I spoke with. and there was no work. We need more time to see if they can find a cure. I think.

and supplementing it from foodstuffs grown or produced by friends and neighbors in backyard gardens or fruit trees. and stomachs full included selling valuables such as jewelry and electronics to casas de empaño. Daltabuit and Pi-Sunyer (1990). As I have mentioned. offer: “Under these circumstances. I was told that people occasionally sell their property. and most did not believe they would be the last. virtually every person I asked claimed they did indeed. discussing the Mexican government’s lack of a participatory approach in pursuing development programs organized and executed with a national scope of planning taking precedence over local needs. and less commonly. high-interest loans for profit. and those that do exist are far from desirable. or from hens. there are very few opportunities available for them. seeking loans from ageotistas. typically by consuming cheaper food. I frequently was told how people scaled down their expenditures. with disconnected utilities telling a different story than the proprietor in my interviews. When I enquired as to what people were doing to cope with these problems. the available options for keeping the bills paid. What was significant was that they recognized this reality. but rather because they were keenly aware that. the recession. Options were limited to working as a camposino farmer. and other livestock that were often kept in people’s yards. living on as modest means as they were able. that the residents of Pisté cling so tenaciously to their way of life not out of any sort of myopic short-sightedness. but no one had a recent example of this occurring who I spoke to.” This statement was representative of a particular theme which surfaced in nearly every conversation. Individuals who had resisted the easy money of tourism and gotten an education in a specialized field were by far the exception to the rule. after further inquiry. at least in the present. as I learned in the course of my investigations. which are essentially pawn shops. it is hardly surprising that the recent history of tourism and archaeology at Cobá is punctuated by a series of protests and Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 11 . or finding work clearing wood and brush in the jungle. which has become a mass tourism destination for visitors to Cancún. and still made no significant plans to remedy this situation. regardless of what was said about “swine flu”. Cobá. until. As was readily admitted by many of my collaborators. It is important to remember. I enquired as to whether anyone had savings to fall back on in times like this. if they existed in the first place. and unavailable to people who could not withstand the difficulties associated with intensive physical labor. I realized there were few other options available to people if they wanted to work in a job that was not in some way dependant on tourism. while offering that almost no one else in town would be likely to as it was not the local culture to save money. This is made all the more clear when contrasted with the tourist economy as it is experienced by the residents of another nearby community. My collaborators also explained to me that when savings. my collaborators would venture to larger cities in search of employment. and clearly any such path was not going to be something someone could realistically pursue given the current economic problems they were experiencing.work. Occasionally. with the work being much harder. this puzzled me. The unreliability of these assertions often proved obvious. cows. ran out. a local term for what is essentially someone who makes short-term. these phenomena were not the first problems to affect the tourist economy in Pisté. both of which paid much less than almost any job related to tourism. though I am unaware of their finding any opportunities on these trips. and any relationship these things might have with the local economy: tourism as a source of income is unreliable. In more serious emergencies.

national and international issues and agendas that have shaped and are shaped by life in this community. it would likely result in the irreversible loss of their stakeholder status to transnational corporations that are significantly better positioned to weather economic catastrophes of this nature. The results provide me with material for analysis that has both successfully addressed the research questions I sought to answer. others recognize that tourism has meant more local jobs (about 19 percent of the economically active population has found tourism related employment. my research has found that tourism has continuously served to increase their standard of living. villages are far from being totally opposed to tourism. as the past few months have shown. Interestingly enough. the results also suggest that the economy as it currently exists in Pisté is capable of dramatic reversals of fortune. among them a government-built health center and a truck donated by the hotel. Moreover. Although it is outside the purview of this study.recurrent confrontations between the authorities and members of the community. not withstanding occasional setbacks due to hurricanes and regional economic slumps. my research has shown that any future work must take into account the complex interface of local. From the village perspective. It is also clear to the people of Pisté that pandemics. Some are pleased that foreigners come to visit the area. Excluding these catastrophes. My investigation has supported a often-expressed local conviction that the people of Pisté have had a remarkably positive economic relationship with tourism in the past two decades. and including also some small-scale entrepreneurial activity. recessions. the community as a whole has received some tangible benefits. relegating them to a fate not unlike that of the people of Cobá. a stronger command of the languages spoken by my collaborators. Their retreat from the tourist economy into some other sector at present is not only unfeasible. or the goals of their federal government in engaging and developing it. and facilitated a more comprehensive understanding of the social and economic significance these issues have had in the lives of the people of Pisté. and a greater Influenza-Piste Justin Quinn 12 . providing a reliable wage with few obstacles beyond the social and economic capital needed to enter the market.” In this context. True. the initial results suggest that a further investigation of the sustainability of an economy based on tourism in this area is in order. virtually all of it at the minimum-wage scale of US $3. taking particular care to be sensitive to the issues I have discussed in this ethnography. It is not difficult to see why such a prospective future would be unattractive to the people of Piste. and media portrayal are phenomena as equally out of their control as any realistic hope of altering the dynamics of mass tourism.50 per day). the problem is much less tourism per se than a situation that denies local people any role in the tourist trade other than that of unskilled labor. I encountered many difficulties that could have been avoided if I had the prior experience of working in the area. The increased global connectivity which makes a phenomenon like international tourism possible in the first place is proving problematic in a variety of ways which have been and are continuing to be addressed by many social scientists. some are pleased that foreigners come to visit the area. However. But talking all these elements together. the consensus is that tourism has brought relatively few advantages. In the course of my research. it is clear my collaborators are quite aware that the alternatives available to them are not worth surrendering their hard-won rights to derive an income from mass tourism.

