This essay discusses how Mayas, and visual images of them as discursively constructed subjects/objects, are located in dictator Jorge Ubico's economic development and modernization policies in the 1930s and 1940s. Ubico's contradictory policies of promoting Maya essentialness in contrast to the cultural and economic assimilation of Mayas informs both Guatemalan and scholarly attitudes about Mayas today. The essay recontextualizes this position by discussing a specific cultural event—the annual fairs that Ubico organized to highlight Guatemala's economic and technological potential—in relation to the photographic representation of Mayas. In the fair, backward, inefficient “Indian” Guatemala was contrasted with a modern, efficient nation. Maya “pueblos,” showcasing crafts and indigenous life, were reconstructed alongside midway rides and technology exhibits. Using a political economic analysis, particular attention is given to the visual representation of Mayas during this time, in order to discuss their role in tourism within the government's modernization agenda and how this ultimately contributed to Maya and national identity constructions.

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