Theirs is a unique and unknown history that sadly many people are unaware of, especially the two groups of people who need to learn of them the most: Black Americans and Mexican-Americans.
I have known of the Afro-Mexicans for over 20 years, and their history should be championed and given to the world.
With the strained relationships that exist now between Afro-Americans and Mexican Americans, many people in both groups do not realize that there was a time when relationships between black and brown were positive with the coalitions between blacks and browns dating back centuries. But, with some gang warfare (California) and ethnic tensions (all across America) that is occurring between Latinos and blacks, many people would think that blacks and Latinos never had a history of solidarity together.
From the ancient Africans who journeyed to Mexico before the coming of Columbus, from the days of slavery, when slaves in Texas were able to escape slavery and run across the border to freedom in Mexico, when Mexicans in Texas participated in the underground railroad to shuttle black slaves to freedom in Mexico, when Latinos risked their lives and property to give shelter and protection to Black Americans who were trying to escape death from vicious race mobs in the Greenwood/Tulsa, OK race massacre, to the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets of California, who came to the aid of the Black Panthers and helped them obtain a radio station for the community——black people and Latinos had a more positive relationship in the past than the one they have now.
Pay day for African American and Mexican workers, ca. 1930s.
Prints and Photographs Collection. SOURCE
Much of that ignorance of this historical relationship has been erased from the history books in Mexico or not put into history books at all in America. Blacks and Latinos have a rich heritage that needs to be recognized by both groups and no where is this more needed than in the country of the origin of this relationship: Mexico.
Not only should black and brown Americans learn of their history together, so too, should the country of Mexico. Mexico should not only be proud of its Indigenous and Spanish blood—it should also be proud of its African blood, and thus its black history as well. There has been a tremendous black influence in Mexico, and some of it was before the escaped slaves found refuge in Mexico during the inhumanity of America’s chattel slavery of the “peculiar institution”, but, there was black history and black presence in Mexico before Columbus.
Ivan Van Sertima in his famous book, “They Came Before Columbus”, spoke of the African presence in Mexico and the historical artifacts that lay claim to the legacy of that presence as seen in the towering Olmec heads of Mexico. Many people cannot picture, nor fathom an African presence in the Americas, but Van Sertima and others are finding evidence that does prove that Africans made it to the Americas and definitely left an imprint of themselves on the native peoples. Here is an excerpt of my essay on the African presence in the Americas:
“And just as the history of native peoples in the Americas has been thoroughly white-washed, the history of black America, both pre-slavery, and after slavery is practically written out of America’s history books. Especially, the pre-slavery history:
-Islamic historians have recorded histories of voyages west from Mali in West Africa around 1311, during the reign of Mansa Bakari II. (5)
-African pilots helped Prince Henry the Navigator’s ship captains learn their way down the coast of Africa;
-in 1526, 500 Spaniards and 100 black slaves founded a town near the Pee Dee River in what is present-day South Carolina. The slaves rebelled, killed some of their masters, and escaped to the Indians. By then only 150 Spaniards survived, and they retreated to Haiti. The ex-slaves remained behind and probably merged with nearby Indian nations.
-1,000 BCE – 300 AD, evidence of Afro-Phonecians is found in Central America.
If Columbus is especially relevant to western Europeans and the Vikings to Scandinavians, what is the meaning to black Americans of the pre-Colombian voyagers from Africa?
After visiting the Von Wuthenau museum in Mexico City, the Afro-Carib scholar Tiho Narva wrote, “With his unique collection surrounding me, I had an eerie feeling that veils obscuring the past had been torn asunder….Somehow, upon leaving the museum I suddenly felt that I could walk taller for the rest of my days.” (5)
As with the Norse and European, including the Afro-Phonecians gives a more complete and complex picture of the past, showing that navigation and exploration did not begin with Europe in the 1400s. Unlike the Norse, the Afro-phonecians seem to have made a permanent impact on the Americas. The huge stone statues in Mexico imply as much. (5)
American history textbooks promote the belief that most important developments in world history are traceable to Europe. To grant too much human potential and endeavors to pre-Columbian Africans would definately jar European American sensibilities. As Samuel Marble put it:
“The possibility of African discovery of America has never been a tempting one for American historians.” (5)
“It is in contradiction to the most elementary logic and to all artistic experience that an Indian could depict in a masterly way the head of a Negro without missing a single racial characteristic, unless he had actually seen such a person. The types of people depicted must have lived in America. . . .The Negroid element is well proven by the large Olmec stone monuments as well as the terracotta items and therefore cannot be excluded from the pre-columbian history of the Americas.”
