Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mayate

















¡Pinche mayate!


A Name They Call Black People

When I first saw the film American Me, that was my first time hearing the expression mayate. I was not offended, but was extremely curious about the word's original meaning. All racial slurs have original meanings. I asked a Mexican American friend, and her mitigating response was that it is just a name they call black people. 

However, one summer I was teaching labor market orientation to high school students in Berkeley, California, and approached a group of Mexican-American students with whom I had a fairly decent rapport. I asked them what is a mayate? Obviously containing their laughter and not wanting to hurt my feelings, they became very tight-lipped. What was even more hilarious was that I was pronouncing mayate wrong by putting the accent on the wrong syllable.

Statue of Gaspar Yanga outside of the Mexican town named in his honor who led black runaway slaves in establishing a free Black town by defeating the Spanish over 200 years before Mexico won her independence.

The youngest member of the group repeated the correct pronunciation and told me that it was a little bug. One of the girls in the group shouted, ¡Cállate! (shut-up).  In defiance, he told me that a mayate is a little black bug. Now it was my turn to laugh as my curiosity was finally satisfied. Welcome to the United States of America where almost every ethnic group, including Mexican-Americans, has pejorative terms attached.








Vicente Guerrero, son of a black woman led Mexico to her independence from Spain in 1810 and became Mexico's second president in 1829. Mexico's state of Guerrero, where the resort city of Acapulco is located, was named in his honor.





Every time I hear that term mayate, it is always used in the context of conflict. In the films American Me and Blood In and Blood Out, mayate was primarily used when referring to a rival gang known as The Black Guerrilla Family. One day, I was passing by a group of Latino construction workers and overheard one venting his frustration on how he felt about “that mayate.” When he saw me looking at him, he immediately stopped talking wondering if I understood. I simply gave him a humored smile and a wink, and continued to cross the street at the green light.

José María Morelos y Pavón, son of a freed African slave, was a revolutionary war hero. Mexico's state of Morelos was named in his honor. 


Because of my level of education, mayate is not something I take personally; it's a joke, actually. It's a joke because even Mexico itself has an African history and presence, particularly in states of Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, which to day still have black villages. 

Mayates, excuse me, black people played major roles in Mexico's independence from Spain, including pure Africans like  Juan del Carmen, Juan Bautista, and Francisco Gomez. In fact, according to research done by Jameelah Muhammad published in the book, Afro Latino--No Longer Invisible by Minority Rights Press, Africans made important contributions to Mexican folk tales, religion, medicinal practices, cooking styles, and most notably, music and dance.


Related Blog Posts


29 comments:

  1. im an african american, mexican, white mix. it depends on who is using it, some are racist., and consider all blacks mayates. some are ignorant and dont know what there talking about. i know that most of the world comes from the indigenous people. the moores helped with that. my wife is bolvian and i had to show her what the world is. thank you for your info

    ReplyDelete
  2. Everyone always have to have some derogatory word that refers to blacks, why...i don't know. Everyone are all descendents of a black person. I have never seen a "white"or "black" person. There is no white, black, red or yellow races, we are all shades of brown, the world will be a much better place when everyone just accepts this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mr./Ms Anonymous, racial slurs are not directed at just black people. Races and ethnic groups around the world has pejorative terms attached. Is it right? Heck no, but that's the world we live in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thats one way to look at it.Right or wrong is illrelavent,how a people veiw themselves is the issue.African-Americans perpetuate stereotypes of our selves. Skin complextion issues .Artificial hair issues.Education vs no-education.Urban life styles,crime and hero status.

      Delete
  4. This world is mixed up. I saw the espn E60 piece on NFL running back Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. He comes froma a bi-racial background, his Mom is Mexican American. His Dad is Black. Arian talked about mexicans calling him mayate when he was growing. Now that he's a football star he's their hero. Hines Ward probably dealt wih the same hypocracy in Korea. People need Jesus. I know I do. I know he cares about me, becuase he created and sustains me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kountzer, thank you for your input. Pray for me too.

    ReplyDelete
  6. When will mexicans realize we are all mayates in the white mans eyes. ,

    ReplyDelete
  7. It´s not just Mexicans. Ignorance crosses language culture, racial, and international boundaries.

    ReplyDelete
  8. There is a different meaning for Mayate in Mexico!
    In the City of Juchitan, Mayate is used for men, who identify heterosexual, but have sex with gays. Mostly they take the active role in the intercourse. also they are paid, or invited for drinks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, Chamanter, that's a new one! Very interesting.

      Delete
    2. The use of color to identify people by ethnicnicity,began after the fall of Rome. People were not concerned about color ,your family status was power. Some Africans were known as Hebrew,s,Etheopian,s,Moor,s,Cartheginian,s and Egytian,s. European people combined all those ancient groups into Black people,and it has stuck too this day.

      Delete
  9. I read this and Im more interested in the part where history class left out that a Blaxican lead Mexico to its independance. Its a shame how people can be racist but not even know the history about allot of things. Mexican and black people have been having each others back for years.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very interesting information is there other states in mexico that are named after black people?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ocho,
      I know there are some cities and towns named after Guerrero, but that is all I know at this point. Thank you for reading my blog.

