Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Vanished African Roots of Mexico

International Blvd
Luis Prados
August 1, 2013

Cuajinicuilapa, Mexico. Photo CC: Victor Hugo Garcia Ulloa
A man of Afro-Mexican Heritage in Cuajinicuilapa, Mexico
(Picture Credit)
Little known outside the country and poorly understood even in Mexico, traces of the country's African heritage can still be seen along its Caribbean coast.
There is another Mexico profundo, one that is neither the Old Mexico of high plains and fields of corn, nor of the coarseness and violence of more recent times. This is the Mexico of the Caribbean coast, a land of sugarcane and coffee, of petroleum and danzon, a place with its epicenter in Veracruz, a city whose name alone evokes a sea of stories. A crossroads of global commerce in the colonial epoch, this city was where the conquistadors came to shore, and was the landing point for thousands of slaves stolen from Africa. They arrived enchained in the bellies of slave ships to work the sugar refineries, the haciendas and the mines. Captives, they occupied a social position below even that of the native Indians, and became the invisible ancestors of the Mexican nation. But history is a stubborn thing; place names tell their own tales, and the Afro-Mexicans still exist.

Distributed in scattered and small communities in various parts of the country, particularly in the state of Veracruz and on Guerrero's Costa Chica, forgotten by official history and still victims of an unconfessable racism, their very presence is an affirmation of a cultural and social past that some anthropologists have called the third race, which together with the Spanish and the Indian, makes up modern Mexico.

Zosima, a black woman who is 80 years old, sits in the afternoon shade next to the door of her home, a house painted a now faded Mexican pink that stands out against the green of the sugarcane, lemon trees, mangos and pineapple plants that surround it. She has lived her entire life in Mata Clara, a small town an hour by car east of Veracruz; she gives the impression that she has lived by herself for a long time. There is not much work here and the young leave early, many departing for the United States. Zosima says that her grandfather came from Martinique in the 19th century, when black labor was imported from the Antilles. She recognizes that racism persists. "We have been Mexicans all of our lives, but for our color we are treated worse. My grandchildren are called names when they go to school." Her son-in-law, young and strong, whispers: "There is racism. Only a little, but it is still there. You can see it in people's eyes."
Read the rest here.
Comment: A very interesting article on a topic that is not known widely and even where it is known it is submerged in contradictory interpretations of race/racialization and biological and ideological theories of what is known as mestizaje or race mixing.

My interest in the study of Africans in Mexico came via the controversial contact theory of Ivan van Sertima in his 1976 book entitled "They Came Before Columbus".

The above article does not make mention of this book but rather deals more closely with Afro-Mexicans who can trace their heritage to slavery and maroon societies.

An interesting and heroic African leader from the time of slavery is Gaspar Yanga who is more popularly referred to as Yanga or Nyanga.  He is said to be of royal ancestry in West Africa and led a slave rebellion in Veracruz in 1570.

Gaspar Yanga (Credit)

There is a town in the state of Veracruz named Yanga in honor and recognition of Gaspar Yanga.

I now have it in my mind to travel to Mexico and visit the states of Costa Chica and Veracruz for the purpose of learning more about the heritage of Afro-Mexicans.

There is a museum in Cuajinicuilapa in the state of Guerrero that deals specifically with the history and culture of Afro-Mexicans.  It is called the Museo de Culturas Afromestizas.

For more information on Afro-Mexicans also see "Mexico's Hidden History" in The Root (April 8, 2010).  And, see part two of "Mexico's Hidden History (April 9, 2010).

So my next long vacation in 2014 is planned ;0)


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