Afro Mexican (Spanish: "afromexicano") is a term used to identify Mexican people of African ancestry. African Mexicans, now largely assimilated in the general population, have historically been located in certain communities in Mexico. They are currently found in the coastal areas of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Veracruz, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán.
During the colonial period in Veracruz, Spaniards placed restrictions on contact between Africans and Natives to discourage the formation of alliances . Intermarriage between the races, whose descendants were called Lobos in the caste system of New Spain and Zambos in other parts of Spanish America, was heavily discouraged by some individuals in the Catholic clergy. Africans soon outnumbered Europeans in certain areas, and the Spanish implemented many tactics to ensure that they remained the dominant racial group in Mesoamerica.
The Spaniards ruled the racial groups under their control according to medieval conceptions of strict social order. In the first place, they tolerated sexual relations with native or black women, but not marriage with them; and indeed, since males predominated among the waves of Spaniards and their African slaves, both European and African men had intercourse with Native women, so that from the beginning of the colonial period a complex order of racial mixture arose. And although the indigenous peoples, who did not want their communities to be overrun by outsiders, opposed the intercourse of Native and African, so that Africans sometimes took Native women by force (a fact that did not contribute to the establishment of good relations), Spaniards actually accorded the black population a higher status than the Native, who had the status of minors. Spanish authorities thus created a set of rules, so each mix had its place in colonial society, and a set of rights and prohibitions. For example, mulatto women could not use silver jewellery, while mestizo women could, and so on. Evidence of the racial order is to be found in a series of paintings known as pinturas de castas wherein the races and mixtures are categorized and classified. Eventually this system became too complex, and skin color became the standard of measurement of social level. Mexicans to date are still very sensitive to skin color, but as a sign of social status, rather than in racial terms. In this system, the black population had some rights: Since 1527 married black slaves could buy their liberty at twenty pieces of gold and own lands, although they could not have public positions and black women could not use jewels.
The Black population grew rapidly, and by 1608 most white homes had at least one black slave.
In the early days of the colonial period, slavery was very harsh, and lead to rebellions. In 1609 there was a black rebellion in Veracruz, lead by Gaspar Yanga and Francisco de la Matosa. After fierce battles, Yanga came to negotiate a peace with the viceroy Luis de Velasco. A black community, called "San Lorenzo" (Later renamed Yanga) was founded and still exists; it would be the first of several. But this would not stop the hostilities. Spanish authorities suspected a new rebellion, in 1612, they imprisoned, torture and execute 33 slaves (twenty nine males and four women). Their heads were cut off and remained in the main square of Mexico City for a long time as an example.
There were also some persons of African descent who were not made slaves. These were the descendants of slaves who escaped their slave-masters in the sugar cane farms in United States, especially Texas, and settled as free people in Coahuila in the nineteenth century. Mexico also experienced a settlement of thousands of Black Seminoles, who are descendants of free and escaped Africans who married Native Americans of Seminole ancestry. These settlers also escaped their slave-masters in Oklahoma Indian Territory and made a free African village in Nacimiento, Coahuila and a few villages along the Texas-Mexico border. Some of the Indio African in yucatan traveled to the country of Belize. Though there is an African presence in Belize some forget their roots. In recent years, some Afro-Mexicans include blacks who immigrated to Mexico from Caribbean countries such as Cuba, or from Africa to earn money in Mexico as contract workers. Many Afro-Mexicans also went abroad to find better economic fortune, mostly to the United States, where they and their U.S. children are called Hispanic Americans and Mexican Americans of African descent.
During the 1540s there were two uprisings of Blacks near Mexico City, and rumors of plots for African uprisings in the capital were heard frequently during the 1600s. In the 1560-1580 period, Afro-Mexicans who had fled the mines in Zacatecas kept the area in turmoil with raids on haciendas and roads. During this period one group of escaped Black miners from Zacatecas joined with the unconquered Chichimec Indians northwest of city and together they descended upon the settler communities in what became a brutal war. Also in the late 1500s slaves from the Pachuca mines rose up and fled the city. These ex-miners found refuge in an inaccessible cave from which they sallied forth periodically to steal cattle and other necessities.
