Toward La Otra Comunidad: Zapatismo and grassroots community formation in Humboldt County, CA
This thesis interrogates grassroots community formation in Humboldt County, California by examining overlapping political, cultural, and knowledge practices pursued by a local activist community. Specifically, I examine three inter-related collective projects: Acción Zapatista de Humboldt, Peoples' Action for Rights and Community, and Día de los Muertos, as well as their related affinity projects. I expose how these projects pursued the political and cultural practice of Zapatismo as a grassroots strategy to subvert the criminalization of Humboldt's migrant and poor constituents, to produce situated knowledge about its collective struggles through popular education, and to convene intercultural dialog through ritual celebration.
I use an activist ethnographic research technique involving participation in community spaces, examining community memory though archives and interviews, and coyuntura analysis of the relations of social forces in the community's recent history. The claiming of Zapatismo informed the production of a community identity rooted in indigenous, anti-neoliberal social struggles that move beyond the confines of formal community organizations and the non-profit industrial complex. This research enters into academic dialog surrounding the contested concept of "grassroots community," understanding it as a collective identity formed through practiced autonomous spaces of democratic, intercultural encounter.
My interest in the topic is partly motivated by a desire to clarify how community is conceptualized beyond dominant (yet inadequate) narratives of "empowerment," "multiculturalism," and "social change," as well as to identify the relationship between community, and social movement practices. Rather than reducing community to ethnic or geographic boundaries, I examine the ways that community is understood as practiced spaces of encounter that rely on the use of shared cultural tools. I also look at how these intersections of community formation and social activism possess the power to produce and analyze information about collective identity, social struggle, and strategic action.
An ethnographic chapter follows inter-related spaces of community formation and collective action. First, I look at activist interventions into the Sun Valley Floral Farm in Arcata, CA. I revisit a recent history of resistance to toxic chemicals and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Sun Valley. The next section focuses on Acción Zapatista's activism in Humboldt County and demonstrates a reliance on Indigenous Mexican cultural politics as part of its articulation of resistance and autonomy. Humboldt's Zapatismo also illustrates a commitment to democratic assembly. Finally, I look at the celebration of Día de los Muertos, demonstrating the production of strategic knowledge and collective subjectivities through the use traditional cultural practices. My narrative of community formation illustrates the ways in which grassroots community practices of knowledge, culture, and politics overlap amidst the production of an ethnic Mexican, activist community, and reveals the interconnectedness of local struggles to each other through a strategic use of community assembly and a "politics of encounter." politics of encounter can refer to the organizing of spaces wherein diverse communities can convene, plan, share, and create new collective habits.
I approach this thesis as an activist research project. My hope is to reflect a community memory of activism and cultural production, and that it serves as a written complement to the arguments, analyses, and strategies embodied through Zapatista community formation practices in Humboldt. Additionally, my goal in looking at ethnic Mexican community formation on the North Coast is to advance the community's intercultural encounter in the form of an academic dialog that will deepen our understanding of community formation and suggest some key strategies for political action geared toward the formation of self-determined communities. Finally, I offer this work for Chicanos seeking to politicize and cultivate an indigenous Mexican identity and consciousness.
Victor Espinsona is Mexican-American with Purepecha indigenous roots, from Ventura County, California and continues to take interest in political and ethical possibilities of social research and critical thinking. He currently lives in Santa Paula.