—Alexander Von Wuthenau, The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian South and Central America” (5)
“The negro started his career in America not as a slave, but as a master.”
-R. A. JAIRAZBHOY, Ancient Egyptians and Chinese in America (5)
That the pre-slavery history of blacks in the Americas is not known is bad enough; that the later history during the time of America’s slavery era is not known, is unconscionable.
Black Americans, Mexican-Americans and Mexicans need to know of this history. There has been an important existence of a black African presence in Mexico.
There is Gaspar Yanga, an Afro-Mexican who is never mentioned in history books in America, and most probably not mentioned in Mexican history textbooks. Gaspar Yanga was a leader of a slave rebellion in Mexico during the early period of Spanish colonial rule. Said to be a member of the royal family of Gabon, Yanga came to be the head of a band of revolting slaves near Veracruz around 1570. Escaping to the difficult highlands, he and his people built a small free colony. For more than 30 years it grew, partially surviving by capturing caravans bringing goods to Veracruz. However, in 1609 the Spanish colonial government set itself to regain control of the territory. Yanga was made a national hero of Mexico by the diligent work of Vicente Riva Palacio. The influential Riva Palacio (grandson of Mexico’s “Black President”, Vicente Guerrero) was an historian, novelist, short story writer, military general and mayor of Mexico City during his long life. In the late 1860s he retrieved from moldy Inquisition archives accounts of Yanga and of the expedition against him. From his research, he brought the story to the public in an anthology in 1870, and as a separate pamphlet in 1873. Reprints have followed, including a recent edition in 1997. Others have written about Yanga, but none have matched the flair of Riva Palacio in conveying the image of proud fugitives who would not be defeated.
Other Afro-Mexicans practically many people know nothing of are Vicente Guerreo and Jose Morelos:
Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña (August 10, 1782 – February 14, 1831) was a Mexican revolutionary leader and president. He was one of the main rebel leaders of the War of Independence who fought against Spain for independence in the early 19th century; and an early President of Mexico. Guerrero was born in the town of Tixtla, some 100 km inland from the port of Acapulco, in the Sierra Madre del Sur. He belonged to a poor rural family of mixed Spanish, Amerindian and African ancestry. He was the grandfather of the Mexican politician and intellectual Vicente Riva Palacio.
And Jose Maria-Morelos:
In the early Spanish conquest of the Americas, Spainiards who came to America during the time of colonial conquest, brought African slaves with them mainly for labor and as military soldiers/guards. Since the Spanish and Africans came to the Americas with no women, they began to mix with the native Indigenous women. Slavery in the Americas began with the Spanish enslaving the native peoples, but the priest Bartolomeo de las Casas saw the cruelty in this type of slavery, and advocated the enslavement of black Africans. When he saw how barbaric slavery was towards the black Africans, he lobbied for the abolition of slavery of black slaves.
During the days of colonial domination, Spanish enslavement of blacks grew hellish and this maltreatment of the slaves formented rebellions, most notably the rebellion led by Gaspar Yanga and Francisco de la Matosa, in 1609. After fierce battles, Yanga came to negotiate a peace with the viceroy Luis de Velasco. A black community, called “San Lorenzo” (Later renamed Yanga) was founded and still exists; it would be the first of several. But this would not stop the brutalities committed by the Spanish. The Spanish authorities suspected a new rebellion, and in 1612, they imprisoned, tortured and executed 33 slaves (twenty nine males and four women). Their heads were cut off and remained in the main square of Mexico City for a long time as an example.
There were also some persons of African descent who were not made slaves. These were the descendants of slaves who escaped their slave-masters in the sugar cane farms in United States, especially Texas, and settled as free people in Coahuila in the nineteenth century. Mexico also experienced a settlement of thousands of Black Seminoles, who are descendants of free and escaped Africans who married Native Americans of Seminole ancestry. These settlers also escaped their slave-masters in Oklahoma Indian Territory and made a free African village in Nacimiento, Coahuila and a few villages along the Texas-Mexico border. Unlike some Native American tribes in America, the Five Tribes, wko kept blacks as slaves and returned escaped slaves back to their owners –either alive, or the cut-off ears of dead black slaves for bounties/rewards put out by the white slavemasters, Mexicans allowed escaped black slaves to settle in Mexico and live lives free of enslavement and degradation. Mexicans did not take escaped slaves back across the order. They did not forcibly return escaped slaves back to a living nightmare.