The African population in Mexico was pronounced along the Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas. On the Atlantic side, large slave labor sugar plantations in coastal Veracruz produced great profits for the Empire. A combination of the profiteers' need for workers and the habit of slaves running away, led the slave masters to utilize chains and other cruel measures on their subjects. Nevertheless, the enormous mountains behind the Veracruz lowlands became the home of fiercely independent maroon communities of both ex-slave Blacks and of Indigenous, too. The peaks of the range rise to on the south, and to 18,300 Mt. Orizaba and 14,000 Cofre de Perote in the center. Below the ridges in the northern stretch of the range there is the best evidence of the value of these jungle covered mountains for hideaways. Located in a canyon is a small city of an Aztec tributary state that became an Indian refuge that the Spaniards never discovered. The town remained occupied on into the 1700s, and its existence did not become known to the outside world until 1994.
Yanga: The most memorable of the numerous Afro-Mexican maroon colonies in the range was the one founded after a bloody slave rebellion in the sugar fields in 1570. The rebel leader Gaspar Yanga was a slave from the African nation of Gabon, and it was said that he was from the royal family. Yanga led his rebel band into the mountains, where he found a locale sufficiently inaccessible to settle and create his own small town of over 500 people. The Yangans secured provisions by raids upon the Spanish caravans bringing goods from the highlands to Veracruz. Relations were established with neighboring runaway slaves and Indians. For more than thirty years Yanga and his band lived free while his community grew in size. A Spanish study of the situation concluded that Gaspar Yanga must be crushed. With that goal in mind a Royal war party left the city of Puebla in January of 1609. It did not succeed in its goal. Before he died, Yanga would have in hand a treaty with the Spaniards that granted freedom to his followers and established their own "free town."
Five decades after Mexican independence Yanga was made into a national hero of Mexico by the diligent work of the grandson of Vicente Guerrero, Vicente Riva Palacio. The energetic Riva Palacio was an historian, novelist, short story writer, military general and major of Mexico City mayor during his long life. In the late 1860s he retrieved from moldy Inquisition archives accounts of Yanga and of the expedition against him. From his research, the grandson of the first "Black President" brought the story to the public in an anthology in 1870, and as a separate pamphlet in 1873. Reprints have followed, including a recent edition in 1997. Others have written about Yanga, but none have matched the flair of Riva Palacio in conveying the image of proud fugitives who would not be defeated.
Riva Palacio informs us that Yanga was quite old in 1609 and "the revered ancient one" had delegated military organization to his aid, the Angolan Francisco de la Matosa. Upon receiving word of the Spanish expedition that had left Puebla, Yanga had General de la Matosa gather fighters for a defense. The General dressed in clothing fitting a commander, in the hope of instilling military decorum on troops which had little weaponry and nothing in the way of a military uniform. Their combat had been guerrilla raids. The maroon band whipped into shape by de la Matosa, aided by Yanga's son Ñanga, had but a hundred fighters with firearms, and some were using old muskets of the conquistadors. Four hundred others prepared to fight with rocks, poles, machetes, and bows and arrows. Into their mountains marched the well armed Spanish war party of 550. There were 100 crack Spanish troops, but the rest were a mix of adventurers looking for spoils and conscripted Mexicans, including Indians and "mulatos" some of them also armed with bows and arrows.
