Urban Growth, Heterogeneity and Activism in Mexico’s Cities | Mexico

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Most often, sustainability is associated with questions pertaining to the natural environment or, in the urban context, with ways to mitigate the problems associated with rapid demographic growth and its associated troubles. But how might the concept of sustainability help us frame questions of racial, ethnic and cultural belonging in today’s rapidly expanding urban centers in the Global South? How is the articulation of ethnic and cultural identities amongst the growing urban indigenous population in Mexico a matter of sustainability? This talk will examine the experiences and mobilizations of Wixárika indigenous youth who are living, studying, and working in Mexico’s western cities of Guadalajara and Tepic. My ethnographic and archival research explores state and popular perceptions of racial belonging in these two cities and the challenges these imaginaries face. Specifically, this talk will discuss the ways that Wixárika university students and young professionals negotiate these perceptions, increasingly through forms of activism that assert the rights of indigenous people to be heterogeneous urban citizens. These acts of activism and visibility on university campuses, government buildings and private offices manifest a push away from observing racial alterity in cities as a relation of “negative difference” to one of “positive heterogeneity.”

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7 thoughts on “Urban Growth, Heterogeneity and Activism in Mexico’s Cities | Mexico

  1. For me, the most interesting part of Diana Negrin da Silva’s talk was her discussion of the expectations that ‘indigenous identity’ can put on indigenous people. For example, members of an indigenous group might be expected to dress a certain way, act a certain way, sell particular crafts, or even express particular beliefs in order to conform to a particular imaginary of what it means to be indigenous. This caused me to reflect on the dual nature of ‘indigenous’ as both a positive construct that can contribute to identity, and as a negative construct that can limit or constrain in more ways than one. Normally when we think of indigeneity being a constraint, we might think about it in the way that da Silva mentioned, which is that indigenous city residents can be marginalized due to preconceived notions about their role in the city that are based on negative stereotypes (they are transient, only capable of marginal jobs, etc.). However, indigeneity can also be a constraint because of the expectations that are placed on those who identify as indigenous to conform to all aspects of that identity, thus suppressing individualism and autonomy in another way. This can result in additional social, political, and economic limitations, such as the obligation to celebrate heritage within certain parameters.

    Due to my area of research I tend to look at many things through a postcolonial lens, and this talk is no exception. The extent to which the ramifications of European colonialism are still present in societies around the world is astounding – and these ramifications are often reproduced by neoliberalism and neocolonialism. In this case, we see both a diverse but socio-politically stratified society in which race/ethnicity still plays a key role in marginalization, as well as the commodification of tradition to support market growth after the decline of other industries. It would be interesting to compare this region to other international contexts.

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  2. Thank you Jen.
    Yes it is amazing when one incorporate the post-colonialism lens while looking at sustainability of global south.
    I agree with you about the positive construct of this local identity in this context, and want to add to what you called “negative-construct”. It has a factor of commodification, so this (local identity) is also shaped by the tourism industry and how the “local” shall look like or build, or act, or sell,…etc in order to fulfill the tourist/visitor expectations.

    In your point “European colonialism has these ramifications which are often reproduced by neoliberalism and neocolonialism” it will be interesting to compare two countries in similar socioeconomic contexts but were not equally subject to colonial power (which is a very difficult hypothesis to test) but it can tell us the extent of validity in attributing the current conditions to colonialism. If your researches have touched on that, please share with all of us.

    On a separate not: I am not extremely familiar with the Mexican context, but I have been always wondering to what extent the distance from the USA have played a role in shaping these urban centers in Mexico comparing to other countries in the global south that were subject t colonialism but didn’t got get this intense socioeconomic encounter with the US through immigrants as well as back and forth travelers.

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  3. Diana’s presentation on Tepic and Guadalajara was great. Thinking in terms sustainability in the global south, Diana’s presentation sheds a different light for me on how to think of sustainability and cities. As cities get bigger with more and more opinions and difference in values how do you sustain a rich culture history when that culture feels like they are a visitor in their on own home? Or even worse feels like they are not welcomed or good enough to stay in their own home.
    The articulation of ethnic and cultural identities among both cities of the urban indigenous populations and how they are fighting to sustain their culture and history is quite romantic. I thought it was interesting to hear a city stay alive through ethnic tourism using culture and history. To keep heritage and tradition alive takes effort and commitment. The ethic tourism in Tepic is both interesting and sad in that you can make a living by celebrating your culture, but as long as someone has the right ingredients anyone can come and profit. Figuring out a way to keep it authentic is a question I should have asked. On the other hand, Guadalajara, a city much bigger and where there is tension between the permanent versus temporary residents or pursuing a higher education versus culture. In my mind I can’t see why there can’t be both, but in a city that is increasing expensive, having to choose between food or transportation or rent is a reality for many. I actually wanted to know and hear more. Her presentation overall went very well and was quite smooth and seamless.

