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Take Me to My Paradise

Take Me to My Paradise: Tourism and Nationalism in the British Virgin Islands

Colleen Ballerino Cohen
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Take Me to My Paradise
    Book Description:

    The British Virgin Islands (BVI) markets itself to international visitors as a paradise.But just whose paradise is it?Colleen Ballerino Cohen looks at the many players in the BVI tourism culture, from the tourists who leave their graffiti at beach bars that are popularized in song, to the waiters who serve them and the singers who entertain them.Interweaving more than twenty years of field notes, Cohen provides a firsthand analysis of how tourism transformed the BVI from a small neglected British colony to a modern nation that competes in a global economic market. With its close reading of everything from advertisements to political manifestos and constitutional reforms,Take Me to My Paradisedeepens our understanding of how nationalism develops hand-in-hand with tourism, and documents the uneven impact of economic prosperity upon different populations. We hear multiple voices, including immigrants working in a tourism economy, nationalists struggling to maintain some control, and the anthropologist trying to make sense of it all. The result is a richly detailed and accessible ethnography on the impact of tourism on a country that came into being as a tourist destination.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5031-2
    Subjects: Business, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. A Note on Notes and Names
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Take Me to My Paradise
    (pp. 1-14)

    The title of this book comes from the song “Paradise,” written by Quito Rymer, a British Virgin Islands artist, songwriter, and musician who is known throughout the BVI and by his fans abroad simply as Quito. When I first heard Quito sing this song in his popular beach bar on Cane Garden Bay in the BVI, I was struck by how many different paradises it called forth. In “Paradise,” Quito sings about being homesick while living away from the BVI. Contrasting the “concrete jungle” with his island home, he yearns to dance under the stars and to eat local food....

  7. Chapter 1 Tourism’s Paradise: Historical Background
    (pp. 15-36)

    I begin this chapter looking at the first two lines of the song “Paradise,” “Big ol’ jet plane, wide-span, chrome-plated wings / Fly me to my island, fly me to that island in the sun.” Where the chorus, “Take me to my paradise,” calls forth images of a premodern Eden fixed in time, the first two lines reference modernity and mobility. The friction between a premodern paradise and modernity, between a place fixed in time and mobility characterizes the contemporary BVI experience. In this chapter I sketch a historical backdrop for the analysis of the modern and mobile lives of...

  8. Chapter 2 Making Paradise as a Tourist Desti-Nation
    (pp. 37-70)

    The physical place that tourists to the BVI visit is at once the historical place evoked in claims to a particular “essence”; the contemporary place that is the residence of people from the Caribbean, North America, and Europe and home to almost a million offshore companies; the popularized place of beach bars, resorts, and islands that are known throughout the world; and the idealized place of a premodern paradise. In order to understand what living in this BVI is like, I follow directions taken in recent scholarship and consider the BVI as a space that is always in the process...

  9. Chapter 3 “Nature’s Little Secrets”: Marketing Paradise and Making Nation
    (pp. 71-98)

    When I started my formal research in the BVI in 1990, I was guided by the question, “What is a British Virgin Islander?” As the discussions in chapters 1 and 2 suggest, this is a timely question. The BVI has a longstanding and complex relation to Great Britain as well as to the U.S. Virgin Islands and to other Caribbean countries. Likewise, when I began my research the BVI had only recently developed a stable economy and institutions that involve BVIslanders directly in their own governance. As the BVI population grows and diversifies. so that fewer than half of BVI...

  10. Chapter 4 Cultural Negotiations: Race, Identity, and Citizenship
    (pp. 99-121)

    The BVI that is marketed to tourists and the BVI that is constituted as motherland are both imagined spaces, constructed on the basis of idealized images of what we want them to be. The image of the pristine tropical beach that awaits discovery and the image of an island home made up of people of one’s own kind both address a desire for something timeless and pure. Moreover, as we have seen in the case of BVI tourist desire and BVI nationalist desire alike, the idealized object of perfection is often constituted in terms of what it is not, the...

  11. Chapter 5 Like Looking at Ourselves in a Mirror: Collaborative Ethnography in Paradise
    (pp. 122-146)

    Distinctions that inform interactions among British Virgin Islanders and between belongers and nonbelongers are based upon socially constructed categories of race, ethnicity, and nationality, but these categories are experienced as nonetheless real. In this, they operate asnaturalized codes, that is, as understandings about the world that are “so widely distributed in a specific language community or culture and … learned at so early an age, that they appear not to be constructed … but to be ‘naturally’ given” (Hall 1993: 95). Like the stereotypes that are at the base of images of the BVI disseminated by tourist brochures or...

  12. Chapter 6 Stanley’s Swing and Other Intimate Encounters
    (pp. 147-173)

    Tourists preparing for a vacation to the BVI have multiple resources available to assist them in their pretravel speculation and fantasy. Travel guides, Web sites, information from friends who have visited, and tourism brochures put out by the BVI Tourist Board and tourist businesses all help travelers to the BVI create an emotional and psychic template for their vacation. Studies of tourism brochures (Dann 1996; Selwyn 1993, 1996; Wildman 2004) suggest that regardless of what tourist destination they treat, tourism brochures generally can be read from one of two general perspectives. On one hand, they present images and texts that...

  13. Chapter 7 Of Festivals, Calypso Kings, and Beauty Queens
    (pp. 174-198)

    Stanley’s Swing, Bomba’s Shack, and Foxy’s hold special meaning to visitors to the BVI in large part because they are places where tourists can enact and confirm their identities as modern Western subjects. In like fashion, the annual BVI Festival that commemorates the 1834 emancipation of slaves in the British Caribbean is an occasion that holds special meaning for people residing in the BVI, not least because of the opportunity it affords for enacting their multiple identity positions in the hypermediated space of the contemporary BVI (Cohen 1998). I began to study Festival in summer 1990. At the time I...

  14. Chapter 8 Performing Paradise and Making Culture
    (pp. 199-229)

    In the last chapter I focused on the ways that Festival’s cultural events articulate and put on display political and social issues in the BVI, primary among them issues that arise in the context of the demographic changes resulting from tourism development. In this chapter I look at the multiple positions that people in the BVI occupy as they produce and perform a culture that evokes a sense of who they are, where they have been, and where they are going, even as it satisfies tourist desire for Caribbean paradise. In particular, I consider the experiences of four British Virgin...

  15. Conclusion: Technically, It’s a Country
    (pp. 230-246)

    In this conclusion I consider what is in store for the British Virgin Islands as a tourist destination, as a major center for international financial services, and as a country. As I complete this book, the BVI is experiencing the impact of a global economic downturn in both its tourism and its financial services sectors. A 2008 first quarter increase in visitors by 14.6 percent over 2007 numbers was heralded in a Tourist Board press release, “British Virgin Islands Tourism Sector Starts 2008 on Positive Note”; but by the first quarter of 2009, the BVI Tourist Board chairman reported that...

  16. References
    (pp. 247-260)
  17. Index
    (pp. 261-270)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)