Indigenous community mourns death of US anthropologist Michael Kearny


The Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities (CBDIO) and the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) lament the demise of the PhD in Anthropology Michael Kearney, who with his research deepened understanding of indigenous Oaxacan communities and their migration process.

Michael Kearney “was not only an excellent teacher and scholar who trained several generations of researchers but he also was a partner committed to the struggle for justice to indigenous peoples,” said sociologist Mixtec Gaspar Rivera Salgado, who worked closely with him.

For the migrant indigenous community and its leaders, Kearney contributions have proven invaluable because besides the scientific rigor in his research, Kearney was an exceptional person. According to CBDIO’s Executive Director, Rufino Dominguez, Kearney worked hard to learn in depth from the indigenous communities and the proof is that he understood the Mixteco language and lived many years in San Jeronimo El Progreso, Silacayoapan, Oaxaca.

Kearney also lived among Mixtec and Zapotec communities in the mountains of the Sierra, followed them through the deserts of Baja California, the neighborhoods of the border cities, agricultural fields of California and the immigrant communities in Los Angeles.

According to Professor Gaspar Rivera, “many of his ideas were crucial in the formation and development of various organizations of indigenous migrants, but in particular left a profound mark on the history of our organization the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB).

Kearney added the concept of “Oaxacalifornia” which sums up the life of Oaxacan migrants in California, where they recreate their lives and cultures, with all elements of their places or origin.

Gaspar Rivera, current FIOB Binational Coordinator, said that Kearney was responsible for documenting the origins and development of organizations of indigenous migrants. Rufino Dominguez said that since 1985, Michael Kearney approached the indigenous migrant organizations that were starting to form in California and began making a series of events calling indigenous leaders to present their ideas, to speak of territorial conflicts in their home communities, explain the phenomenon of migration from their perspective, to speak of their culture, and “what is to be indigenous.”

Organizing efforts Oaxacan migrants were strengthened with contributions from Michael Kearney for 24 years. Thanks to his theoretical work and its initiatives to create spaces for the dissemination of life of indigenous migrants, contributed to the growth of various indigenous organizations that currently exist. “So now we are where we are,” as Rufino Dominguez said.

Michael Kearney died on November 12, at 72 years old, surrounded by his family and friends at his home in Moreno Valley, California. Until his death, he served as professor emeritus at the University of California at Riverside. Kearney also was noted for his contributions to knowledge in the field of social anthropology, political economy and anthropology as well as practical issues of transnationalism, ethnicity, migration-Mexico border and California.

He was the author of books such as “Changing fields of American Anthropology: from local to global”, selected works from Michael Kearney, including four original chapters (2004); “Reconceptualizing the Peasantry: Anthropology in Global Perspective” (1996); “World View” (1984); “The Winds of Ixtepeji: World View and Society in a Zapotec Town” (1971), the English version was published in 1972.

Kearney wrote several monographs, and edited the book “Mixtepec: Multilocal Ethnography of a Mixtec transnational Community” (the original is in Spanish), and was director along with James Grieshop and Stefano Varese, of the film “ Invisible Indians: Mixtec Farmworkers in California”.
He also authored numerous articles, essays, chapter books and other short pieces. Among the latter “The effects of Transnational culture, economy and migration on Mixtec Identity in Oaxacalifornia” (1995) is found.

In 2005 he wrote the articlce “The Anthropology of Transnational Communties and the Refraiming of Immigration Research in California: The Mixtec Case” and “Encuesta sobre las redes de pueblos oaxaqueños en la Agricultura de California”, included in the “La Ruta Mixteca: El impacto etnopolítico de la Migración transnacional en los Pueblos Indígenas de México”.

His publications include “Oaxacan Municipal governance in Transnational Context”, in “Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the United States”, edited by Jonathan Fox and Gaspar Rivera Salgado.

He also wrote “Migrant worker Communities. Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World”.
Michael Kearney’s contributions to the understanding of indigenous cultures of Oaxaca and the factors that push them to migrate are proven invaluable in understanding the migration phenomenon.

On November 18 several indigenous leaders will accompany Kearny’s wife, Carole Nagengast and other relatives to bid farewell to former friend of the indigenous people. Rest in peace, Michael Kearney.

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