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The reality of urban indigenous people in Mexico

The precarious social and working conditions that the indigenous population has faced for decades have now been exacerbated by the economic problems of rural regions, resulting in increased rural-urban migration and the exposure of indigenous people to the exclusion, discrimination and poverty that they face in urban areas.

In his study Exclusion and discrimination against urban indigenous people in Mexican cities, Jorge Enrique Horbath Corredor, researcher at the Department of Society and Culture of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), analyses the processes of exclusion, The report also points out that the causes of the migration of the rural indigenous population to the cities are the processes of globalization and the impoverishment of the Mexican countryside, which have increasingly affected the living conditions of indigenous groups, forcing them to migrate to the cities and to move to marginalized urban areas, working in low-income informal activities with high exposure to risks of all kinds.

Urban indigenous people and their human rights

In the Basic Science project carried out from 2012 to 2016 and funded by Conacyt, the ECOSUR researcher analyzed the perceptions that indigenous migrants have regarding their economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCR) – education, health, housing, work, and the right to occupy the city – in urban spaces, which allowed him to account for the discrimination living specifically in Mexico City, Guadalajara-Jalisco, Tuxtla Gutiérrez-Chiapas and in the urban-regional system of the Yucatan Peninsula (Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen in Campeche, Merida and Tizimin in Yucatan and Othon P. Blanco, Benito Juárez and Solidaridad in Quintana Roo).

Through interviews and focus groups, the indigenous people who participated in the study told their experiences upon arrival in the city and identified their needs in the social environments from which they are excluded, segregated, marginalized, and discriminated against, which places them, from the perspective of the ECOSUR researcher, as “new urban poor.

From the analysis of maps and Basic Geostatistical Areas (AGEB’s) of the cities covered by the study, an increase in the concentration of indigenous people in the surrounding areas and localities close to the cities can be observed. It was also identified that there are areas within the cities where the indigenous population is more exposed to discrimination.

On the subject of education, those interviewed spoke of the difficulties they face in gaining access to it, since the low income of families is not enough to cover the schooling needs of all their children. On the other hand, they identified that within the educational spaces, both in rural and urban areas, they face some phenomena of social interaction such as discrimination for belonging to an ethnic group or conflicts of linguistic barrier.

In the area of health, migrants from native communities are the worst treated in a health centre, the study indicates, because when they get sick and attend these places they do not know the procedure they should follow to be treated. This is compounded by the lack of a habit of speaking Spanish, which leads to communication difficulties and therefore poor care and, in some cases, medical negligence.

The study found that when migrants arrive in urban areas they initially stay with a family member who is already settled in the city, their second option is to stay temporarily with a friend in the same region, the third in a small apartment in the popular colonies where up to six people can live, and when they have no acquaintances they drift and sleep in some public space.

In the section on work, it was observed that the condition and labour market of urban indigenous migrants is marked by racism. The study describes that the activities in which they are most employed are within the tertiary economy, specifically in the commerce and tourism sectors. The sale of handicrafts is a characteristic activity, followed by construction.

Crime is another of the problems that most afflict this population, in addition to exposure to risks, exploitation of which they are victims and job instability.

Discrimination and exclusion

In general, the population under study suffers from deplorable working conditions, mistreatment by employers, a salary below the minimum, labour exploitation, humiliation and lack of life insurance at work.

Nevertheless, migrants take risks because they consider the situation in their places of origin to be even worse. For those interviewed, there are more opportunities in the city and one can live in peace, as they know that the chances of finding work in any area of tourism are greater.

The jobs they access do not cover any health or retirement services, they have no contract, are poorly paid and cover long working hours, yet they insist that having migrated has benefited them in obtaining a little more income.

Education is a difficult issue since very few manage to complete basic education. Several factors prevent children from continuing their education, mainly the lack of economic resources. However, in spite of the complications, the interviewees have the best expectations for their children, they wish that they do not go through the same situation as them and that they can achieve a good level of education.

One of the problems that strongly affects the migrant population is not having life insurance to protect them against any unfortunate event. The health protection that migrants acquire through their work is also not well attended by doctors, and medical instruments and medicines are always lacking.

Another point that the ECOSUR researcher draws attention to is that the indigenous people, in order to avoid being discriminated against, come to deny their own identity and hide their ethnic origins. He explains that in the census statistics of 2000 and 2010 and the population count of 2005, the general reduction of the indigenous population in the areas of origin can be seen, as well as the increase in population in the medium and large cities close to their environment, but with the aggravating factor that in these cities the population does not recognize itself as indigenous, which shows the strategy of denying cultural origin in order to be partially accepted in urban environments and manage to survive.

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