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Black Mexico: your stories

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ComptonHerald.com | Black Mexico: Unearthing the Third RootThanks for your feedback on the articles in the “Black Mexico: Unearthing the ‘Third Root'” series on ComptonHerald.com.

If you have a personal story to share, please visit the Contact Us page on ComptonHerald.com and submit your insights.


 

The Black Grandma in the Closet

Dear Editor:
Thank you for your commitment to showcasing the Afro heritage of Mexico. Like Alva Moore Stevenson, I have been following your series very closely and am grateful for being given the opportunity to share my story with you. I am currently a graduate student at San Diego State University where I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies with a focus on Afro-Mexican identity, history, and music. I’ve taken the title of my letter from the PBS special “Black in Latin America”, hosted by the late Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in which he investigated the hidden African ancestry of Mexico and Peru.

About a year ago, my cousins found old family photos and among them was the picture of my great-great grandparents, Pomposo Gastelum and Prota Leyva, taken at the turn of the 20th century (by my calculations). He stands tall, stocky, and light-skinned next to his shorter, thin, dark-skinned wife. At the time, I was taking a course in Mixtec language taught by a native indigenous woman from Oaxaca, Mexico. Excited by the find, I showed her the picture only to be stunned by her response when I inquired if Prota looked indigenous and she replied that Prota looked of African descent. I was immediately reminded of my mother who asserts that she was the darkest in her family.

ComptonHerald.com | Gustavo Alcoser mother

“…my mother … asserts that she was the darkest in her family” – Gustavo Alcoser. Photo: Alcoser family

Coincidentally, I had been studying with Dr. Anthony Jerry, who specializes in Afro-Mexican identity and had begun to enlighten my colleagues and me about this growing academic subject. Inspired by the effects of this new insight on my own cultural identity as a Mexican-American, I decided to join Dr. Jerry as he conducted research in the Afro-Mexican region of La Costa Chica in Oaxaca, Mexico this past summer. While there, I performed several oral histories of the Afro-Mexican residents living in the communities surrounding the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. I learned about their family genealogies and how this area was established by a handful of Afro-Mexican families after the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

During one of my interviews, one understandably curious woman asked me why I was interested in doing this work. I told her about my great-great grandmother and how I might never truly know whether she was of African descent. Because of this personal loss of knowledge, I think it is of the utmost importance to continue to expose and promote what we know of ourselves and each other, especially during these times of ethnoracial injustice here and abroad. Moreover, the recent efforts being made to statistically register those that identify as Afro-Mexican in Mexico’s upcoming census will have huge implications for all of us who identify with Mexican culture on any level.

The truth of what it means to be Mexican will never be complete until we accept and celebrate all of our roots. As such, it is time to bring Grandma out of the closet and into the 21st century.

GUSTAVO ALCOSER
San Diego


The Thornton Family

Dear Editor:
I have very much enjoyed your series on Black Mexicans. I was glad to see that you consulted many knowledgeable people on the subject such as Dr. Roman and Dr. Vaughn. I am also pleased to see you included the beautiful photography of the late Tony Gleaton who was a good friend.

ComptonHerald.com | Buffalo Soldier

Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th U.S. Calvary and 95th Infantry married Mexican women. Photo: Wikipedia

Afro-Mexicans are a subject of great interest for me. My mother’s side of the family is biracial African-American and Mexican. In 1991 upon my grandmother’s passing, I began to research this side of my family. My grandfather Daniel migrated from Kerr County, Texas circa 1900 to Guadalajara in search of dignified employment. He quickly learned Spanish and became a foreman for Southern Pacific Railroad on the building of the railway.

My grandfather was the liaison between Mexican workers who spoke no English and White management who spoke no Spanish. He met and married my grandmother Trancito, who was a cook and nursemaid for General Elias Calles during the Mexican Revolution. My grandparents migrated to Nogales, Ariz. in 1914. My family, as well as that of my husband and godmother, were part of about twenty or so families in Nogales in which Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th U.S. Calvary and 95th Infantry married Mexican women from across the line.

In 1999 I decided to pursue a master’s degree at UCLA (where I have worked in the Library and Oral History for 38 years). My thesis was entitled, “Afro-Mexican Racial and Ethnic Self-Identity: Three Generations of the Thornton Family in Nogales, Arizona.” The work examined the ways my mother and her siblings self-identified racially and culturally. The context of my family history is within the larger history of Afro-Mexicans.

Since graduating I have given presentations on the history of Afro-Mexicans to community groups, and to academic conferences In addition to speaking on the history of Afro-Mexicans, I shared the history of those who migrated to the Southwest, i.e. Pio Pico and other pobladores who settled Los Angeles, as well as the African-Americans who migrated southward into Mexico from all parts of the U.S. These included the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, and the Donato Colony from St. Landry Parish in Louisiana.

I believe this is all interconnected and a continuum. In 2013 I was asked to be guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Pan African Studies entitled, “Africans in Mexico: History, Race and Place.”

It is so important that we spread this knowledge widely especially to our young people.

ALVA MOORE STEVENSON
Los Angeles

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