Fluidity and Contradictions in Mexican Discourse: Land, Indigenous Rights, and Environmental Justice

AHA Session 267
Conference on Latin American History 62
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom D (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Emily Wakild, Boise State University
Patrick Cosby, Penn State, Erie, The Behrend College
Lara Lookabaugh, independent scholar
Margarita Vargas-Betancourt, University of Florida
Christopher Woolley, University of North Carolina Pembroke
Emily Wakild, Boise State University

Session Abstract

The scholars on this panel seek to reveal the intricacies in the discourses that have framed land tenure, indigenous rights, and environmental justice in Mexico. In particular, each paper takes a different approach to investigate the contradictions and contestations over communal landholdings and private property. Institutions and practices of land tenure have a complex history in Mexico, reaching back beyond the colonial period and shaping revolutionary aspirations into the twentieth century.

 In the first paper, Margarita Vargas uses colonial lawsuits to elucidate distinctions between legal concepts of “possession” and “property” in Santiago Tlatelolco. As litigants pursued access to land, there emerged a hybrid fluidity that slipped between Spanish and Mesoamerican conceptions of land tenure and challenged simple assumptions. Christopher Woolley investigates the colonial contradictions between Spanish concepts of forest commons and Mesoamerican communitarian traditions. He sheds new light on the strategies deployed by hacenderos who enclosed forest lands by appealing to Spanish communal impulses and denigrating indigenous land use practices. Though discursive assaults on indigenous practices continued into the twentieth century, Patrick Cosby argues that the Revolution of 1910 and the Constitution of 1917 not only allowed the state to redistribute communal landholdings and rationally manage resources, but opened space for re-articulating revolutionary agrarianism as ecological indigenismo, a grassroots movement built on concepts of indigenous rights and environmental justice. Finally, Lara Lookabaugh moves beyond simple binaries to argue that the privatization of communal landholdings, eijdos,under NAFTA was not just an indigenous rights issue, but a gendered issue, as well. She argues the intersection of indigenous rights and gender discourses have opened new avenues for regional development.

Combined, the papers demonstrate how a variety of historic actors experienced and exploited legal and discursive contradictions to assert their land use rights.

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