Diasporic identities, autochthonous rights: race, gender, and the cultural politics of Creole land rights in Nicaragua

Goett, Jennifer Allan
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This dissertation explores how afro-descendent Creoles from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua engage the politics of femininity and masculinity, indigeneity and blackness, tradition and modernity, and autochthony and diaspora in their struggles for communal land rights. The historical part of the project examines successive waves of mobilization within the Creole community for access to land under colonial and post-colonial regimes, demonstrating that Creole land politics have played out by relatively distinct political logics over time. Following the armed conflict of the 1980s, communal land rights gained a new source of authority through their codification as multicultural citizenship rights, initially under the Sandinista revolutionary state and later within the context of neoliberal democracy. In both cases, rights to communal lands have been imagined as fundamentally indigenous rights. For Creole communities that actively identify as part of a transnational Black Diaspora, the challenge of reconciling an African and Caribbean past with autochthonous constructions of rights has had a profound impact on their negotiations with both the Nicaraguan state and their indigenous counterparts for land. My ethnographic research shows how race, gender, and class (as mutually constitutive identity categories) differentially condition the avenues of mobilization available to Creole women and men within this ideological and political terrain. By focusing on gendered idioms of struggle, the dissertation rethinks the relationship between race, gender, and class in Creole politics, exploring how women and men negotiate, accommodate, and contest their new found multicultural citizenship rights. But despite these limited political openings, the post-revolutionary state continues to be unable to imagine and construct a national identity in which afro-descendent peoples legitimately figure. Instead, post-revolutionary transformations linked to neoliberal globalization have led to the emergence of transnational forms of racialization in Nicaragua that associate blackness with criminality and the drug trade. Even though Creoles are no longer explicitly denied citizenship on the basis of their racial and cultural difference, emergent racial hegemonies work to make them implicitly unworthy of full citizenship due to their assumed criminality, which has come to represent a new counternational threat to state power and social order.