Monday, December 21, 2015

Mexico Finally Recognizes Its Own Black Community

Statue of Gaspar Yanga who who freed his black Mexican town of runaway slaves from Spanish rule 200 years before Mexico gained national independence.

Afro Mexicans fighting for recognition from their government now have a reason to celebrate. For the first time in Mexican history, the national census includes the "Afro" category. Until December 8 2015, Mexico was one of only two Latin American countries (the other being Chile) that did not recognize its 1.3 million of its Black citizens.  

This new inclusion by the Mexican government came after years of hard work by Afro-Mexican community activists who consistently petitioned national leaders. In addition, Mexico's Human Rights Commission organized a forum to address and fight racial discrimination against its black citizens.

Half black/half mestizo Vicente Guerrero led Mexico to her independence in 1810 as a general, and became Mexico's president in 1829.

Back in 2006, the Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art opened a groundbreaking exhibition that black Americans as well as Mexican people need to know,  “the African Presence in Mexico.” I am always astonished at the majority of Mexican nationals I meet who are totally oblivious to Mexico's black community. 

And Mexican Americans—forget it! I've met too many, barring those who are better educated, who think only African Americans are black, never mind the Afro-Mexicans, Afro-Nicaraguans, or Afro-Peruvians. I was on an Oakland city bus when I found myself lecturing a group of Mexican Americans high school students, in Spanish, who seemed to have felt that it was comical to hear a black man speak Spanish. I informed them about black history throughout Latin America, including Mexico's third root—the African.

 Mexican cuisine; African roots
I recently engaged in a conversation with an immigrant from Mexico’s State of Guerrero, where the resort city of Acapulco is located. She was so surprised when I told her that her state is named after her country’s liberator General Vicente Guerrero. 

I didn't share the fact that this liberator happens to be the son of an African slave mother and a Mestizo peasant father, and became the Mexico’s first black president in 1829. She seemed overwhelmed just with hearing how her state got its name. 

In Guanajuato, Mexico, which at one time had a substantial black population, blackeyed peas, closely associated with African cooking, is still a culinary legacy.

Another Mexican couple I met in my office was equally surprised when I told them that in their home state of Vera Cruz, where 200 years before Mexico became independent, an African slave rebel named Gaspar Yanga joined forces with another rebel slave leader named Francisco de Matosa to establish Mexico’s first free town, a free Black town independent of Spanish rule.  

In 1946, the late anthropologist and professor at Mexico’s University of Vera Cruz, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, published in in his book, La Población Negra de México (the Black Population of Mexico) that more than 500,000 African slaves were brought in through Mexico’s Port of Vera Cruz from 1519, the time of the Cortez invasion, until the day of Mexican independence in 1810.


In Mexico’s state of Veracruz Africans have profoundly influenced people, music, and food, such as this pumpkin soup.

The black population during colonial Mexico history was much larger until they began intermarrying with the Spanish and the Indigenous over a period of 500 years. Afro Mexicans played major roles In Mexico’s war of Independence from Spain as full blooded black men such as such as Juan Bautista, Francisco Gomez, and José María Alegre held leadership positions in the revolution.

Most Afro Mexicans, can be found in Mexico's states of Guerrero and Oaxaca on the west coast, and in Vera Cruz on the east coast where you can find the following towns with African names: Mandinga, Matamba, Mozambique, Mozomboa, Chacalapa, Coyolillo, Yanga, and Tamiahua.

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