A retreat further up into the wilderness, no doubt, tempted Yanga. The 39 years that he had lived in the mountains gave him knowledge of the routes in and out of the ravines, around the waterfalls, and through the forests of high vine and fern covered trees. But should he flee? "The revered ancient one" had already moved many time while creating a community that tried to farm land and tend cattle. The band included ever more children and elderly. Yanga gambled on standing up to the enemy. The reports Riva Palacio found in the Inquisition led him to conclude that Yanga had decided ahead of time that he would join de la Matosa and his son with the troops, and that they would make a show of force that they hoped would inflict enough damage to interest the Spaniards in negotiations for peace. The terms? Perhaps the Spaniards would be interested in granting a form of peace treaty similar to the one that had ended hostilities with many Indigenous groups in Mexico, that is, a "homeland" in which there would be self-rule on local matters, but from which would come tribute taxes for the King of Spain and loyalty to the Crown in case of foreign attack. There was, however, a major difference between the Indian and Afro-Mexican situation. Because of the slavery inflicted upon the Blacks, any free "homeland" would soon be crammed with African runaways from servitude. Yanga offered an answer to this worry of the slave masters. He promised to return any new slaves who sought asylum in his free territory. Early in February word reached the Yanga settlement that the Spanish war party was near. Yanga all but lit the way to his village by sending the enemy a captured Spanish prisoner, who carried a message that offered the deal. The message also included gratuitous insults to the Crown and a warning that to take on the Yangans would prove costly.
A deal was not forthcoming and a fierce engagement was fought downslope from the settlement with heavy losses on both sides. The maroons retreated back through their settlement, which the Royal troops entered and burned. The prospect of chasing the maroons further up the mountains was not, however, an inviting one for the Spanish war party. A priest was then sent to seek out Yanga, and hopefully convince him the cause was lost. Yanga reiterated his terms: In return for a grant of farmable land and the right of self-government, Yanga offered that he and his followers would return to the Crown authorities any of the slaves who, in the future, might flee to such a Black refuge. In addition to their own town, the rebels wanted it in writing that all the slaves who had fled before 1608 should be free; that only Franciscan friars should attend to their people; and that Yanga should be their governor and that the succession should go to his descendants. In spite of the opposition of the slave holders of the sugar plantations, the Crown acceded to Yanga's petitions, and the maroons were officially settled on the slopes of Mount Totutla in 1630.
Riva Palacio had titled his Yanga account The 33 Negroes. They were not of Yanga's band. Their fate was the horrifying evidence of the long term impact of his achievement upon the psyche of White Mexico, and thus, upon the history of the whole long stay in Mexico by the Spanish rulers. Riva Palacio explains that news of the agreement with Yanga was greeted with great alarm and misgiving among the resident Spaniards of Mexico City. Slave owners in the city were livid and demanded assurances no such breech of private property rights as the massive manumission of Yangaistas would ever happen again. Rumors of Blacks scheming with Yanga for further gains abounded. "Was it true that along the road from Veracruz to Mexico City there was an encampment of thousands of Blacks?" it was asked. Would not the freedom given the band in the Veracruz mountains embolden them to try to free all Blacks? Was not a muleteer from Veracruz seen talking in suspiciously hushed tones with local Blacks? Did not the local Blacks seem to have a chip on their shoulder since the word has spread about Yanga? Were the Blacks about to rise up and kill everybody, especially us, the Spaniards seemed to be asking.
Rumors reached a boil on Easter week 1612. The authorities canceled all celebrations for fear the parades would be used by the Afromexicans of the city to spark an uprising. Then in the middle of the night on Easter a butcher was parading a pack of pigs into town and something bothered the pigs. They began a horrible squeal. Shutters were flung open. Shouts were heard. It was assumed the Blacks and mulatos were rising up. By mid-day 33 Blacks had been rounded up for execution, 29 men and 4 women, While paraded by government authorities to the gallows they were beaten by a drunken mob. The mass hanging did not satisfy the mob, which tore the bodies to pieces and placed the heads and other parts on poles which were left hanging for a considerable time, until the authorities determined that the stench was too strong and the parts were buried. "Thus was snuffed out the sound of conspiracy in the year 1612," writes Riva Palacio.
