Accepted Paper:

Rethinking the category of "indigenous migrant": mobility of Yucatec Maya speakers in Mexico  


Eriko Yamasaki (University of Bonn)

Paper short abstract:

The urbanisation and the mobility of the indigenous population have posed challenges for ethnographic fieldwork, manifested in the problem of categorising the mobile population. Drawing from the example of Maya speakers, this paper critically examines the categorisation of “indigenous migrant”.

Paper long abstract:

The proceeding urbanisation process has changed the daily life of Maya speakers in the Yucatán peninsula which was once based predominantly on subsistence farming.

The migration of rural population in search of wage work led to the growth of urban centres such as Mérida and Cancún. The orientation of many Maya speakers towards urban life is challenging for ethnographic fieldwork which used to focus on the village as a single bounded unit, putting a "place focused concept of culture" (Hastrup and Olwig 1997) into question. Urban anthropology represents one of the solutions to cope with the mobility of the population studied by anthropologists. Opening up the discipline into the urban space certainly reflected a necessary step for anthropology. Meanwhile defining and categorising the population proves to be increasingly problematic. The frequent categorisation of the Maya-speaking population in the urban space as "indigenous migrants" implies the image of indigenous population as rural and settled. By highlighting their geographic mobility, which is rather trivial and self-evident for them and marking it as "indigenous migration", anthropologists unwillingly confirm certain prejudices against the indigenous population in the urban area, cementing the fictional dichotomy of rural as indigenous and urban as non-indigenous.

This paper presents different representations of the mobility of Yucatec Maya speakers which goes beyond the simple scheme of indigenous rural-urban migration. In so doing, it critically examines the consequences of categorising mobile Maya speakers as "indigenous migrants".

Panel P069
Moving people: anthropologists adopting, interrogating and refuting governmental categorisations (ANTHROMOB)