a solid work of ethnography. causing me to have significantly less data than could have been achieved with equipment that was appropriate for such an investigation. Important field equipment was of sub-par quality. I cannot speak with any authority on what the people of Pisté should do in light of the phenomena that initiated this project. I earnestly believe that the exceptional generosity of the people of this community in sharing their lives with me at this most difficult time made the difference in the quality of the finished product that is this paper.depth of financial resources to draw upon. Here. and many of the photos I took during the day were out of focus. my intense interest in the local culture. and I am eternally indebted to them for these favors. coupled with the good luck of making some truly amazing friends gave my project and myself many opportunities to learn about the people of Piste and their history in ways that would have been different had I approached the investigation in an overly clinical manner. the history of many interconnected (and sometimes oppositional) ideas. tangled among the roots of the modern Mexican state. in my opinion. The exceptional history of this town is inextricably bound to the history of Chichén Itzá. but I sincerely hope my work has in some way provided a platform for further research that may offer fresh alternatives for those who would see a future for the residents of communities near tourist attractions that does not depend so much on the complexities and caprices of increasingly problematic transnational networks. Although I managed to produce. I could not take photographs at night. Many problems could have been avoided if I had not wasted a considerable amount of time learning the way things worked in this community (and in my research) the hard way. and through it. Conversely. I regret the fact I lost so much time remedying these problems. and required considerable effort to hear what was produced indoors. This. and identity. These problems – all of which were avoidable – in many ways took away from my experience at Pisté. greater attention to some of the guidance that was offered to me would have been a tremendous help in this regard as well. My audio equipment was essentially useless out of doors. Influenza-Piste 13 Justin Quinn . and the discursive construction of patrimony. a fact related to me by the other anthropologists in the OSEA program and my collaborators alike on more than one occasion. heritage. and likely would have been impossible without the extensive and dedicated help of my friend and collaborator Rodrigo Cat Buenfil. or necessitate acceptance of a second-class status in one’s own hometown. necessitated extensive efforts on my part to confirm and reconfirm the meaning of what was said to me by my collaborators. requiring many more hours of diligent work than was necessary. combined with my lack of fluency in Spanish. and hope I can draw on these experiences to circumvent such difficulties in the future. as well as the fact that many of my collaborators also spoke English. the discipline of archaeology. or with regard to the future of mass tourism in general. one finds some of the earliest roots of what eventually would become the phenomenon known as mass tourism.

a restaurant having more than one or two patrons at any time besides dinner was worthy of inclusion in my notes up until the last week of my study due to the rarity of such a situation. see Quetzil Castañeda’s “New and Old Social Movements: Measuring Pisté. 5 Though it is normal to call someone who brings you your food in a restaurant a waiter.1 For a more detailed history. Illustrations . from the ‘‘Mouth of the Well’’ to the 107th Municipio of Yucatán” (2003) and “Heritage and Indigeneity: Transformations in the Politics of Tourism"(2009). it was not uncommon for my collaborators in the restaurant business to work at all positions simultaneously throughout the course of a patron’s meal when I observed them on the job. I have used a more general term in describing this position. 2 Especially Lisa Breglia’s “Keeping World Heritage in the Family” (2005) and Quetzil Castañeda’s “New and Old Social Movements” (2003) 3 Particularly in reference to the structure of the economy as a whole 4 Incidentally. thus.

Informational influenza poster photographed outside of the town hall of Pisté .

Antiflu beverage option photographed in a restaurant at Chichén Itzá .

A very un-crowded view of the Observatory at Chichén Itzá References .

pp. 1977 Thick Description: Toward and Interpretative Theory of Culture.Breglia. No. Mexico. 50(4):611-642. Heritage and Cultural Tourism in Latin America. editors. International Journal of Heritage Studies Vol. Vol. Castañeda. Oriol 1990 Tourism Development in Quintana Roo. In press. University of Texas Press. New York. 14. 29-56 Castañeda. 11. Pp. Breglia. 1. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz. Visual Anthropology Review. In Heritage and Indigeneity: Transformations in the Politics of Tourism. 3-32. pp. 2005 Keeping World Heritage in the Family: A Genealogy of Maya Labour at Chichén Itzá. Quetzil 2003 New and Old Social Movements: Measuring Pisté. 2006 Cartographies of Patrimony. publication expected 2009. 385–398. Pi-Sunyer. In Monumental Ambivalence: The Politics of Heritage. Austin. 5. Amsterdam: CEDLA. from the ‘‘Mouth of the Well’’ to the 107th Municipio of Yucatán. Magali. Ethnohistory. vol. pp. Quetzil 2009 Heritage and Indigeneity: Transformations in the Politics of Tourism. Michele Baud and Annelou Ypeji. TX. Lisa C. Clifford. Cultural Survival Quarterly. Daltabuit. Castañeda. 9-15 Geertz. Lisa C. Quetzil 2000 Approaching Ruins: A Photo-Graphic Essay on the Busy Intersections of Chichén Itzá. . Basic Books. December. Iss. vol. 16(2):43-70.

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