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Ethnicity on the line : the case of Mixteco workers in Tijuana’s labour market Méndez, Alberto


This dissertation examines the changing social identity of a Mexican indigenous immigrant community in Tijuana, Mexico, against the backdrop of rapid export-oriented industrialization along Mexico's northern border. The group of indigenous immigrants in question are the Mixtecos from southern Mexico, who began to settle in Tijuana in the early 1960s. Living for the most part in impoverished urban settlements or colonias, Tijuana's Mixteco community has been undergoing a process of change associated with the functional role Mexico's northern border is playing within the global economy. In recent years, this community has gained access to employment within Tijuana's maquiladora industry, the driving force behind the local labour markets. This study explores how Mixtecos' involvement in this labour market is having an impact on their ethnic identity. Based on qualitative research and fieldwork conducted in Tijuana, this dissertation finds that, while members of Tijuana's Mixteco community have been gradually drawn into to the maquiladora labour market, they have, in fact, been reconstructing their ethnic identity. Because of the demands of the industry and of Tijuana's socio-cultural milieu, Mixtecos who have gained access to maquiladora employment have been concealing their ethnicity, while adopting non-indigenous mestizo traits and assuming class rather than ethnic positions. Throughout this process, Mixteco factory workers have been retreating from their ethnic community to focus on individual and family affairs. These findings thus depart from the well-established scholarly literature dealing with Mixteco out-migration which argues that, in the displaced context outside the Mixteca heartland, Mixteco immigrants in northern Mexico and the U.S. have acquired an ethnic-based identity, forged on shared culture and on common negative experiences. Throughout this dissertation, ethnicity is viewed in line with the constructivist paradigm that conceives ethnicity as a dynamic form of social identity arising from particular structural circumstances and specific contexts. The examination has thus required attention on different levels of analysis, from a macro perspective dealing with the structural conditions explaining the expansion of capitalism in Mexico, the Mixteco outmigration, and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples in Mexican society, to a micro inspection of the everyday social interactions of Mixteco women and men in specific settings (i.e. the factories). This dissertation therefore expands the literature on the Mexican maquiladoras, which has given only slight attention to matters of ethnicity.

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