      P.S. Are you a fan of the football player Ocho Cinco? :-)

      Delete
  11. My woodshop teacher always used to call the black students mayates, it was like an inside joke between us because the black dudes didnt know what they were being called. Cool ass teacher, Mr. Reyes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, children do have many negative role models who contribute to making this world bad.

      Delete
  12. I am totally convinced that the word "Mayate" actually is a derivative of the Kemetic goddess "Maat". This is the allegorical name of the goddess of truth, righteousness and justice of Kemetic spirituality. When armed with truth NO ONE can insult nor assail you! People of the African diaspora need to understand who they are and from whence they come! Man Know Thyself!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I know that mayate is considered a racial slur same as Beaner,Wetback, illegal just for being brown skinned, and cracker for white people, but believe me if your half black, half brown, half Asian, half white, and the other half is Mexican then dont consider yourself of two races or three because knowing the history of Latin America we know that all races mixed creating what people call Latinos. Just to inform some people who think Mexicans maybe racist towards black''s remember this; it's not your skin color that makes you Mexican its your culture.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mexican American says: “Just to inform some people who think Mexicans maybe racist towards black''s remember this; it's not your skin color that makes you Mexican its your culture”

      This does not mitigatethe obvious racism that is practiced all over Latin America and against their Black compadres and swept under the rug. The only difference between Latin American Blacks and Latin American Blacks is that we marched, demonstrated, rioted, and voted for the improvements we made not only for Blacks but all minorities in the USA, including Mexican Americans!

      Delete
  14. lol. You accept the definition that you want to hear. Asking for definition of "Mayate" from Americans children in CA school. Quite the researcher aren't you? Mexicans don't have a notion what Africans are. Americans have written numerous articles about the tiny Mexican mixed minority that have some trace of unknown African tribe blood. Why would you assume those people see themselves as anything but Mexican? You are transposing the "melting pot" mentality of USA on another country. Pure ignorance. Mayate simply means someone of African descendant. It's not like Mexicans can refer to you as Kenyan-American (like President Obama who is equally as "white"). You don't have enough to worry about in the African-American community than looking at other minority groups with hate? The AIDS rate among black males is sky high. What percentage of reproductive black males has been entangled in justice system? Probably interlinked. Worry about improving your lot. If you are going to pick fights, look at the group that ID'd you as livestock & bread you like mules, as agricultural tools. When Nigerians internationals speak of African-Americans, it is with disdain.They don't understand how you can live in this great country & not take advantage of the posibilities present. Remember the past but look forward. Isn't that what Mr. Obama has shown everyone how to live?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now, who's picking a fight here? As a bilingual English/Spanish speaker, I've taking the advice of my late Mexican-American friend who says, “if you are going to speak the language, learn the culture.” As you probably know, there are many different cultures where Spanish is spoken. There are even Black cultures where Spanish is spoken.

      I've traveled to nine Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico, and there is still so much to learn and absorb. I chose not to delete your nasty message because I have an open mind believing that every opinion counts even if I disagree. If anyone is picking a fight here it's cowards like you who log on as “anonymous.” Thank you for reading and posting.

      Delete
  15. Mayate, not at all any racist connotation in Mexico , it refers to the green insect, to the kind of green color or in the bad way,to the homosexuals who penetrates the other .... I dont know where you guys took the other stories, but if somebody told you that, they may still be laughing a lot about your interpretation

    ReplyDelete
  16. LOL, good for you that you don't use that word racially. Many others, Mexican-Americans in particular, do. I know that for a fact!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Bill,

    First, let me tell you this is an interesting article, not because it discusses the term mayate, but because you point out some of the highlights of black people in Mexican history.

    I was born and raised in northern Mexico, but to me, mayate is the green bug, and a derogatory term for homosexual men, specifically to the partner in the giving end.

    The use of mayate as a term for black people is news to me. I never used it that way, and never heard people in my communities back in Mexico use it that way.

    This came up in a recent conversation I had with a friend, here in the US. I am wondering where does this meaning come from. Is it from a specific area in Mexico? or other latin american country? or a term people in the US started to use? I have no idea, it would be interesting to find out. But, what I know is that I, a mexican, do not use it with that meaning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reading your communication and those of some others, I'm getting the impression that the racially pejorative use of mayate may be of Mexican-American origin. Not all Mexican-Americans use it, I know.

      Delete
  18. When I lived in Brooklyn NY.. Puerto Ricans referred to American blacks as "molletos". Growing up in PR I never heard it used there, but maybe I just never noticed then.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm mexican and is kinda stupid how people transform the meaning of the words, since I was a little kid mayate was used for the bug, but in the bad way is used in the same way as faggot. Ilive in California since 3 years ago and I have never called a black person mayate actually one day. E and. Y friends were buying shirts a d one of them told me : dame la playera verde mayate.. He was referring to the color of the shirt (dark green) and a black girl heard that and she started complaining about until I showed the picture... Was fun y

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Christian, if you come directly from Mexico, I believe you when you say that you never referred to a Black person as a mayate. The word got twisted here in the USA where there is a derogatory name for almost every ethnic group.

      Delete

Anonymous comments will be ignored and deleted.