Mayan Marimba and the Musical Production of Place in a Transnational Migrant Community

In my first meeting with the Maya Q’anjob’al community in Los Angeles, I gained two important insights into their existence in LA: first, they were here because they had been displaced from their land by a violent civil war in which non-Indigenous Guatemalans targeted Mayan populations. Second, their establishment in Los Angeles, a city that abounds with diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic groups, allows them relative freedom to redefine ethnic boundaries that had for centuries been defined for them. In this dissertation, I analyze the relationship among three fundamental aspects of Indigenous identity politics in the twenty-first century—migration, music, and transnational media networks—and the way in which each aspect interacts with the others to continuously reproduce identity despite dramatic changes in spatial orientation. During four years of fieldwork in Los Angeles and Guatemala, I used ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and repertoire analysis to analyze the ways in which people in ethnic groups use music to construct ethnic identity in the creation of meaningful places. Specifically, I outline how Q’anjob’ales use marimba music to tie Q’anjob’al identity production to natural environments, reterritorialize Q’anjob’al identity in urban environments through musical symbolizing, regulate ethnic boundaries through musical interaction in urban audiotopias, and expand Q’anjob’al space transnationally through virtual music sharing. While geographers, ethnomusicologists, and anthropologists have focused on either the “acoustic ecologies” of social space or the role of music in communicating among displaced communities, I combine both approaches, theorizing music not only in place, but also as place through its transformation of digital space in multiple locations.