Race-based spatial exclusion in urban Mexico read through the history of Indigenous markets

Authors: Diana Denham*, Portland State University
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Urban Geography, Food Systems
Keywords: spatial histories of inequality, archival research, Indigenous markets, urban renewal, Mexico
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines a moment in the history of Oaxaca City, Mexico when one of the most ancient Mesoamerican institutions – the street market, better known by its Nahuatl name, tianguis – was exiled from city center and pushed to the periphery. My research is based on newspaper archives from the 1970s, documenting a moment when urban elites began to depict the tianguis as a barrier to the city’s progress. It sheds light on the relocation campaign as a racialized project built on earlier precedents to exclude Indigenous people from the city. Because racially identifying language began to disappear from public documents and newspapers in Mexico starting in the liberal period of the late-nineteenth century, reading these archives to understand racial dynamics – especially in urban settings – requires identifying the new language used to enforce and reify racial categories. In this case, the campaign to remove the 400-year old tianguis, a market dominated by Indigenous vendors, was cloaked in the language of two main markers of modernity/urbanity: motorized transit and hygiene. These issues take on special meaning in light of the desire of Oaxacan elites to fashion the region as a tourist hub, in which Indigenous people could appear as an attraction, but not within a cosmopolitan urban center. I approach this project attentive to the insights of postcolonial urbanism, which urges a de-centering of urban theory from its traditional basis in Euro-American experiences and insists on situating contemporary cities within a longer history of colonial and postcolonial encounters.

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