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Reterritorializing Diasporic Places: The Role of Cultural Heritage in Reconstructing Community, Identity, and Peace among Displaced Oaxacans in Northern Mexico

30 minutes
Forced migration or displacement is a common global phenomenon due to heighted insecurity, organized crime, and militarization. Despite the tragic losses that internally displaced people suffer, resettlement in diasporic settlements can also offer hope and regeneration. Indigenous Triquis from Oaxaca, Mexico are forced to flee their territory of origin due to political conflict and paramilitary violence. Instead of leaving behind their ethnic identity and cultural heritage, Triquis in Baja California are experimenting a novel form of emplacement through reterritorializing diasporic settlements. Place and territory facilitate the defense of particular lifeways by subaltern groups (Escobar 2001; 2008). Displacement is a form of de-territorialization, a transformation of place, yet also, a political, ethnic, and gendered process transforming individual and collective subjectivities (Oslender 2006; 2008). Reterritorialization in the diasporic site is the reformulation of old identities as well as the production of new ones along with a necessary transformation of a “sense of place.” This includes the redefinition of social relations, changes in economic activities, and issues of stigmatization and discrimination. Cultural heritage also plays an important role in the reformulation of identity and community and is itself reformulated in new contexts. Displaced Triquis in Baja California have successfully utilized what they perceive as their unique cultural heritage in order to emplace themselves in a foreign and hostile environment in northern Mexico. This cultural heritage is both tangible and intangible. It ranges from material markers of ethnic identity like clothing, traditions like religious and medical practices, and aesthetic forms such as music and dance. Most importantly in this process, Triquis of the Colonia Nuevo San Juan Copala have successfully transplanted their ritual, festive, and political systems from Oaxaca to Baja California. This cultural heritage has functioned effectively to inhibit the extreme violence and conflict that plague regions of origin, offer sustainable forms of community development and advocacy, promote ethnic solidarity, and reduce instances of discrimination and exclusion. This paper will analyze displacement and resettlement as deterritorialization and reterritorialization combining the anthropology of place, displacement, and transnationalism. I will use ethnographic research with a focus on critical heritage studies discuss how poor Triqui farmworkers have successfully reformulated their “traditional” cultural heritage in the diaspora and the changes this heritage has undergone through its novel forms of reorganization. The promotion of cultural heritage as opposed to assimilation demonstrates how communities create lasting conditions of peace and security in the reconstitution of their collective identities in the diaspora.
University of Oregon Department of Anthropology