Dissertation

My dissertation, “Translocal Citizenship: The Political Subjectivity of Indigenous Mexican Migrants,” aims to reform contemporary understandings of citizenship by examining the transnational forms of political membership and participation enacted by indigenous Mexicans in the United States. Traditionally, many indigenous communities in several Mexican states have been governed by local customary law, which requires all adult members of the community to participate in a rotating system of office-holding and communal labor. Since the 1980s, there has been an explosion in the migration of indigenous Mexicans to the United States, where previous waves of migration had been predominantly mestizo, or mixed-race. Once in the United States, these indigenous migrants have found ways to continue participating in the governance of their communities even from abroad: returning to their hometowns when it is their turn to hold office or, more common in recent years, finding ways to fulfill their political obligations from the United States.

My research seeks to expand existing conceptions of citizenship, taking the experiences of these migrants as a point of departure. This example, I argue, helps demonstrate that existing understandings of what it means to be a “citizen” do not account for practices of political membership that emerge transnationally and without the nation-state as a primary referent. The political obligations derived from customary law, and the migrants’ deep attachment to their ethnic identities, in effect make it so that they are, primarily, citizens of an indigenous community, rather than citizens of Mexico, yet they are subject to the constraints of the nation-state on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Their forms of political participation are based on membership in a localized political community (the indigenous hometown) that comes to exist in discontinuous spaces in both countries, so that their citizenship is most properly characterized as “translocal.”

The dissertation is, fundamentally, an engagement with the literature on citizenship and political membership in the field of political theory, but grounds its intervention in empirical evidence obtained through qualitative methods. I conducted participant observation and in-depth interviews with indigenous migrants from the state of Oaxaca who reside in California, along with analysis of the archival record of publications by Oaxacan organizations in both Mexico and the United States. My fieldwork investigated the ways in which Oaxacan migrants understand themselves as political actors and their forms of political participation at the local (hometown), national, and transnational levels, as well as the interconnection between these scales of involvement. This project, then, is an account of the indigenous migrant notion of citizenship, put in conversation with existing conceptions of political community and membership, in order to reframe what it means to be a citizen under processes of globalization in the 21st century.