In January 2016, BCI's Resident Scholar, Ryan Anderson, published an article entitled 'Islands within an almost island - history, myth, and aislamiento in Baja California, Mexico'.
In this article, Ryan provides a fascinating account of the history of Baja California and how it was perceived as an island by various travelers in the past. From 1510 to 1721 Baja Sur was described as an island, disconnected from any mainland. The map below, taken from his paper, illustrates this misconception that continued despite proof that the Peninsula of Baja California was indeed connected to the North American mainland.
The paper explains how the perception of Baja California as an island continued long after the geographic facts showed otherwise. The author suggests that the isolation, disconnection, and marginalization of the people of Baja Sur contributed to this. Long after Europeans abandoned the idea of Baja California as an island, the state of Mexico treated it like one. The state ignored the people of Baja California and considered the land 'without value', creating what amounted to a cultural and economic island.
Ryan refers to Rebecca Solnit’s definition of an island as 'anything surrounded by difference'. The fact that Baja California Sur was not granted statehood until 1975 is a good example of how it was marginalized by the Mexican state.
Ryan goes on to explain that it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that Baja California Sur began to be viewed as a more valuable asset by Mexico. At that time the Mexican government made a shift toward global tourism to generate economic growth. The barren and isolated beaches of Baja California took on a new meaning and economic value. Since then, the construction of roads, infrastructure, airports, and hotels has further integrated the Baja California peninsula with the rest of the country.
Ryan explores various factors leading to both the connection and disconnection of Baja California Sur to the mainland of Mexico. He concludes 'Islands are geographic facts yet also cultural, historical, and imaginative experiences. This process, which I have called aislamiento, is deeply social and political. Islands are more than landmasses, bodies of water, and facts. They are products of human cultures, histories, desires, and prejudices. The aislamiento of the Baja Peninsula, in particular has led many a traveler to experience and understand that landmass as an island, regardless of reality and the demonstrated facts of cartography.'
In 2015 Ryan Anderson published a paper titled 'Sustainability, ideology, and the politics of development in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico.' Ryan explores the 'vision' of the future of Cabo Pulmo based on 40 formal interviews and 80 informal interviews of Mexican and non-Mexican residents.
Ryan reports on the fear of residents that Cabo Pulmo might become like 'Los Cabos', considered by many local residents to be a failure for the environment and for local residents.
When asked what they want for Cabo Pulmo, many residents 'spoke in terms of basic infrastructure, schools, ecological developments, and nature. They talked about keeping development small-scale, and working with surrounding communities'. Anderson comments on the importance of 'participation' in defining future development in the region.
In the article, Ryan explores the meaning of 'sustainability' and how, in Cabo Pulmo, it has captured allegiance from all sides of the community, bringing people together to in a common hope for the future. He also argues for the need to pay close attention to the various social and political meanings of uses of the concept of sustainability, particularly how different interest groups use it to achieve competing goals. Even while they don’t always agree, many local residents use the idea of sustainability as a way to talk about what they want for the future of Cabo Pulmo and the East Cape.
'The Value of a Place: Development Politics on the East Cape of Baja California Sur, Mexico' is the title of Ryan Anderson’s doctoral thesis for the University of Kentucky.
From 2009 to 2013 Ryan conducted a total of 42 formal and 80 informal interviews with Mexican and non-Mexican residents of Cabo Pulmo and conducted 'participant observation' with various groups directly involved in the development (and conservation) process. He researched the history of the region extensively and as used a variety of frameworks to analyze and document the community’s struggle define a desirable vision for the future.
Ryan’s thesis is fascinating reading. It reports an extensive history of Cabo Pulmo including the beginning of the renowned Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, the tension caused by land ownership disputes, and the more recent battles with large-scale tourism development.
The thesis argues that continuing tensions, particularly in relation to land ownership and development, impede efforts to create alternative forms of development that seek to avoid the negative social, political, and economic consequences of traditional mass tourism models.
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