Yanga's town survived. And it was moved to better farm land in the lowlands. The Yangans had asked for a better location, and the Viceroy agreed, having concluded that he preferred to have the Yangans live near his newly build military base than up in the mountains. The military base became the present large city of Cordova. The town of Yanga, then known as San Lorenzo de los Negros, had 719 people at the time of Mexican independence. Today it is a city of over 20,000, with the majority being people from the highlands rather than Afro-Mexicans from the region. Nonetheless, since 1986 the city has celebrated its founder in an annual August "Festival of Negritude." (See statue of Yanga, photo montage of the festival, and details on the festival in the Gallery section)
Vicente Guerrero exemplifies the progressive tradition and how it has been carried forward from fathers to sons and daughters and grandchildren.
The mule driver Vicente Guerrero rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican army during the last years of the 1810-1821 independence war with Spain. Eight years after independence he was president and he issued his nation's slavery abolition decree. Guerrero was a descendant of African slaves brought to colonial Mexico. He also had Indigenous and Spanish roots, and his multi-cultural experience was enriched by contact among the many in his region who were descendants of the estimated 100,000 Asians brought to Mexico in slavery on the Manila to Acapulco galleons. The Asians were labeled "African" because the Spanish wanted more slaves, and by law only Africans could be slaves. Most of the Asians did come from places where people were dark, such as Malaysia, and the southern Filipine Islands, including the island of Negros, so named because the Negritos lived there.
The Black Indian Family on the Museum Wall
Guerrero has a state in his name, only one of four heroes of the nation to be so honored. On a wall in the National Museum of History in Mexico City is a display of the family tree that stems from President Guerrero. He and his wife Guadalupe Hernandez de Guerrero had one surviving child, Dolores. She married Mariano Riva Palacio, who was head of the city council in Mexico City during Guerrero's presidency. Mariano was later the mayor of the capital city, a state governor, a prominent promoter of public education, and a general in the army during the mid-century war of the Reform. In 1831 Vicente Guerrero was assassinated, and in the years that followed Mariano and Dolores made their home a gathering place for followers of the fallen leader. In this environment the children of Mariano and Dolores were politicized. Their sons Vicente (named after grandfather) and Carlos became state governors and army generals. Vicente is best known as a literary light, and for being the most read historian in Mexico. The tall and thick multi-volume compendium, MEXICO A TRAVES DE LOS SIGLOS, that he directed to publication in the 1880s continues to go through reprintings today. Also much republished is Riva Palacio's account of the African slave Gaspar Yanga, who led a revolt in the sugar plantations of Veracruz in 1570.
Additional Guerrero/Riva Palacio generations produced more state governors, including a second Carlos Riva Palacio. During the latter stages of the 1910 social revolution, Carlos #2 supported President Calles, a loudly nationalistic leftist who drew threats of intervention from the U.S. in 1927. In 1934 Carlos was first president a new ruling political party, which is said to have been originally progressive, and now, under its new name, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, is said to stand for "technocrats" beholden to a wealthy clique. Emerging in the late 1980s to fight the corrupted PRI from a left wing perspective was Raymundo Riva Palacio. A crusading journalist, Raymundo was instrumental in making two Mexico City dailies, EL FINANCIERO and LA REFORMA, into popular anti-establishment papers. The physical appearance of Raymundo does not suggest that he is a descendant of the first "Black President" of Mexico. But he is nonetheless following the family business, opposition to the elite.
The African Mexican population has mixed mostly with the larger populations and many have forgotten their African ancestry, but some populations like Costa Chica and others still remain with stronger visual cues of their African ancestry.
Admixture levels in Mexico have been studied in multiple studies and have shown a strong presence of Amerindian and European genetic contributions with a significant African contribution as well.
For Edward Said, nations are narrations and the power of narrating and blocking the formation and emergence of other narratives “is very important for culture and imperialism, and it constitutes one of the most important connections among them” (Introduction, xiii).
According to Jose Piedra, Nebrija argued in 1492 “that language becomes the source of power when it provides an official ‘home’ for the memory of all who contribute to the empire, and grammarians act as the official guardians of such a home” (306).
