Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, March 22-27, 2009

Panel: Space as Tactic: Neoliberal Governance, Space & Ethnographies of the Everyday

Paper: Cusco’s Child Vendors: Selling Strategies and Official Interference

The streets and central plazas of Cusco, Peru, are popular places for both tourists and locals to spend time. Tourists read their guide books or wait to meet friends. Locals gather to feed pigeons and converse. Yet these are also spaces of commerce: Cusqueños, especially children, offer souvenirs and postcards to tourists who have come from all over the world to see Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins. Cusco’s children have developed entrepreneurial strategies for engaging their tourist clients, often creatively drawing on their own discourses of poverty and childhood to encourage both cultural and economic exchanges. Participation as informal vendors in this economy is often the affair of entire families, but the affectivity of children enable them to earn as much as—or more than—their parents. While Cusco’s popularity as a tourism hub ensures a constant flow of foreigners’ dollars, distribution of this money is uneven and locals must adopt continually changing tactics for succeeding in the marketplace. Municipal ordinances that prohibit ambulante vending, as well as national policies geared toward the eradication of child labor, make selling increasingly difficult for Cusco’s children. This paper will first explore common selling strategies of child vendors, followed by a discussion of official interference in their sales—both through policy and as experienced in the everyday interactions between child vendors and police officers. How does Cusco’s overall development strategy through tourism conflict with restrictions being placed on the vending practices of struggling families? What factors enable children to succeed in this increasingly neoliberal market?

Aviva Sinervo