Indigeneity across borders: Hemispheric migrations and cosmopolitan encounters



The increasing migration of indigenous people from Latin America to the United States signals a new horizon for the study of indigeneity—complexly understood as subjectivities, knowledge, and practices of the earliest human inhabitants of a particular place and including legal and racial identities that refer to these people. Focusing on indigenous migration to San Francisco, California, I explore how government, service providers, and community organizations respond to the arrival of new ethnic groups while also contributing to an expanding Urban Indian collective identity. In addition to reviewing such governmental practices as the creation of new census categories and related responses to indigenous ethnic diversity, I illustrate how some members of a diverse Urban Indian population unite through participation in rituals such as the Maya Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ (Day of Human Perfection), transplanted to San Francisco from Guatemala. The rituals recall homelands near and far in a broader social imagination about being and belonging in the world. The social imagination, borne in part through migration and diaspora, acknowledges the local and the particular in a framework of shared values about what it means to be human. I analyze this meaning making as cosmopolitanism in practice. By merging indigeneity and cosmopolitanism, I join other scholars who strive to decenter classical notions of cosmopolitan “worldliness,” drawing attention to alternative sources of beneficent sociality and for cultivating humanity.