This article was commissioned by Sali Sasaki for INDIGO and written by Maria Rogal.
The Economy: In rural communities near the Maya Riviera—a culturally and environmentally rich area on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast—Maya artisans make crafts for the tourist market. Embroidered handkerchiefs and dresses, carved wooden masks of Maya gods and warriors, concrete and stone pyramids and ancient calendars, and loosely woven hammocks—these and many more objects that are marketed as traditional crafts are ubiquitous. Their design is usually copied from books and advertisements about the Maya, borrowed from what neighbors make and sell, or based on models provided by vendors. So, many products that can be categorized as “craft” are not, as would appear, the result of regional traditions. Rather, they are the result of invention manifested in the hopes of appealing to tourists visiting the Maya Riviera. In this way, these crafts simplify our interpretation and understanding of “The Maya” already so commodified in other media. If not already a cultural dilemma, craft production is an economic one as well. Vendors and distributors offer artisans low prices—even as they take items on practically perpetual consignment. The result is that most artisans—except for the most skilled—earn little, if any, profit given the cost of their labor, materials, and transportation.