Drawing the lines: racial/ethnic landscapes and sustainable development in the Costa Chica.

Author:Cotton, Nicole-Marie
Position:Essay
 
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African descendent invisibility in map-making and environmental discourse have roots in the historical colonial period. Cartography has been an important tool in maintaining colonial power and white privilege by reinforcing racial difference and rendering individuals invisible. Colonial processes and power are often not explicit in the map-making process, and readers simply take for granted the produced knowledge as an accurate representation of what (or who) occupies the space in any geographic location. Closer inspection of the map as an artifact can reveal interesting and crucial points about the dynamics of power that are responsible for the production of this cartographic knowledge, and the ways in which colonial logics continue to influence the process of connecting people and places. This paper will explore how colonial power has been legitimized through map making and what that means for African descendants in the Pacific Cost of Oaxaca in their push for greater social and political recognition, participation in sustainable development initiatives and collective rights.

One might suppose collective rights are awarded in conjunction with the proportion of ethnic minority groups relative to the majority population; yet Hooker (2005) demonstrated that collective rights are dependent on the country's perception of the group as having a distinct cultural identity. A possible explanation of why Blacks seem to be left out of NGO initiatives is that indigenous groups in Latin America have been given international attention and sympathy especially since the 1994 Zapatista movement. The Zapatista uprising in 1994 was a pivotal point in international consciousness and sympathy toward indigenous struggles. Sustainable development has been central to the issue of indigenous land rights, which links local indigenous movements with international environmental movements in Latin America (Halpern and Windance Twine, 2000).

An area where the disparity between Black groups and indigenous groups is of particular interest is in the disproportion of collective rights awarded in multicultural government reforms. Hooker (2005) claims Afro-Latinos are much less likely to gain formal recognition as only seven of the fifteen Latin American countries to implement multicultural reform give collective rights to Afro-Latinos and only three give Afro-Latinos the same rights as indigenous groups. Blacks find it more difficult to gain recognition because the multicultural reforms adopted by Latin American states are based on ethnic identity rather than race (Hooker, 2005) due to the aversion of Latin American states to accept the existence of racism (Anderson, 2003 as in Hooker). Both Anderson (2007) and Hooker (2005) suggest that African Descendant groups commonly fight to be considered an indigenous group in order to win collective rights.

Understanding how collective rights are awarded in Latin America is crucial to comprehending current landscapes of environmental conservation. Race intersects many areas of life in Latin America and, and the "environment" is one of them. Scholars have suggested development and self-empowerment agencies may have an affinity towards working with indigenous groups due to romantic post-colonial stereotypes of being environmental stewards (Sundberg 2004, Mollet 2006, Escarcega 2010).

This notion is in line with the environmental ethic of some environmental NGOs and many neoliberal global sustainable development initiatives that would like to encourage the protection of the world's natural areas while stimulating economic growth (Carruthers, 1996). Sovereignty, cultural protection, and environmental investment in the form of land rights are often accompanied with collective rights in multicultural reforms.

African Descendant Mis-representation in Map-making

Dumoulin (2003) stresses that environmental NGOs played a key role in endorsing the idea of "indigenous knowledge" by associating indigenous populations with the maintenance and preservation of biodiversity hotspots. Scholar-activists were critical in connecting the idea of indigenous cultural preservation to environmental conservation by creating maps overlying indigenous inhabited areas and areas that have high concentrations of biodiversity as well as tables that correlated the number of diverse languages with biodiversity (Dumoulin, 2003). Thus, cartographical "scientific evidence" was provided to ethnicize environmental conservation as an indigenous cultural preservation issue.

Some of the reasons that African descendants are clearly left out of these map-making connections are: 1) in many countries, there are no census data on African descendants in Latin America because many countries do not have a category for African descendants (including Mexico). Therefore no similar maps can be made for their organizing. And 2) decision-makers in Latin American nations or environmental NGOs do not see African descendants as having a unique culture worth preserving. For many Latin-American nation-states the African presence does not fit in with the national identity embodied through Mestiaje (Wade, 2010 & Lewis, 2000) and for Environmental NGOs there is very little academic attention given to exposing connections between African descendant culture in relationship to environmental conservation. Dumoulin (2003) stresses the strength that maps give in international communication, "The cartographic data constitute undoubtedly the most pervasive argument, and the most readily communicable to international organizations and the public at large" (597). For this reason we are presenting a map showing African descendant communities in Oaxaca along with indigenous communities and the forest cover of the landscape to challenge the invisibility of the African presence in Mexico and spark the discussion about misrepresentation of African-Descendants in conservation initiatives.

Additionally, academics have neglected to reproduce maps of the Pacific African diaspora which has resulted in devastating effects for African descendants of the Pacific Coast on national and individual scales, from degradation of recognition of historical contributions to their nations to, internalized misrecognition seen in less self-awareness of inter-connectedness with other African descendants.

Afro-Oaxacan communities, like other African descendants of the Pacific Coast, are victims of what Feldman (2012) calls a "second diaspora"-geographic and conceptual exclusion of the African diaspora usually represented in maps of the Atlantic, "because of its geographical location along the Pacific Coast, the second journey made by enslaved Africans severed them from the shared structures and feelings and waterways of the Black Atlantic" (Feldman, 2012). The lack of cartographic representation of African descendants living on the Pacific Coast coupled with a lack of connection in proximity with other African descendants of the greater Atlantic diaspora has led to invisibility on multiple scales: international, national, local, and individual. This has major economic and social impacts on African descendants on the Pacific Coast, which we will talk about later in our discussion of the included geographic map.

The Geography of Racial Difference

Afro-descendent invisibility in map-making and environmental discourse have roots in the colonial period. Racial Hierarchy is reflected on the environmental landscape. The environment goes through tides in where it becomes "racialized" and whitened. Landscapes are labeled and are visual markers of natural production while race is then tied to economic production. Racial hierarchy has to be groomed and managed just like the environment has to be groomed and managed. This hierarchy has been managed by the same people who run the multinationals and the state, the plantations and the missions- white Europeans to maintain white privilege. We therefore have to question the labeling we take for granted as "natural"--whether it is the label of tropical forest or the racial categories of Black, White or Indigenous.

Europeans claimed nature produced racial difference. Geography was paired with taxonomy to demonstrate a link between the naturalness of environmental order and as well as the "naturalness" of the superiority of colonial authority. Just as nature was ordered systematically through taxonomy, the idea of racial categories became assigned to the physical environment within which human beings dwelt. Physical features of non-whites became paired with animal like qualities to demonstrate a "natural" racial order. " (A) System of nature was simultaneously a system of race.... which underscores the global routes of natural history, comparative ethnology, and imperial science that converged to map race and nature at home and worlds away" (Moore, Pandian, & Kosek, 2003 p.12).

Scientists during the enlightenment used climate theories to explain why certain races were more suited for particular labor and classified the environment and groups accordingly. The climate of the New World produced an inferior race of people who were unable to properly utilize its resources and reach civilization because their environment conditioned them to be incapable of the desire (Moore at el 2003, Kosek 2004). This climate was seen as inferior to that of Europe and therefore produced a racially inferior group of peoples while Europeans were the only people qualified to steward natural...

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