Autonomy road : the cultural politics of Chicana/o autonomous organizing in Los Angeles, California



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Since 1994, Chicana/o artists, musicians, and activists have been in dialogue with the Zapatista indigenous movement of Chiapas, Mexico. Such a transnational bridge has resonated in a new and unique form of Chicana/o cultural politics centered on the Zapatista concept of “autonomy” and “autonomous organizing.” In Los Angeles, California, this brand of “Chicana/o urban Zapatismo,” as I refer to it in the dissertation, is symbolic of recent political and cultural organizing efforts by Chicanos to combat housing gentrification, economic restructuring, racial and ethnic cleansing, environmental pollution in low-income areas, and mass anti-immigrant hysteria. This dissertation contends that Chicana/o urban Zapatismo is a result of various local, statewide, national, and international social justice movements that embrace the global trend in urban and rural areas towards constructing locally rooted participatory and democratic methods of organizing that are “horizontal” and that mobilize against such far-reaching social forces as racism and global capitalism. Using ethnographic data and interviews collected between 2005 to 2007, this dissertation maps the emergence of Chicana/o urban Zapatismo by tracing its historical origins to the changing social, political, and economic conditions of ethnic Mexican communities in Los Angeles, California; capturing the everyday internal and external tensions between one primarily working class Chicano autonomous collective, the Eastside Café ECHOSPACE in El Sereno, California; offering the case study of the South Central Farm, a 14-acre Mexican and Latino immigrant community garden; and charting the trans-border organizing of Chicana/o urban Zapatistas surrounding the most recent Zapatista-initiated project, “the Mexican Other Campaign”. These four distinct case studies converge in Los Angeles in the creation of a unique political process referred to as “urban Zapatismo”. This ethnographic study suggests that by uncovering the everyday relationships and tensions between Chicana/o urban Zapatistas in Los Angeles and the communities they live in, researchers looking at the production of different forms of racisms and structural inequalities in urban areas may derive a greater understanding of social (re)organization and mobilization by a growing, diverse, and historically marginalized group like Chicanos in the United States.