Those slaves who could escape to freedom across the Rio Grade in Mexico were able to make lives and communities for themselves, free from the racial cleansings that blacks living later in the Reconstruction South suffered through.
Some of the Indio African in Yucatan traveled to the country of Belize. Though there is an African presence in Belize some forget their roots. In recent years, some Afro-Mexicans include blacks who immigrated to Mexico from Caribbean countries such as Cuba, or from Africa to earn money in Mexico as contract workers. Many Afro-Mexicans also went abroad to find better economic fortune, mostly to the United States, where they and their U.S. children are called African Americans and Mexican Americans of African descent.
The best site that I know of that gives an excellent history of the Afro-Mexicans is the website of Bobby Vaughn. I discovered his site over 3 years ago, and it it well worth anyone’s time to visit and learn of the true history of Mexico’s Afro-Mexicans.
Bobby Vaughn’s site is entitled, “The Black Mexico Homepage”: http://www.afromexico.com/
Mr. Vaughn gives a wonderful history of the Afro-Mexicans, or “Costenos” as they are known since so many of them live on Mexico’s coastal areas, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Vaughn provides links of Africa’s legacy in Mexico, a photo gallery of Afro-Mexicans, and many books on Afro-Mexicans to further one’s knowledge of these forgotten and marginalized people.
Mexican-Americans need to learn of their African roots and the richness of of their Afro-Mexican heritage. Black Americans need to learn of the history of the Afro-Mexicans.
Because of the embracing of the whiteness of Spanish blood, and the vilification of African black blood, Mexico has tried to wipe out its black blood through the centuries. The idea of the so-called “Cosmic Race” spoken of by the racist Mexican author, intellectual Jose Vasconcelos, was sought in Mexico’s attempt to commit a process of de-Africanization in Mexico. Vasconcelos advocated the wiping out of the black blood to make way for the Indian and white Spanish blood, so that those two blood types would reign predominantly. Here Vasconcelos argues in effect of a “one drop of white blood rule.” This is opposite of the “one drop ruled” used in the United States. This twist of racism is linked to “beauty,” which according to Vasconcelos ruled out black features as beautiful and put forth that so-called white and Indian blood was more beautiful and should be more sought after—-in essence, rid Mexico of its black blood, its black history, its black people. The closer blacks looked Mestizo/European/Light with the “hiding” of the blackness/Africaness, the more Mexico tried to stamp out the African blood—thereby the African presence, from Mexico. As Vasconcelos stated in such racist terms:
“The awareness if the species itself would gradually develop . . .in a very few generations, monstrosities will disappear; what today is normal will come to seem abominable. The lower types of the species will be absorbed by the superior type. In this manner, for example, the Black could be redeemed, and step by step, voluntary extinction [my emphasis], the uglier stocks will give way to the more handsome.“
The Afro-Mexican population has mixed mostly with the larger populations and many have forgotten their African ancestry, but some populations like Costa Chica and others still remain with stronger visual cues of their African ancestry.
Mexicans need to know and accept that cultural diversity does exist in their country and that the Indigenous and Spanish heritage is not the only aspect of Mexico that should be celebrated—Afro-Mexicans are the missing group. The missing piece that has just as much an important part of Mexico as are the Indigenous peoples and the Spanish. Many of the present-day Afro-Mexicans live now largely assimilated in the general population, and have historically been majorities in certain communities in Mexico. They are currently concentrated in the coastal states such as Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Veracruz, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, but mostly in Oaxaca and Veracruz.
