Close
Did you find this article interesting?

Arts and Culture

Africa’s Lost Tribe In Mexico

The existence of Afro-Mexicans was officially affirmed in the 1990s when the  Mexican government acknowledged Africa as Mexico’s “third root”.  But Mexico’s real history shows the African presence in the country going back thousands of years. Despite the official recognition of the contribution of Africa and Afro-Mexicans to Mexican society throughout the ages, the plight of African-descended people in Mexico is still desperate, reports Miriam Jimenez Roman. (Additional reporting by Tom Mbakwe)

Last year, a bilingual exhibition, The African Presence in México: Yanga to the Present, was mounted by the Oakland Museum and the DuSable Museum on both sides of the Mexican border – in the US and Mexico itself. It traced how Africans – fewer than 2% of colonial Mexico’s (1521-1810) population – significantly enriched Mexican culture through their art, music, language, cuisine, and dance. The African Presence in México invited Mexican-Americans and African-Americans to look at their identities in light of their shared histories in Mexico and the United States.

The Spanish first brought Africans to Mexico in 1519 to work in the agrarian and silver industries, under often brutal conditions. There were constant slave protests and runaways (cimarrónes) who established settlements in the mountains of Orizaba. In January 1609, Gasper Yanga, a runaway slave elder, led the cimarrónes (or maroons) to a successful resistance against a special army sent by the Spanish Crown to crush their uprising.After several cimarrón victories, the Spanish acquiesced to the slaves’ demand for land and freedom. Yanga founded the first free African township in the Americas, San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Veracruz. It was renamed in his honour in the 1930s.

Slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1810 by Jose María Morelos y Pavón, leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a mulatto (Spanish and African), Morelos was directly affected by Mexico’s prejudices. Racial mixes were seen as undesirable by a society that aspired to purity of race and blood (ie, Spanish only).

In 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, the Mexican government officially acknowledged that African culture in the country represented la tercera raiz (the third root) of Mexican culture, with the Spanish and indigenous peoples. But the plight of Afro-Mexicans has not improved much since the recognition of 1992.

As Alexis Okeowo, a black journalist in the Mexican capital, Mexico City, attests, when she visited Yanga, her heart broke. “As I arrived in town,” she reported, “I peered out of my taxi window at the pastel-painted storefronts and the brown-skinned residents walking along the wide streets. ‘Where are the black Mexicans?’ I wondered. A central sign proclaimed Yanga’s role as the first Mexican town to be free from slavery, yet the descendants of these former slaves were nowhere to be found. I would later learn that most live in dilapidated settlements outside of town.”

The next morning when she went searching for the Afro-Mexicans, Okeowo found that though she had grown used to the rarity of black people in Mexico City, it was different at Yanga, where she was not only stared at but also pointed at.

“The stares were cold and unfriendly, and especially unnerving in a town named for an African revolutionary,” Okeowo recalled. “ ‘Mira, una negra,’ I heard people whisper to one another. ‘Look, a black woman.’ ‘Negra! Negra!’, taunted an old man with a shock of white hair under a tan sombrero.

“Surrounded by a group of men, [the old man] gazed at me with a big, toothy grin. He seemed to be waiting for me to come over and talk to him. Shocked, I shot him a dirty look and headed into [a] library’s courtyard.”

Okeowo continued: “The notion of race in Mexico is frustratingly complex. This is a country where many are proud to claim African blood, yet discriminate against their darker countrymen. Black Mexicans complain that such bigotry makes it especially hard for them to find work. Still, I was surprised to feel like such an alien intruder in a town where I had hoped to feel something like familiarity. Afro-Mexicans are among the poorest in the nation. Many are shunted to remote shantytowns, well out of reach of basic public services, such as schools and hospitals.

“Activists for Afro-Mexicans face an uphill battle for government recognition and economic development. They have long petitioned to be counted in Mexico’s national census, alongside the country’s 56 other official ethnic groups, but to little avail. Unofficial records put their number at one million.”

  • William Wooten

    It is not uncommon for Spanish speaking peoples of Mexico, Colombia, or the Dominican Republic to refer to one another with adjectives that describe physical characteristics. Terms such as gorda/gordo, flaca/flaco,morena/moreno, negra/negro are not used to taunt but to describe the obvious.

