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Strategies for Survivance: Seeking Asylum in the US to Reclaim Indigenous Territory

Authors: Megan Ybarra*, University of Washington
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America
Keywords: Latinx geographies, political ecology, Indigenous mobilities, survivance, territory
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2017, I published Green Wars, arguing that Guatemalan conservation agencies harnessed transnational drug trafficking fears to violently displace Indigenous Q’eqchi’s from their homelands. In 2018, Q’eqchi’ leaders found me on WhatsApp with an urgent request – to help them find a Q’eqchi’ asylum seeker who had been “desaparecido” (disappeared) into the US immigration enforcement system. After the Guatemalan settler state put out an arrest warrant for all men in the village fighting for their land rights, some of them came north for the first time. In this paper, I think through how to support the political work of Q’eqchi’ Maya migrants who seek asylum in the US as part of a broader strategy to recuperate their homelands. Indigenous peoples who are denied nationhood and access to their own lands and then become transnational Latinx migrants have become themselves settlers of color without (necessarily) ceasing to be Indigenous peoples struggling to reclaim their land against the settler state. The goals of this paper are to recuperate the analytic of territory from Eurocentric geographies and to theorize Indigenous survivance as a transnational political process. An analysis of this positioning is of significance given the rise of Indigenous migrants as part of their efforts to survive and reclaim their own land, even as they live as settlers in the US.

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