AuthorMunro, Lisa L.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractPopular images of indigenous cultures, both past and present, have served to construct pernicious racial stereotypes of native peoples throughout the Americas. These stereotypes have led to the discrimination and marginalization of native peoples; however, they also have functioned to construct identities and cultural values of non-Indian people. Existing scholarship on the representation of native peoples of Latin America has focused on the ways that nineteenth-century elites in that region appropriated certain elements of indigenous cultures to construct a sense of national unity and historical continuity. However, this scholarship has overlooked the ways that images of the Maya produced social and cultural identities outside of Latin America, as the U.S. public avidly consumed a variety of images of the Maya and commercialized their material culture in the early twentieth century. Analyzing the question of identity construction through the appropriation of Mayan culture, this dissertation focuses on the U.S. construction and use of a particular racial discourse about native people. Public audiences consumed racial discourses in the context of a series of transnational cultural initiatives, including international expositions, popular film, and textile exhibits, which shaped public understandings of the Maya. I argue that despite growing public interest in Mayan culture and shifting understandings about the relationship between race and culture, these venues of visual display reinforced and reproduced older racial discourses of Indian degeneracy. I examine documentary evidence, such as travel brochures, newspapers, and archival materials to show that sites of visual display invented a new language of "indigeneity," which functioned to define not only native peoples, but also to shape U.S. public social identities. I conclude that the production of racial discourses of the Maya as culturally and racially inferior throughout the twentieth century defined contemporary understandings of U.S. identities and the role of indigenous history.
Degree ProgramGraduate College