Cover of Indigenous Dispossession by M. Bianet Castellanos
Indigenous Dispossession
Housing and Maya Indebtedness in Mexico
M. Bianet Castellanos


192 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503603288
Paperback ISBN: 9781503614345
Ebook ISBN: 9781503614352

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Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2021 Edward M. Bruner Prize, sponsored by the Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group (ATIG).

Winner of the 2022 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, sponsored by the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Winner of the 2022 Arthur J. Rubel Book Prize, sponsored by the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (SLACA).

Finalist of the 2023 SEA Book Prize, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) - Society for Economic Anthropology.

Following the recent global housing boom, tract housing development became a billion-dollar industry in Mexico. At the national level, neoliberal housing policy has overtaken debates around land reform. For Indigenous peoples, access to affordable housing remains crucial to alleviating poverty. But as palapas, traditional thatch and wood houses, are replaced by tract houses in the Yucatán Peninsula, Indigenous peoples' relationship to land, urbanism, and finance is similarly transformed, revealing a legacy of debt and dispossession.

Indigenous Dispossession examines how Maya families grapple with the ramifications of neoliberal housing policies. M. Bianet Castellanos relates Maya migrants' experiences with housing and mortgage finance in Cancún, one of Mexico's fastest-growing cities. Their struggle to own homes reveals colonial and settler colonial structures that underpin the city's economy, built environment, and racial order. But even as Maya people contend with predatory lending practices and foreclosure, they cultivate strategies of resistance—from "waiting out" the state, to demanding Indigenous rights in urban centers. As Castellanos argues, it is through these maneuvers that Maya migrants forge a new vision of Indigenous urbanism.

About the author

M. Bianet Castellanos is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of A Return to Servitude: Maya Migration and the Tourist Trade in Cancún (2010).

"Drawing on her long-term collaboration with indigenous people, M. Bianet Castellanos eloquently critiques the dispossession of Maya in Cancún and illuminates their resistance. Her passion for revealing and dismantling the racial and gender hierarchies embedded in neoliberal projects is compelling. A nuanced contribution to our understanding of settler colonialism."

—Patricia Zavella, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of The Movement for Reproductive Justice: Empowering Women of Color through Social Activism

"In this compelling and timely work, M. Bianet Castellanos has given us a powerful indictment of neoliberalism's perpetuation of the settler project of Indigenous dispossession. She also effectively demonstrates how Indigenous peoples develop strategies of resistance to new technologies of domination like racialized debt, and in the process craft new forms of urban Indigeneity."

—Shannon Speed, University of California, Los Angeles

"A fascinating and highly readable study of how Indigenous Maya experience twenty-first-century rounds of dispossession and esclavitud—this time born of debt tied to housing financing. Focusing upon mortgage-based access to social interest housing in modern-day Cancún, M. Bianet Castellanos' account foregrounds Indigenous voices as they struggle to become homeowners."

—Peter M. Ward, University of Texas at Austin