The disposal of waste generated in cities necessitates “proper” spaces where it can be located. The case of the informal settlement of La Carpio in San José, Costa Rica reveals the mechanisms through which “proper” spaces can be established. La Carpio is largely seen as a migrant (Nicaraguan) community and now hosts the largest landfill in the country and the largest sewage treatment plant in Central America. I trace how racism and xenophobia, and a co-construction of migrant bodies and spaces, have made La Carpio the proper place to dump Costa Rica’s waste, including migrants themselves. Informal settlements, predominantly migrant spaces, are part of the city but discursively and symbolically dislodged from the urban imaginary. As a migrant space within the national territory, La Carpio serves as an internal border beyond which several injustices can be committed without accountability. At the same time, while the dumping of trash and excrement in La Carpio reflects the oppression and discrimination that Nicaraguans experience in Costa Rica, this has also provided them with a powerful political tool as they have gained the possibility to stop the flow of waste and compel authorities to allocate other rights, including basic services and their recognition as urban citizens.
Nikolai Alvarado is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He has a BA in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Fullerton and holds both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Denver. His work on Migrant Urbanism speaks to broader questions on the role of international migration in emerging spatial configurations in Global South cities. Currently, Dr. Alvarado’s research focuses on environmental justice in informal settlements and on how these very same spaces enable a migrant politics able to contest, negotiate, and expand the limits of an urban citizenship that recognizes noncitizen migrants as legitimate urban dwellers. Dr. Alvarado is a first-generation college graduate originally from Ecuador and Costa Rica.