  • sheeplearedumb

    Lying ass article, those conquistadors stole our culture. Didnt no body come over on a boat but those damn pilgrims. I was wrong about the so called Mexicans they are nothing but spainards trying to steal our land. The CIA know the so called black people are the indigenous people of this country. That’s why the racist government rather name spainards the natives of this land, burning books and paintings artifacts and shit! Those people on reservations are products spainard, Mongoloid mixture. If black people came over here as slaves on a boat then did the Hawaiians and Samoans too? Because they have black features as well. Why the island that inhabit black people that is said to have been slaves on a boat as well don’t call themselves African Jamaicans or African Bahamians or African Haitians. Because they know they didn’t come there on a boat!!! Fuck your lies, all this shit with soon be brought to the light!! It’s gods will!

    • black inferno

      dude yes we did…there were blacks here already but we did not outnumber the true natives stop listening to 1000gohead etc they are feeding u trash conspiracies there are plenty dark skinned natives in south us…west africans mingled with the natives ages ago the red people always been here explain the natives of the amazons who didnt mix with anyone they still possess the true native features..i woulnt be suprised if the cia made that bs up accept ur west african dna…some the first slaves came from madagascar who’s dna have been linked to south east asia ,austraila and polynesia..africas dna is so diverse dont limit ur thinking to think we all are supposed to look a certain way

      • sheeplearedumb

        Man dude let me be, and you believe what you wanna believe. I don’t have to look at 1000gohead to get the message bruh! its out on the internet for you to look at, he didn’t put the info up! someone with the information is putting it out there for us to see! I look at facts and proof as for the slavery boat theory its a lie! wheres the boat? there was none! if they can find an old ass mummy or a 20,000 year old skeleton and the freakin titanic why not the slavery ships? at least a part of it like wood, shackles, an anchor, Nothing! blacks can’t have anything positive for themselves even when there’s proof like artifacts (Olmec heads, indigenous pictures, books, etc). all we can claim is Africa! fucking travel around the world they’re black indigenous people inhabiting all corners of the earth and we are different because we came here on a ship, nah man….. Your listening to what your white teachers and scientist tell you, they whitewash everything! Facts bruh facts!
        look at the links if you want, if not! peace out!

        http://tinyurl(.)com/alexhaleytruth

        http://tinyurl(.)com/DNAliesreal

        http://digitalgallery(.)nypl(.)org/nypldigital/id?1505047

        http://www.philipcoppens(.)com/egyptiancanyon.html

        http://nativeamericansbeforeandaftercolonization(.)yolasite(.)com/

        http://tinyurl(.)com/blacknative

        http://federalcensusindianslistedaswhite(.)blogspot(.)com/

        http://raceandhistory(.)com/historicalviews/ancientamerica.htm

        http://tinyurl(.)com/therealnatives

        http://tinyurl(.)com/francewebsitenative <———– translate this

        http://raceandhistory(.)com/historicalviews/ancientamerica.htm

        http://tinyurl(.)com/mayansingeo

        I have too many links and I'm not putting them up so….. that's it!

        remove the ( ) for the sites to work!

        • black inferno

          i know black skinned people inhabit all lands but we are more like cousins than being 1 people because black people are too diverse we are not all the same…we are not the natives bro they were the people who left africa long ago look at the khoisan people of south africa they started the asians & natives what if natives said they were the original people of africa because they look like the khoisan people there are still natives in mexico with broad lips and dark skin it has always been like that

        • black inferno

          there are millions of indians(indios) still to this day all throughout south america,mexico, and canada look them up many are dark without black dna

Related Posts

  • Je suis une rebelle by Cheri Samba (Democratic Republic of Congo),1999 acrylic on canvas

    Africa remixed: Art to make you think

    This year saw Africa’s contemporary art come into sharp focus. According to the exclusive auction house Bonham’s, African art, created by artists from a multitude …

  • BRITAIN-SCOTLAND-POLITICS-REFERENDUM

    Britain/Africa: Scottish lessons

    History reveals that Britain (the United Kingdom) has never protected indigenous or non-British interests – whether in Africa, Australasia, the Indian subcontinent or North America …

  • Tens of thousands of Kenyans were rounded up, few whom had anything to do with the Mau Mau movement

    BHM: British brutality in East Africa

    David Anderson is a historian, researcher and author whose book, Histories of the Hanged, is a seminal work on the Mau Mau’s liberation struggle in …

  • BHM_4

    BHM: The Lumumba saga

    Ludo de Witte explained to New African that in writing his bestseller, The Assassination of Lumumba, he made extensive use of the Belgian Foreign Ministry’s …

Join our mailing list

If you would like Independent, Informative and Invaluable news analysis on the African continent, delivered straight to your inbox, join our mailing list.

Help us deliver better content