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Black Mexicans face considerable hurdles

Afro-Mexicans say that much of the history of los mexicanos negros is untaught or ignored by the rest of the country

ComptonHerald.com | Black Mexicans

Mexicanos negros (Black Mexicans) are marginalized and excluded; impossible to find any mention of them in official records

By ALEXIS OKEOWO

The first town of freed African slaves in the Americas is not exactly where you would expect to find it — and it isn’t exactly what you’d expect to find either. First, it’s not in the United States. Yanga, on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, is a sleepy pueblito founded by its namesake, Gaspar Yanga, an African slave who led a rebellion against his Spanish colonial masters in the late 16th century and fought off attempts to retake the settlement. The second thing that is immediately evident to visitors who reach the town’s rustic central plaza: there are virtually no Blacks among the few hundred residents milling around the center of town.

Mirroring Mexico’s history itself, most of Yanga’s Afro-Mexican population has been pushed to neighboring rural villages that are notable primarily for their deep poverty and the strikingly dark skin of their inhabitants. Mexico’s independence from Spain and new focus on building a national identity on the idea of mestizaje, or mixed race, drove African Mexicans into invisibility as leaders chose not to count them or assess their needs. Now many Black Mexicans want to fight back by improving the shoddy education and social services available to them and are petitioning for the constitution to recognize Afro-Mexicans as a separate ethnic group worthy of special consideration.

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“The two races that are most discriminated against here are the Blacks and the indigenous — but it is more accepted against blacks,” says Hemeregildo Fernandez, a doctor in Yanga and one of the few Blacks still living in town. His office is tucked on a narrow street that juts off the main square, where the rotund man with warm brown skin and salt-and-pepper hair receives a fluctuating stream of patients. The majority of the Black Mexican population works in agriculture, fishing or construction, and while, like Fernandez, some have achieved notable positions in coastal towns, he says, “Most Blacks have no economic power.”

Laying claim to heritage

Many of the country’s Mexicanos Negros (Black Mexicans), as they are called, know that their ancestors arrived in chains on boats that docked at ports in the sultry, steamy state of Veracruz. But they don’t know much else. Indeed, Afro-Mexicans say that much of the history of los mexicanos negros is untaught or ignored by the rest of the country. Apart from Yanga, Afro-Mexicans claim Vicente Guerrero, who served briefly as President in the early 19th century and gave his name to the state of Guerrero, as one of their own, as well as revolutionary José María Morelos, who was executed by the Spaniards in 1815.

Black Mexican activists estimate the population of Afro-Mexicans at about 1 million, but there are no official figures. Earlier this year, they petitioned the National Institute of Statistics and Geography to include the Afro-Mexican population as a separate category in the next census, in 2010. Official statistics do not recognize Blacks as a separate ethnic group (56 indigenous groups are officially accredited, the largest ones being the Nahuatl and the Maya, numbering more than 2 million each).

RELATED: Afro-Mexicans count in Mexico’s national census

As a result, Afro-Mexicans say they have been left out of institutional programs and are without a cultural identity. The group Mexico Negro A.C. is linking with similar Afro-descendant organizations in Latin America that have achieved success in securing better treatment. “We no longer want to be detained by security agents in our own country who say that in Mexico there are no blacks,” says Rodolfo Prudente Dominguez, an activist with Mexico Negro.

The Afro-Mexicans face considerable hurdles

Prevailing stereotypes paint the group as happy to live the simple life apart from the rest of society, with no interest in education. The all-Black shantytowns near Yanga lack schools, and eager young migrants who move to bigger cities for work complain of blatant discrimination. A report released late last year by Mexico’s Congress said that roughly 200,000 Black Mexicans who reside in the rural areas of Veracruz and Oaxaca and in tourist cities like Acapulco are out of the reach of social programs like employment support, health coverage, public education and food assistance.

Afro-Mexican culture expert Luz Maria Montiel acknowledges that Blacks are particularly marginalized and excluded, to the point that it is impossible to find any mention of them in official records. Yet she argues that it is impractical for Black Mexicans to seek constitutional recognition. “It would be impossible to make a law for each of the populations that make up our multicultural nation,” she says. Dominguez disagrees: “We are a totally different cultural group from indigenous groups and mestizos of our country, with a particular lifestyle and characteristics that do not respond to public policies that are designed for indigenous groups.”

Courtesy Sol Dialogue International

Compton Herald is a digital news publication providing clear, fair and current news, information and commentary about Compton, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Los Angeles County, California, and the world.

17 COMMENTS
  • George L. Steele March 28, 2016

    Good article.

  • Eric Smallwood February 21, 2016

    @Wendell: yes! Also the town of Chacahua, Oaxaca.

  • Belem July 1, 2015

    Wooow it’s really wonderful find a picture of my cousin in the web.
    She lives in a town called Jose Maria Morelos in the coast of Oaxaca.

  • Wendell June 13, 2015

    They have the same picture up with the same words.

  • Wendell June 13, 2015

    Have you ever seen Rabbit Proof fences well the same thing was going on in North America and the thing about about everything has been flip. It was the Moors of Africa that wanted to bred them out but it was other moors that just wanted to kill all white people. That’s a reason the moors have split feelings.

    http://www.mediabang.org/watch-4780-rabbit-proof-fence

  • alexis.charbonnier June 11, 2015

    You went to the wrong place for your story. The vast majority of afromexicanos are in the Pacific Coast states of guerrero and oaxaca. There are villages in guerrero around cuajinicuilapa that are nearly 100% black. And yes, there are 1 million black Mexicans, including English-speaking black Seminoles in coahuila and descendants of settlers from Tuscaloosa, Alabama in Durango.

  • Esteban Conde June 11, 2015

    What is truly left out of all Mexican government official records is that most Mexicans, approximately 75 percent, are mixed with African, Indigenous, and Spanish blood… Technically, 75 percent of Mexico’s population have ancestors who arrived on Spanish ships as slaves. The government made it a point to whiten Mexico’s population. .. The government knew that Mexico still looked very African looking after independence from Spain, so they opened their country to all European groups under the guise of “helping build Mexico” when in reality they wanted these immigrants to mix with the colonial peoples to whiten the country. .. Germans, irish, and middle easterners, ie. Jewish people entered Mex. mainly in the north… This mixing caused the African features to be hidden within the northern Mexican population, however, this mix has not yet wiped out all of the Sub Saharan African DNA as shown by Dr. Gates TV show x “Finding your roots”…

  • Ami Propagator June 11, 2015

    the lady is so beautiful. i want her to be my wife

  • Wendell June 10, 2015

    The Costa Chican’s say “they are not, they insist, the descendants of African slaves. There was never slavery here, even in ancient times. ” [Baja.com,2005] Bobby vaugh [2005] noted that he found” no consciousness of slavery among people in Costa Chica”[p5] Another researcher, noted that”housewives in San Jose Estancia Grande and Santiago Tapextla [in Costa chical say their ancestors did not come from Africa, that their families have always lived right here. ” [Baja.com, 2005,p6] African American aint african . org

    • Isaac Hunter June 11, 2015

      I have spoken to and communicated with hundreds is Afromexicanos who know ver well that they are descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to Mexico between the 16th and early 19th centuries, and they are very proud of their ancestry and heritage….They live in places like Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Tabasco states, and other parts of Mexico. Check out their Facebook pages such as AFROMEXICO and Afro-Mexico……..

  • Brigitte June 10, 2015

    This Mexican racism is let here in the U.S. As well and needs to be addressed!!!!!

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