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Monday, December 31, 2012

African Influence on Mexican Culture


 One day, in my San Francisco office, there was Mexican couple seeking assistance in their job search. In my usual attempt to establish rapport with clients, I learned that they were from Mexico's Port of Vera Cruz. This really piqued my interest because there is a town in the province of Vera Cruz that I want to visit that was created by a Black runaway slave named Gaspar Yanga. This couple not only never heard of Yanga, but never knew that the Port of Vera Crux was an entry port for more than 500,000 African slaves who were scattered throughout Mexico and Central America between 1519, the invasion of Cortez. and 1810, the year of Mexico's independence from Spain..

Writer Jameelah S Muhammad in the book, “No Longer Invisible: Afro Latin Americans Today” by Minority Rights Press, the African presence in Mexico is a subject often denied, but people of African descent have influenced every aspect of Mexican life, culture, and history. They participated in the discovery and conquest, exploring unknown territories, and establishing communication between the indigenous peoples and the Spanish. Jameelah also added that Black people were not only crucial to colonial Mexico's economy (then known as New Spain), but made it the most successful in colonial Spanish America. Even during the Mexican revolution, Blacks maintained a high-profile in the ranks of Mexico's revolutionary forces.

This reminds me of the day I struck up a conversation with a Mexican woman in a restaurant. When she told me that she was from Mexico's state of Guerrero, my heart went out to her because I'm an admirer of Mexico's first Black president and liberator Vicente Guerrero for whom her home state was named. I was so surprised that she never heard of Vicente Guerrero who was born to an African slave mother and a peasant Mestizo father.

In fact, many Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals I talk to are not aware of the heavy Black presence during Mexico's early years. According to anthropologist and professor at Mexico's University of Vera Cruz, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, Black Mexicans made up 71% of the non-Indigenous population while the Spanish represented the remainder. Unlike the USA, where interracial marriage was illegal, Blacks over the centuries intermarried, shacked, and made love with the Spanish and the Indigenous population, which explains the considerably diminished Black population.