Just as many Mexicans do not know of the major impact Africans have made all across Mexico’s history, so too do the Mexican-Americans and Black Americans not know of this history either. Mexican-Americans, both native-born and foreign-born, need to learn of their African history. Black Americans sholud learn of this history. It is a rich, varied and proud history. The many contributions that Africans through the centuries have made to Mexico have been both positive and long-lasting to Mexico and her people—on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The drive for the preservation of Indigenous cultures in Mexico is definitely necessary; but, so too should the preservation of Afro-Mexican culture be upheld. The Afro-Mexicans have made many contributions to Mexico, and these contributions should be promoted, preserved and presented to the world: technology, archaeological artifacts, arts, music, dance, language, agriculture, culinary— —all of which are heavily influenced by a strong African presence.
Afro-Mexicans are a presence that cannot be denied, hidden away, nor ignored any more.
They have been forgotten in Mexico.
They have been forgotten in America.
Visitors to the coastal areas of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero can see Africa in the faces of people who live in these coastal areas.
And Vicente Guerrero and Jose Morelos are not the only historical Mexican figures who had African blood in them—others did as well, such as Emiliano Zapata, and so too did Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary.
Although history books speak nothing of the Afro-Mexicans, they do indeed exist. It is important to rescue the history of solidarity that once existed between blacks and browns from the collective historical amnesia that has erased this knowledge of Afro-Mexicans from the minds of many people, in order to re-unite the Black American and Mexican-American communities in the United States, once again.
This huge chasm that has grown as wide as the Grande Canyon between blacks and browns has created animus between both groups because they know so little of their history and solidarity both groups once shared with each other. Only when blacks and browns learn of their past history they once had together, only when they realize they have so much in common with each other, only when they find they can rebuild that broken link—-the link they had shared during Spain’s period of colonial conquest, America’s period of slavery, during the time of the 19TH Century when Mexico had presidents with black blood flowing in their veins—-then with this knowledge that arms them against the forces of the status quo that seeks to drive wedges between black and brown to divide and separate them—when blacks and browns learn of and embrace their shared history—then, will the fears, distrusts, rivalies, the wary circling of each other, then will the barriers that have built up between black and brown finally begin to crumble, then will the wall that has been erected between black and brown start to come tumbling down.
To know your past, is to know your history; to know your history, is to know your future.
“BLACK MEXICANS SEE PRIDE IN LOST HISTORY”: http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/mexico/black-mexicans.htm
AFRO-MEXICANS FACE DISCRIMINATION:
“HISTORY OF MEXICAN-BLACK SOLIDARITY”: http://www.workers.org/2007/us/solidarity-0503/
“THE UNEXPECTED FACE OF MEXICO”: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/08/entertainment/et-gleaton8
WIKIPEDIA – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-Mexican
GASPAR YANGA AND HIS STORY AND A VISIT TO YANGA:
HISTORY: LOOKING FOR AFRICAN ROOTS: THE FIRST FREE TOWN FOR SLAVES IN AMERICA – http://www.johntoddjr.com/86%20Yanga/yanga01.htm
VICENTE GUERRERO – A STUDY IN TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY:http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/jtuck/jtvguerrero.html
JOSE MORELOS: ARTICLE “AN AFRO-MEXICAN LEGEND, JOSE MORELOS” (from African American Registry: http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/2778/An_AfroMexican_legend_Jos_Morelos
THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN MEXICAN NATIONAL IDENTITY: http://www.nhm.org/africa/gleaton/terra.html
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE BLACK SEMINOLES, VISIT THIS LINK:
BLACK SEMINOLES IN TEXAS AND MEXICO:
CALIFORNIA AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM – AFRICAN PRESENCE IN MEXICO: http://www.caamuseum.org/ce_3.htm
PRESS RELEASE: Feb. 2, 2008 cover story on this exhibit in the Los Angeles Times newspaper: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-culture2feb02,0,7120599.story)
The Cosmic Race / La raza cosmica (Race in the Americas) by José Vasconcelos and Didier T. Jaén (Paperback – Jun 25, 1997)
assumed as the fusion between Indigenous and European cultures.
|(California African-American Museum)|
“However, this definition excludes a very important component: our African
blood. This documentary will bring us closer to these forgotten roots, through
testimonies, reflections and powerful cultural expressions made by our
brothers and sisters who live in the Costa Chica region, in the states of
Oaxaca and Guerrero. These are the people who carry this great legacy: the
Afro-Mestizo, or Afro-Mexican culture. Their struggle to strengthen and claim
their own identity makes the wide diversity of cultures in Mexico even greater.”
posted by Ann