INTRODUCTION
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Grand Tikal Futura
‘‘Putting the Mayan in the Mall’’
Welse
elcome to Guatemala, center of the mundo Maya. A country above all
indigenous, the nation relies on tourism, and the Maya are its top
attraction. Making up about half the population, they speak twenty-two
languages, with names like K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Mam. They dazzle the
foreign eye with woven traje outfits and handmade wares. Their very
bodies bespeak a pre-Columbian past, a past of pyramids, of priests and
sacrificial stones. Tourists move among the Maya in the volcanic highlands
and experience a Shangri-La where it seems that time has stood forever
still. ‘‘My God,’’ a visitor from the United States recently commented to me.
‘‘We could be in Tibet.’’
Welcome to another Guatemala, one in which a mammoth shopping
mall and hotel complex, Grand Tikal Futura, looms above the neighboring
buildings in the nation’s capital, Guatemala City. Named after the magnifi-
cent Mayan ruins at Tikal, whose architecture it mimics, the mall is much
like malls anywhere. Behind the jade-toned tower and pyramid-like façade
are stores like The Gap, McDonalds, Payless Shoes, and other shrines to
modern consumerism. Tikal Futura references a national cultural treasure
and a Mayan national identity but portends a homogenized nation. Figura-
tively speaking, Tikal Futura and the economic system it represents are
‘‘putting the Mayan in the mall.’’
This book tells the story of the making of modern Guatemala. A history
of the construction of social space from the 1920s to the new millennium, it
focuses on Guatemala City’s poor neighborhoods, on the markets that
provision them, and on their connections with the countryside and the
greater world beyond. The history of modernism in the land that moder-
nity forgot is a human history, as cultural and social as it is political and
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