So-called Mestizos, or people of mixed blood constitute the largest percentage of the total population in Mexico. It is generally reported that mestizos represent anywhere from 55 to 85 percent of Mexican people. The common belief, even at present, is that this group or “minority” is the result of the exclusive mix of Amerindians and Spaniards. This partial truth was disseminated in Mexico, and outside the country, during a period identified by Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas as “the cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution (1920-1968).” Today’s Mexican mestizos, known throughout the colonial period (1521-1821) as mezclas or castas, began to be born shortly after the Spanish invasion in 1521. Yet to be acknowledged is the fact that these mezclas were the daughters and sons of an array of mixes that occurred among the vanquished Amerindians, the enslaved black Africans, the invading Spaniards, and other people, such as Asians.
The origin of the semantic problem may be explained further by the fact that during the colonial period the classification “mestizo” referred only to the offspring of Spaniard and Amerindian. However, it must be stressed that this was merely one classification among over a dozen and a half “racial” classifications of which the majority, at times obviously and at times imperceptibly, contained the black African element. In 1946, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán added another dimension to the problem when he “rediscovered” a "black" population in Mexico’s south Pacific Coast. He classified mestizos as Indo-mestizos, Euro-mestizos and Afro-mestizos based on appearance. As a result, the term “Afro-Mexican” seems to have become a synonym for the "visibly black" portion of Mexican mestizos in a growing body of academic work. The problem with this perception is that it creates an artificial division of Mexican mestizos based on the way people look. For instance, the black or African root of Mexican mestizaje has been referred to as the “Third Root.”
This, in the case of visibly black Mexicans, appears erroneous. In some instances it seems more appropriate to call the African element the first root, in others, the second, or the third, or fourth. It should be clear, particularly in the light of new readings of history, that a considerable part of Mexican mestizos, even many whose appearance would make one believe otherwise, possess black African genes. The majority of Mexican mestizos are descendants of the hundreds of thousands of black African enslaved people that started to be brought to Mexico from the onset of Hernán Cortés' invasion. On the one hand, this understanding is crucial to dispel the myth that Mexican mestizos are the offspring exclusively of Amerindians and Spaniards. On the other hand, it is important as it helps clarify that when visibly black Mexicans are referred to, it is not a reference to a separate group: it is a reference to a portion of Mexicans that due to their looks alone were singled out by the racist criollo thought that controlled the discourse on nation during the cultural phase of the Revolution.
This work analyzes the coding and distortion of the image of visibly black Mexicans in and through literature, and film; and the omission of the African heritage in popular culture images or sites that, by way of official intervention became symbols, icons or credentials of national identity. It explores how the Africaness of Mexican mestizaje was erased from the collective memory and national imaginary and the African ethnic contributions plagiarized in modern Mexico. This study examines part of the discourse on nation expressed in various cultural texts produced by authors who subscribed to the belief that only white was beautiful, between 1920 and 1968. The premise of this work is that through the government, the criollo elite and their allies disenfranchised Mexicans as a whole by institutionalizing a magic mirror—materialized in the narrative of nation—where mestizos perceive a partial reflection of themselves. The Africaness of Mexican mestizaje was removed from the ideal image of Mexicaness disseminated in and out of the country. During this period, and in the material selected for study, wherever African Mexicans—visibly black or not—are mentioned, they appear as “mestizos” oblivious of their African heritage and willingly moving toward becoming white.
The critical foundation of this research rests mainly on two essays: “Black Phobia and the White Aesthetic in Spanish American Literature” by Richard L. Jackson; and “Mass Visual Productions” in White Screens Black Images: The Dark Side of Hollywood, by James Snead. In “Black Phobia…,” Jackson points out that defining “superior and inferior as well as the concept of beauty” according to how white a person is perceived to be is a “tradition dramatized in Hispanic literature from Lope de Rueda’s Eufemia (1576) to the present” (467). Under the white aesthetic explained by Jackson, morality, civility, gallantry, bravery, prowess, industriousness, restraint, sincerity, intellectuality, good-heartedness, and love-for-life, among other virtues, are measured according to how white a person appears to be; in short, virtuosity is defined by whiteness.
