Indigenous organizing for housing justice:

Lessons and challenges

Magda, a Maya housing activist, in conversation with M. Bianet Castellanos

Published in Issue 5.1 // Conversations

Keywords: Maya migration, housing justice, informal settlements, pandemic, Cancún


What are the particular challenges to organizing for housing justice in Cancún, Mexico? How has the pandemic altered strategies? In January 2023, anthropologist M. Bianet Castellanos met with Magda (a pseudonym), a Maya activist who was one of the leaders of the quest for housing justice in the Colonia Mario Villanueva in Cancún. Castellanos documented this struggle in her book Indigenous Dispossession: Housing and Maya Indebtedness in Mexico (Stanford University Press 2021). This conversation was an opportunity for Magda to provide an update on the status of the informal settlement’s longstanding battle to procure formal land titles. They discuss the lessons learned from this decade-long struggle in the hope that this case will resonate and inform housing struggles in other parts of the world.

Magda is a pseudonym for a Maya activist from the informal settlement Colonia Mario Villanueva in Cancún, Mexico. She was born and raised in a rural Maya pueblo in the neighboring state of Yucatán, before migrating to Cancún. She has been organizing for housing justice for over a decade.

M. Bianet Castellanos is a sociocultural anthropologist who teaches American Studies and serves as the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at University of Minnesota. She has worked with Maya communities in Mexico and the United States for the past three decades. Her research centers Indigenous people’s experiences with migration, tourism, and urbanism. She is the author of A Return to Servitude: Maya Migration and the Tourist Trade in Cancún (2010) and Indigenous Dispossession: Housing and Maya Indebtedness in Mexico (2021).

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