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The Children of Solaga: Ritual, Identity, and Transnationalism Among the Children of Indigenous Mexican Immigrants

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California is home to a vibrant Oaxacan community, with radio stations broadcasting in indigenous languages and second-generation children who may grow up speaking English, Spanish, and an indigenous language. The Oaxacan community in California is so large that they have come to refer to their new home as Oaxacalifornia. The very existence of indigenous immigrants challenges conceptions of indigenous peoples as fixed to a particular geographical place and time. The displacement of indigenous peoples from their native communities and their migration to the U.S. has begotten new generations of indigenous youth born away from their parents’ homeland. This is the case for the individuals with whom I conducted research, youth with origins in the Zapotec community of San Andrés Solaga in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This dissertation examines how young adults form and negotiate ethnic, community, and national identities away from their ancestral homeland. Whereas in the U.S., school and workplaces are prime areas of social integration, in Mexico’s indigenous communities the ritual cycle also plays a profound integrative role. In Solaga, the cargo system (civil-religious service positions) organizes social, political, and ritual life. In the transnational context, ties to indigenous institutions, like the cargo system, are transferred to hometown associations and are essential for maintenance of village ties and transnational indigenous identity.

I conducted participant observation at patron saint celebrations, community events, and band and dance rehearsals in the U.S. and Mexico. Interviews were conducted with Solagueños living in Oaxaca and Los Angeles. I found that playing in the village-based band, performing traditional dances, or attending patron saint festivities in Los Angeles and, if possible, in Solaga, facilitate Solagueño youths’ social integration into the U.S. by fostering a strong sense of ethnic pride in the face of anti-indigenous discrimination from within the Latino population or anti-immigrant hostility from mainstream society. Participation in such festivities also enable youth and their parents to sustain membership in multiple communities, allowing them to affirm continued attachment and affiliation with the sending community, even if they are unable to physically return. Nevertheless, youth who visit Oaxaca may also realize there are some significant differences between themselves and people still living in the home community, thus engendering hybrid identities.

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This item is under embargo until September 7, 2024.