For Snead, “the coding of blacks in film, as in the wider society, involves a history of images and signs associating black skin color with servile behavior and marginal status.” Snead points out, “while these depictions may have reflected prior economic oppression of blacks, they also tend to perpetuate it.” He clarifies that, “through the exact repetition which is film’s main virtue, these associations became part of film’s typological vocabulary…” (142). James Snead’s perspective on “coding” adds another dimension to Jackson’s readings under the “white aesthetic.” The coding identified by Snead uses three particular tactics, among others, to forge and perpetuate black stereotypes: “mythification,” “marking,” and “omission” (143). The tactic of mythifying whites as “powerful” and “civilized” ensures that blacks appear as meek and uncivilized. Marking, as applying paint to make blackness stand out, is done to highlight the color line. The omission of prominent black figures reproduces and perpetuates the myth that blacks are subservient. For Snead “codes are not singular portrayals of one thing or another, but larger, complex relationships” (142).
The following cultural texts are the focus of this work: the book-length essay, La raza cósmica: misión de la raza iberoamericana (The Cosmic Race: Mission of the Iberian-American Race) (1925) by José Vasconcelos; a sample of ideal Mexican mestizo images that, once detached from their African component, were implanted in the collective memory and psyche through various means of mass persuasion; the picaresque novel, La vida inútil de Pito Pérez (The Futile Life of Pito Perez) (1938) by José Rubén Romero; the film, Angelitos Negros (Little Black Angels) (1948) by Joselito Rodríguez; and the postmodern novel, La muerte de Artemio Cruz (The Death of Artemio Cruz) (1962) by Carlos Fuentes. The texts mentioned above are examined to disclose how visibly black Mexicans are coded in accordance to a white aesthetic.
The corpus studied is confined to the cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution, 1920 to 1968. However, this study refers to other historical periods as deemed necessary to provide support and a context to analyze the contents of the works from a perspective herein called the African-Hispanic American approach, a critical view that reads texts concerning the black experience from a black perspective. Chapter One, “The Revolution and Invisibility: African Mexicans and the Ideology of Mestizaje in La raza cósmica,” reveals the racist agenda forming the core of José Vasconcelos’ “cosmic race” ideology. It exposes how, as soon as Vasconcelos was named Minister of Education in 1921, his perspective, which promoted physical and mental whitening of the population, began to be disseminated via major channels of mass persuasion such as public education, newspapers, radio, mural paintings, cinema, impressions of popular nationalism, and literature, among other media.
This chapter uncovers how the African elements of Mexican mestizaje were systematically excluded paradoxically by integration. It exposes how at the time, under a perspective marked by black phobia and white aesthetics, it was argued that all non-whites were on their way to becoming some new shade of “white” due to natural selection and love.
The second chapter, “The Erased Africaness of Mexican Icons,” examines the recasting process undergone by some of the most popular images and cultural expressions of national identity. It uncovers how, through this officially supported procedure, the Africaness, intrinsic to the development of said images and cultural expressions, was removed or diluted to disappearance. This chapter focuses on the manner in which these images and expressions, once “cleansed” from any reference to their blackness, were widely publicized and how after 1920 became icons of national identity. “La vida inútil de Pito Pérez: Tracking the African Contribution to the Mexican Picaresque Sense of Humor,” Chapter Three, analyzes the Mexican landmark picaresque novel, La vida inútil de Pito Pérez. It establishes a link between the first profane dances and songs of indisputable black roots and the popular Mexican satire, with La vida inútil and the sense of humor represented therein. It shows how the main character, Pito Pérez, essentially echoes Manuel Payno’s characterization of the mezclas. These mezclas, which roamed the countryside and cities in very large numbers, were also known as “léperos,” “pelados”, or “pícaros,” among other names. The chapter highlights the connection between pícaros, the Mexican sense of humor, and the mezclas.
