11.00 “Guias” by Day “Hueveros” by Night: Memory of La Ventanilla’s Notorious Past and Memorialization of Its Current Notoriety (cancelled)
On the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1996 members of the community of La Ventanilla formed a cooperative focused on offering eco-tours of the nearby mangrove. In the intervening years and in spite of being hit by two hurricanes, the co-op has become the economic mainstay for most of the community’s approximately twenty-nine families with nearly 45,000 visitors in each of the last three years. In addition to the tours offered by the co-op’s approximately eighteen “guias” (guides), its award-winning activities now include a series of programs focused on crocodile, deer, and sea turtle management as well as the reforestation of the mangrove. The co-op’s success and corresponding transformation of the community have brought notoriety to this small community as an ecotourism destination and to the people of La Ventanilla for their conservation efforts.
In spite of these successes, however, rumours circulate that some community (and co-op) members continue to earn income through illegal sea turtle egg collecting at night as “hueveros” (eggers). For several decades until the mid 1990s, when a presidential decree made sea turtle hunting and egg collecting illegal, the stretch of the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca that includes La Ventanilla was an important centre for these activities. There were sea turtle processing plants in nearby communities and while the people of La Ventanilla were not employed by the plants they are locally known to have supplemented their incomes as rural peasant farmers through the late night collection of sea turtle eggs (that are locally regarded as an aphrodisiac and that were the main ingredient in a regionally popular sea turtle egg soup). Talk of these notorious past economic activities circulate today in the form of rumours and innuendos and are especially troubling for the co-op’s sea turtle management team, whose activities include patrolling approximately three kilometers of beach, digging up recently laid sea turtle eggs, and relocating them to a protected incubation and hatching area. Regular, and very popular, baby sea turtle “liberacion” (release) events invite public participation where visitors are encouraged to set baby sea turtles free from their hands into the surf.
This paper will examine the ways these contradictory discourses circulate and inform wider understandings of who the people of La Ventanilla are and how they see themselves. Are they truly converts to conservation and sustainable management of the mangrove and wider coastal ecosystem that forms the centrepiece of their ecotourism-based livelihood? Or, are they secretly continuing with their illegal and illicit activities while simply appearing to visiting tourists to be dedicated conservationists? Can they be both at the same time? Are they neither? In this paper I will argue that are they staking out entirely different subjectivities that problematize official, mainstream conservation, and natural heritage rhetoric that dichotomize their previously extractive subsistence activities against their current (and perhaps simultaneous) sustainable- and conservation-minded livelihood.