Accepted paper:

"Back to the roots": the socio-political organization of urban indigenous communities in Chiapas, México


Marie Heřmanová (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

The paper is based on a one-year long fieldwork in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México and it aims to show how the indigenous inhabitants of a marginalized suburban areas are organizing themselves, exploring and creating new ways of inhabiting the urban space.

Paper long abstract:

San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, México is being praised as one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Central America. Massive suburbanization taking place in Chiapas in recent decades created the infamous "poverty belt" at the suburbs of the city. While the colonial centre of San Cristóbal is overcrowded with tourists and foreign nomads, indigenous families from the highland communities of Chiapas are trying to survive in the so called colonías, a chaotic belt of settlement in the North-West of the city. This paper presents a case study of how a marginalized, ethnically homogenous suburban area manages to organize itself from bellow in order to gain control over the urban territory. While the municipality government mostly neglects even the basic infrastructure in the colonías, its inhabitants are developing their own ways of understanding, creating and inhabiting the urban space. Drawing inspiration from the world-famous Zapatista movement, the community leaders are using the discourse of indigenous rights and the imageries of going "back to the roots" in order to claim their voice in the political organization of the city. The paper, based on an extensive, one year long fieldwork in San Cristóbal presents an ethnographically elaborated example of the experience of urban marginality, spatial separation based on ethnic difference and commodification of space through tourism .

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Enquiring into the urban form through governing practices and social organisation (IUAES Commission on Urban Anthropology )