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  4. Thanks for such a reflection. While the previous talk on earthquake made a clear distinction between traditional and modern (in terms of buildings), here the city seem to have both (in terms of people), so on one hand its infrastructure is developed to receive tourism—with all what that require in terms of infrastructure and cultural preparations— and on the other hand these tourists shall not impact its traditional fabric. This seems to be an on going dichotomy in many places.

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  5. Diana Negrin Da Silva, provided great insight to the struggles that the indigenous people in Mexico are currently facing due to urban growth. I could relate to her comments and concerns on a personal level because part of my family is from Jalisco. I know of the discrimination that these indigenous peoples go through in their own land. In order for these indigenous individuals to adapt to their land when the city is urbanizing, they have to succumb to making their cities into tourism places. Their culture is exploited for the sake of tourism. It is deeply saddening that these individuals have to struggle to receive equal education as everyone else and have to struggle to have their voices heard in government. Many are seen as invisible and the government does not take them into account when it comes to policies that will affect them.
    It has been a long time since I have visited Mexico, but I have heard of how many of the street vendors (most of who are indigenous) have been moved to remote locations in order for them to not pose as competition to the government establishments that sell the same type of items as them. As an individual who wants to seek ways to combat social and environmental problems I ask myself how can I approach this social dilemma? Space is incredibly important for individuals to come together and interact with one another. Thus, what type of space can be designed to help the incorporation of these indigenous individuals with the rest of the populous? How can one combat discrimination through the use of space? I am an undergraduate student and still have to gain experience and knowledge of how to combat these issues. I admit I still have much to learn but I would like to hear what you all think, you all are more experienced than I am and would like to hear of how one can go about designing a space that can combat issues such as this one?

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  6. It is a sad reality and a reoccurring theme that growth leads to the success of one and the displacement of others. Two points came to mind during Diana’s presentation, forbidden vendors and gentrification. I recall Diana saying that vendors are not allowed to sell in certain high tourist areas which if I were a vendor I would most likely sell there even considering the risk. It is ultimately more profitable to sell well the people who are most likely to buy frequent. I recollected two trips, one was to Mexico and the other was Spain. In Mexico, I along with my classmates climbed the Sun and Moon pyramids in Teotihuacan. Before seeing either pyramid, vendors were at the gateway selling products ranging from paintings made of cacti to various chotskies. Recently, I again with colleagues travelled to Spain, while in Barcelona we visited Park Guell by Antonio Gaudi. Before entering the park the tour guide gave heed that we were not to participate in the solicitations of the vendors because it was illegal. She furthermore exclaimed that if caught we could be arrested. As soon as we entered were greeted by the vendors, all I could think is how could something that friendly and seemingly harmless be illegal and frowned upon. Diana spoke to the matter when asked as to why they would keep returning, to answer simply it is because they must in order to make a profit from a most likely buyer, ie. tourist.

    On the subject of gentrification, it came to mind as the struggle and between indigenous cultures and people are relocated with the urban growth. I immediately thought of lower income families, mainly minorities being forced from their homes for the sake of urban development. It is an unfortunate “tradition” that is all too common. It begs the question, how do we build up our communities without replacing the residents? Is there a way to challenge this social norm and rethink development solutions? Is it too radical for varying cultures, socio-economic entities to coexist in the same location? These are all questions that Diana’s presentation on the Tepic and Guadalajara brought up. A homogenous society is not a flourishing society. It is the accepted differences and celebrated diverse cultures that make a prevalent place of being.

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  7. This was a fascinating lecture on growth for Mexico and the role that urban growth has played in the country’s development. In the past the indigenous people had been removed from their land by the industries that were taking over the country and trying to exploit the rich natural resources of the land. However more people have been moving to Tepic and Guadalajara creating a new culture there.
    In other areas like Zitakua there has been increases in ethnic tourism and higher demands on the government to help protect the street vendors. I really liked how she highlighted the role that street vendors and farmers markets have played in the evolution of the area’s culture. However there is still the issue of government cracking down and police brutality against street vendors. Indigenous populations have begun to create marches and movements to increase indigenous involvement in the area. I really appreciated the way she went in great detail about the culture there and really studied the culture very well. I thought her discussion on how Tepic has been embracing college activists I thought was very well done. I could almost imagine it being like Berkeley is politically.
    There were points I did wish she had elaborated on more though. I thought it was particularly interesting the government’s desire to crack down on street vendors and them taking action against them. I felt that this would have been a very interesting focus on its own for the lecture as it is applicable to government supporting development. Due to the immense role that government plays in promoting cultural tourism, it would have been interesting to hear about a government that was actively opposing it.
    Overall her lecture was a very interesting exploration into the concept of ethnic tourism and the use of culture to stimulate the economies in the area. It was a very interesting topic to learn more about.

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