Chapter Four, “Angelitos negros, a Film from the 'Golden Age' of Mexican Cinema: Coding Visibly Black Mestizos By and Through a Far-reaching Medium,” discloses how international black stereotypes are used to code black Mexicans in and through film. It documents that cinematography was utilized along with literature and other channels of mass persuasion as part of a nationalist campaign to defame blacks while promoting whitening. This chapter exposes the racist discourse that went above and beyond cultural and linguistic barriers. It establishes a link between Hollywood’s views and official Mexican views guided by black phobia and the white aesthetic in or around 1949, a time when Angelitos and other Mexican films such as La negra Angustias were made in Mexico.
The notion that the novel, La muerte de Artemio Cruz is a “new” way of telling the same stereotypical stories about blacks and their descendants is presented in Chapter Five, “Modern National Discourse and La muerte de Artemio Cruz: The Illusory "Death" of African Mexican Lineage.” This part shows how through new structural technology, the reader is penetrated to the unconscious where, through the reinforcement of preexisting symbols, the author forges his negative images of blacks and their sons and daughters. The objective of this study is to shed light on the manner in which the black African characteristics and the African legacy are narrated to disappearance or insignificance while coded under a white supremacy perspective in the following manners: by distorting or deliberately ignoring their beauty, their inner-strength and their world-views; and by misappropriating the African cultural contribution to Mexican mestizaje, a legacy imbedded in popular expressions such as dance, song, food and language. In the works analyzed, black images are systematically portrayed within a process of assimilation through characteristics such as “green eyes” or other white features. For black characters to be rebellious or to show intelligence, they have to be diluted, deliberately ignoring that blacks from the onset of slavery began to revolt and that if they survived until the present in Mexico, as well as in other parts of the “New World,” it was not due to miscegenation with "whites" but in spite of it and due to their own intelligence and inner strength. Even where an author appears to recognize the Africaness of a character, the analysis finds a narrative that distorts the image of African Mexicans by bleaching them out.
This same ideology, based on the white aesthetic, was instrumental in plagiarizing the African legacy to Mexicaness where it ascribed Spanish and Amerindian origins alone to various African Mexican cultural expressions that became icons of modern national identity. This analysis reads the works studied as part of the relationship between the ideology of mestizaje and the erasure of the Africaness of Mexican mestizaje.
In the last few years, more discourse has been taking place about why so little is known about the afro-diasporic population in Mexico. Since the nationalistic movement of the 1940s, the Mexican government states there is no distinction made between white, mestizo, mulatto, black, or Amerindian, so the population is classified on cultural bases rather than racial. As a result, most of the population is classified as mestizo, which is defined as someone who does not belong to an indigenous group (participate in their customs or speak their language). This criterion results in a much lower number of black and Amerindian population. Charles Henry Rowell, the editor of the Callaloo Journal, believes that the majority of the descendants of African slaves have disappeared through assimilation and miscegenation (2004). In the eyes of Mexican population, only people with very dark skin are actually called "negro", so the black population is not perceived as a community.
Lack of acknowledgement sometimes makes it difficult for Afro-Mexicans to take pride in their African heritage. Many have chosen to assimilate completely into Mexican society. A recent survey (2005) found that most of the people who show obvious black ancestry prefer to be considered mestizos. There is also outside pressure from other Mexicans that causes them to assimilate. Because their existence is not widely known throughout Mexico and the rest of the world, they are often assumed to be illegal immigrants from Belize or elsewhere in Latin America (Sailer, 2002). There have been many accounts of Afro-Mexicans being pulled over by the police and being forced to sing the Mexican national anthem to prove they are Mexican (Graves, 2004). This discrimination causes many Afro-Mexicans, if they are able, to conceal their African lineage.
