Author: Bill Smith
I want to explore a segment of the Mexican population we hear very littly about in our society, and kept v-e-r-y quiet by the Mexican government and their society at large. When we think of Mexico we often think of Mestizos, the Mayas, the Aztecs, the Olmec civilization, the Chiappas, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants. We hear about Cancun, Mazatlan, Acapulco. Well, tonight, I want to talk about the Blackx-i-cans, Mexico's Dark Secret.
This song, La Bamba, sung by a young, talented Mexican American named *Richie Valens* was a big hit back in the 1950's. In fact, it was ONE of the longest, if not THE longest pop hits that ever hit the charts. This song didn't just ingeniously pop into his head. It goes back more than 300 years. La Bamba, or *Mbamba was a traditional African dance* and is the name of an ethnic group in Angola, West Africa.
Most Afro-Mexicans have been living in 40 neighboring villages on Mexico's Pacific Coast in the states of *Oaxaca and Guerrero* for approximately 300 years. This area, called *La Costa Chica (Short Coast) is a 200-mile long region beginning just south east of Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero and ending near the town of Puerto Angel, in the state of Oaxaca.* *Mexicans of African descent also live throughout state of Vera Cruz on Mexico's gulf coast.*
Now, how did these Africans get to Mexico in the first place?
There is evidence of Africans in Mexico centuries before Columbus under what was called the Olmec civilization dating back to 1200 BC to 600 AD. Scholars site *African features in the art of the Olmecs* and the linguistic similarities between the Olmecs and people of West Africa. The writings of the Mayas and the Olmecs also make references to the African connection, according to scholars.
Secondly, when Cortes invaded Mexico from 1519, slavery or African servitude had already begun in Spain. Therefore, Africans (slave and free men) were part of his
And of course, the slave ships which began coming into *Mexico's Port of Vera Cruz,* which served as a distribution center for slaves being sent throughout Mexico and Central America in 1523.
Historically, little Black townships (too small for a map) along the *Atlantic coast of Mexico* bear names of African regions or make reference to people of African ancestry. We have names like Angola, Guinea, Mozambique, Cerro Del Congo (Congo Hill). The city of Yanga, is named after the slave revolt leader, Gaspar Yanga from Gabon, West Africa, who led a band of runways into the mountains and laterforced the Mexican government into signing a treaty. Also, runaway slaves from *Texas* escaped to Mexico and fled to the nearest Native American village for refuge.
Africans traditionally were skilled laborers and were indispensable in the mines and sugar plantations making Mexico, along with Peru, the most successful colony in Latin America. Africans also built roads, bridges, and Cathedrals.
Men of African ancestry maintained a high profile in Mexico's war of independence against Spain. One of whom was Vicente Guerrero, also known as El Negro Guerrero (the Black Warrior) who later became Mexico's second president. It was during his presidency that slavery was abolished in 1829. The state of *Guerrero,* where you'll find the resort city of *Acapulco,* was named after this Black Warrior. Another outstanding Mexican revolutionary of African ancestry was José María Morelos. The state of *Morelos* was named after him, as well.
Black-xicans made important contributions to Mexican folk tales, religion, medicinal practices, cooking styles, and most notably, music and dance.
Sadly, many Afro Mexicans in Costa Chica, unlike the Afro Mexicans in Vera Cruz, have problems classifying themselves as Black. One lady had no idea she was Black because where she was born and raised, everyone looked like her. She just considered herself Mexican until one day she went to Mexico City and experienced some unfortunate and obvious racism.
Lately, a new self-image started to emerge in the Black communities of Mexico. Progressive Afro Mexicans decided it was time for a change. There had been a need for Black Villages to come together, discover each other, and search for their cultural identification. In the spring of 1997 there
was a convention of 24 Black villages held in *Oaxaca* to discuss their heritage
and roles in Mexican society.
Even though the African presence in Mexico has influenced every aspect of Mexican life, culture, and history, according to published reports, the Mexican government don't even acknowledge their African ancestry and the roles Africans played in the building of that country.
It hasn't been since 1810 when the national census included race and ethnicity. Black people, then, represented 10.2% of the Mexican population. It's been estimated, however, that 75% of Mexico's population has some degree of African ancestry due to the spreading of the African throughout Mexico during the early part of the Spanish conquest.
Well, I hope this was information was as enlightening to you as it was to me by my gathering this information. And as the Yoruba people of West Africa would say, Ódabo, the Mexicans would say, que pasan buenas noches — have a good evening every one.
Other publications: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/feature/ethnic/bv/brief.htm
There is evidence of Africans in Mexico centuries before Columbus under what was called the Olmec civilization dating back to 1200 BC to 600 AD.
So we didn't come as slaves...More as THE FATHERS OF CIVILAZATION AND THE GODS OF THE UNIVERSE!