- Transnational Settler Colonial Formations and Global Capital: A Consideration of Indigenous Mexican Migrants
The Los Angeles Central Library’s exhibition “Visualizing Language: A Zapotec Worldview,” which opened this past September, features a series of murals produced by the Oaxacan artists collective Tlacolulokos. The murals are envisioned as providing a “counter-narrative” to existing ones painted by Dean Cornwell, in 1933, depicting a history of California in four stages: Era of Discovery, Missions, Americanization, and Founding of the City of Los Angeles.1 In these paintings Native people are depicted as marginal and subservient figures within grander visions of colonization. The new murals are thus intended to provide a new voice by putting “a different protagonist in the center of the story.”2 What is of interest for the present essay is who gets to tell this story. It is not Native artists on whose land the library is built, but Oaxacan Indigenous people. In this way, this project continues a legacy of erasure embedded in current discourses of multiculturalism that reinforce settler colonial dispossession and hegemony.3
Taking Indigenous Mexican migration as a point of departure, this essay joins critical scholarship on settler colonialism exploring the role of the migrant in settler processes. Following Patrick Wolfe’s theorization of settler colonialism as a structuring force rather than as a historical passage,4 we ask: How might a comparative framework on settler colonialisms help us articulate theoretical discussion beyond the dominant settler–Native racial binary? And in which ways does the settler colonial theoretical framework render visible the ways in which distinct bodies are racialized within and beyond national boundaries? We understand settler colonialism as the complex reverberations originating from Indigenous dispossession and white possession.5 As a global and transnational phenomenon,6 settler colonialism is a structuring force that in coproduction with the transatlantic slave trade, indentured labor, and other forms of racial [End Page 809] ordering enables particular racial logics and forms of exclusions integral to global capital and empire.7
We also examine settler colonialism within a relational framework promoted by Indigenous and Indigenous studies scholars. A comparative perspective provides synergistic opportunities to compare histories of dispossession and racialization between US and Mexican native populations while recognizing differing colonial experiences. A relational framework examines specific contingencies and conditions of settler colonial contexts to avoid a flattening of distinct historical trajectories that are contained within differences. Thus we place settler colonialism in relation to other imperial formations that allow us to better understand how Indigenous migrants move among distinct race, class, gender, and other colonial formations, as Manu Vimalassery, Juliana Hu Pegues, and Alyosha Goldstein have argued.8
Our consideration of settler colonialism expands beyond Latinx or Chicanx contexts by destabilizing hegemonic categories that draw on national or racial distinctions and erase Indigenous peoples’ experiences.9 Despite constitutional reforms recognizing Mexico’s plural composition, Indigenous peoples in Mexico are subjected to racism, oppression, and dispossession, much like Native Americans in the United States. The multicultural shift in Mexico has served as a governance strategy10 that aims to control and disable radical politics by creating legal frameworks of “conditional inclusion”11 while erasing Indigenous peoples’ demands for autonomy and self-determination. Ultimately these policies further promote Indigenous migration.
Through a comparative analysis of settler colonialism in the context of Mexican Indigenous migration to California and Washington, we demonstrate distinct ways in which Indigenous migrants mobilize and articulate their indigeneity. We argue that Indigenous migrant forms of engagement are framed by the particular settler logics and imperial formations in which they find themselves. We show that settler colonialism is contingent and historical. Further, we examine how Los Angeles becomes a site where logics of erasure stand out, while in Yakima connections and relationality that move us beyond settler–colonial binaries prevail. By looking at the case of Zapotecs in a dense urban environment inhabited by many Indigenous bodies, we propose that Natives become invisible at different places and historical moments, whereas in the Yakima valley a rural context renders Indigenous recognition more visible. [End Page 810]
Indigenous Mexicans in the United States
Until recently, we have tended to think of...