Despite being faced with discrimination and poverty, there are some Afro-Mexicans who openly embrace their African heritage and want it to be recognized. In Coyolillo, located in Veracruz, they celebrate Carnival, which has its roots in African culture. In the village of El Ciruelo, there is a small group of Afro-Mexicans who have organized as Mexico Negro, and they are fighting to have a racial breakdown added to the census before the 2010 count (Graves, 2004), but the National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Data Processing (INEGI) census does not record race. It is based only on socioeconomic criteria. About 200,000 Africans were brought to Mexico during the time of the Spanish Empire (Sailer, 2002). Although it is not common knowledge, the descendants of these slaves still live in Mexico today. Anthropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán has called them "The third root".
Recent research has studied the creative mix and found African imprint upon Mexican national culture in many areas, such as: MUSIC (musicologist Rolando Perez Fernandez details a claim in his study "La Musica Afromestiza de Mexico" that virtually all popular music in Mexico has been African influenced); SCULPTURE (the extensive use of masks in dance and spiritual worship has been shown to have strong African influence by antropologist Sagrario Cruz Carretero and others); CUISINE (a decidedly Afro-Caribbean flavor is found in the popular food and drink of the Mexican Atlantic Coast, notes antropologist Dora Carreaga Gutierrez in her Afro-Mexican cookbook); MAGIC and MEDICINE practices (At the village level mystic rites and folk remedies have long had strong African influence argued antropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran in a book on the subject); LANGUAGE (the list of African words that have become "Mexicanismos" includes the nation's distinctive f-verb "chingar" which came from Angola, according to recent research)
The climate is very hot most of the year, and the summer rains can make transportation somewhat difficult, as the roads don't generally hold up that well. There are few major tourist attractions in the parts of the Costa Chica where most blacks live, although there are a few pleasant local beaches: Playa Ventura and Punta Maldonado in Guerrero and the beach at Corralero in Oaxaca. I should also mention the wildlife reserve in Chacahua, Oaxaca located near the black town of the same name.
While the Costa Chica is home to many blacks, there are also many indigenous groups, as well. I have spent very little time learning about these people, and can't speak with very much confidence about them. What I do know is that there are two major indigenous ethnic groups in the region: the Amuzgos [pictured to the left] and the coastal Mixtecs, (and to a lesser extent, Tlapanecos and Chatinos). What is also clear to me is that there is very little social interaction between blacks and indigenous people. Part of this is the issue of the language barrier, but I believe the issue is much more complex than that. There has been a long history of hostility between the two groups, and while today there is no open hostility, negative stereotypes abound on both parts.
Most of the homes in the region were round mud huts, whose roots have been traced back to what is now Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Now, the norm is a one-room or two-room house with wall of adobe or cement cinder block.
The economic base of the Costa Chica, not unlike most of the rest of the countryside, is agricultural. These campesinos, or peasant farmers, concentrate most of their efforts in the cultivation of corn, almost exclusively in order to make tortillas for their own consumption. Other common crops are coconut, mango, sesame, and some watermelon.
Cerro del Indio 608, Cuajinicuilapa 8932, Maldonado 892, Montecillos 893, El Pitahayo 2365, Punta Maldonado 1110, San Nicolás 3275, El Cacalote 119, Cerro de las Tablas 255, Copala 6540, Azoyú 4244, Banco de Oro 164, Barra de Tecoanapa 1024, Huehuetán 1827, Juchitán 2846
El Ciruelo 2397, Collantes 2325, Santa María Chicometepec 1477, Corralero 1597, Cerro de la Esperanza 1058, Lagunillas 495, El Azufre 451, Chacahua 714, Charco Redondo 444, El Lagartero 91, Llano Grande 260, Zapotalito 829, Morelos 2028, Lagunillas 69, Santo Domingo Armenta 2739, Lagunillas 129, Callejón de Rómulo 541, Santiago Tapextla 1566, Llano Grande 1065, Mártires de Tacubaya 839, San José Estancia Grande 916, Santa María Cortijo 968
Modern day Afro-Mexican politicians: Mario Marcel Salas, City of San Antonio City Councilman 1997-2001