Accepted Paper:

Urban Mestizajes of the Oppressed: Emergent Youth Political Cultures in an Indigenous Guatemalan City  


Amir Mohamed (Cornell University)

Paper short abstract:

Novel youth political cultures emerging in Guatemala foreground local Mayan and United States African American legacies of political resistance and artistic expression, shaping how indigenous youth intervene in urban landscapes as they claim rights to the city and a role in transforming society.

Paper long abstract:

In urban Guatemala, muralist collectives historicize and spatialize local indigenous resistance to genocide and ecocide while breakdancing graffiti artists celebrate the legacies of African American cultural and political icons from the United States. These practices and the urban landscapes they create offer a privileged vista into emergent political cultures currently shaping how indigenous youth claim for themselves rights to the city and a role in transforming society. Through their public performances of hip hop and other cultural practices, these youth transform urban Guatemala while reprising the roles of anti-colonial community organizers and public educators. Based on over two years of ethnographic research in a majority indigenous Guatemalan city-that residents refer to by its pre-colonial place name and where gang members incorporate Mayan numerals into their territorial markers-this paper contemplates the social and political significance of emergent cultural practices that situate local experiences of indigenous urbanism and resistance within broader histories and geographies of ingenuity and struggle. This paper argues that the youth political cultures transforming Guatemalan cities can be usefully apprehended as "urban mestizajes of the oppressed" that, unlike entrenched colonial projects of mestizaje, foreground as they articulate the political and cultural practices of different embattled communities located across the Americas. In conversation with anthropological studies of subversive aesthetics, subaltern publics, and social non-movements, the analysis unpacks how a mosaic of loosely coordinated efforts by amorphous groups of indigenous youth challenge entrenched colonial power dynamics and knowledge practices while prefiguring and advancing emancipatory public pedagogies.

Panel P051
The indigenous city: ecologies, imaginations and the urban space in Latin America