There are more descendants of Africans who speak Spanish or Portuguese than English.
Brazil has the largest population of Blacks in the world second ONLY to Nigeria!
The Caribbean was often a stop in the transatlantic slave trade to “break” the African before being sold to the Americas.
Haiti was the first BLACK independent nation in the Western Hemisphere , defeating Napoleon and others from France, with the power of Voudon (Voodoo). As a result, Haiti ,was punished by all of Europe through tariffs, taxes and other ways!
“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.”
Last year, a bilingual exhibition, The African Presence in México: Yanga to the Present, was mounted by the Oakland Museum and the DuSable Museumon both sides of the Mexican border - in the US and Mexico itself. It traced how Africans - fewer than 2% of colonial Mexico`s (1521-1810) population - significantly enriched Mexican culture through their art, music, language, cuisine, and dance. The African Presence in México invited Mexican-Americans and African-Americans to look at their identities in light of their shared histories in Mexico and the United States.
The Spanish first brought Africans to Mexico in 1519 to work in the agrarian and silver industries, under often brutal conditions. There were constant slave protests and runaways (cimarrónes) who established settlements in the mountains of Orizaba. In January 1609, Gasper Yanga, a runaway slave elder, led the cimarrónes (or maroons) to a successful resistance against a special army sent by the Spanish Crown to crush their uprising. After several cimarrón victories, the Spanish acquiesced to the slaves` demand for land and freedom. Yanga founded the first free African township in the Americas, San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Veracruz. It was renamed in his honour in the 1930s.
Slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1810 by Jose María Morelos y Pavón, leader of the Mexican War of Independence. As a mulatto (Spanish and African), Morelos was directly affected by Mexico`s prejudices. Racial mixes were seen as undesirable by a society that aspired to purity of race and blood (i.e., Spanish only).
In 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, the Mexican government officially acknowledged that African culture in the country represented la tercera raiz (the third root) of Mexican culture, with the Spanish and indigenous peoples. But the plight of Afro-Mexicans has not improved much since the recognition of 1992.
As Alexis Okeowo, a black journalist in the Mexican capital, Mexico City, attests, when she visited Yanga, her heart broke. “As I arrived in town,” she reported, “I peered out of my taxi window at the pastel-painted storefronts and the brown-skinned residents walking along the wide streets. `Where are the black Mexicans?` I wondered. A central sign proclaimed Yanga`s role as the first Mexican town to be free from slavery, yet the descendants of these former slaves were nowhere to be found. I would later learn that most live in dilapidated settlements outside of town.”
The next morning when she went searching for the Afro-Mexicans, Okeowo found that though she had grown used to the rarity of black people in Mexico City, it was different at Yanga, where she was not only stared at but also pointed at.
“The stares were cold and unfriendly, and especially unnerving in a town named for an African revolutionary,” Okeowo recalled. “`Mira, una negra,` I heard people whisper to one another. `Look, a black woman.` `Negra! Negra!`, taunted an old man with a shock of white hair under a tan sombrero.
“Surrounded by a group of men, [the old man] gazed at me with a big, toothy grin. He seemed to be waiting for me to come over and talk to him. Shocked, I shot him a dirty look and headed into [a] library`s courtyard.”
Okeowo continued: “The notion of race in Mexico is frustratingly complex. This is a country where many are proud to claim African blood, yet discriminate against their darker countrymen. Black Mexicans complain that such bigotry makes it especially hard for them to find work. Still, I was surprised to feel like such an alien intruder in a town where I had hoped to feel something like familiarity. Afro-Mexicans are among the poorest in the nation. Many are shunted to remote shantytowns, well out of reach of basic public services, such as schools and hospitals.
“Activists for Afro-Mexicans face an uphill battle for government recognition and economic development. They have long petitioned to be counted in Mexico`s national census, alongside the country`s 56 other official ethnic groups, but to little avail. Unofficial records put their number at one million.”
“The Afro-Latino term felt like home. There was finally a term that described what all of this was. It was a group of people who felt like I was feeling. I was finally able to identify with a group of people and it was a relief.”
Walter Thompson-Hernandez shares with teleSUR English the often-forgotten faces and stories of Black Mexicans, or Blaxicans, in the United States.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez often sees a reflection of himself in the stories his camera captures. Boldly staring into the lens of his camera, Black Mexican, or Blaxican, men and women slowly unveil a bit of themselves to him.
“I ethnically identify as Afro-Mexican. Racially, I embrace my Blackness as here in LA that is typically how I am read and what my experience is,” reads one of the photo stories now available on Instagram gallery known as “Blaxicans of Los Angeles.”
“The identity of Afro-Mexican acknowledges my African roots as well as the land we live on, though claimed by America, belongs historically to indigenous Mexican peoples.”
As the child of an African-American father and a non-black Mexican mother, the stories resonate with Thompson-Hernandez who started the Instagram page as an academic research project for the University of South Carolina, but found himself personally drawn to the project to understand the complexities of race and ethnicity in a country that often sees both as one and the same thing.
“When we think of race, people tend to conflate ethnicity and race, and tend to think of the two as one,” he told teleSUR.
“We have to recognize that Blackness in this country is usually described and understood in the African-American experience. We cannot sit here and exceptionalize that experience, we have to recognize other experiences like that of Afro-Latinos, who are often not considered Black in this country.”
Experiences like these, according to the researcher, challenge the rigid definitions of race in the U.S. and allow people to understand that ethnicity and race are distinct, albeit possibly intersecting experiences. Afro-Mexicans, in this sense, “represent a very distinct population who see the world in a different lense. Their music, their culture, their food, might be Mexican but it’s also distinctly from the African experience, the fusion of African ancestry.”
This month we celebrate our Afro Mexican heritage.
“One young filmmaker and anthropology student of Afro-Salvadoran descent,
feeling sympathy for the plight of invisible Afro-Mexicans, took it
upon himself to make a very independent documentary exploring
Afro-Mexican identity in the coastal communities of La Costa Chica — a
region spanning the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca that has the highest
concentration of Afro-descendants in Mexico. Titled Así Somos Los Negros: Afro Identities in the Coast, the short doc admittedly features an extremely raw and unpolished style, but director Andy Amaya
does a fairly good job of letting his subjects speak for themselves as
they reflect on experiences with discrimination, their Afro-linguistic
heritage and labels like ‘negro’ vs. ‘afromexicano’.“
There is very little known about the revolutionary Gaspar Yanga. From the available historic records, Yanga is said to have been a royal from the Bran;people in the country that would go on to be Gabon. Yanga was enslaved in New Spain or Mexico but he managed to free himself from bondage to create one the first free towns for Black people in all of the Americas after the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Mexico Had a Large Population 0f Enslaved Africans
New Spain or modern day Mexico was home to some of the worst slavery in Latin America. Many scholars believe the colony had the second-highest number of enslaved Africans after Brazil and developed the largest free Black population in the Americas after slavery was abolished.
“A 1646 census enumerated 35,089 Africans and 116,529 persons of African descent in New Spain. With cessation of the slave trade, the enslaved population of New Spain steadily declined,” according to scholar of the African diaspora Herman L. Bennett.
The Establishment of a Free Black Society in Veracruz
In 1570, Yanga freed himself from slavery and helped other enslaved Blacks to escape to the highlands near Veracruz, to create a free society there. The terrain and geographical position offered natural protection for the colony for 30 years, until the Spanish slave masters embarked on a campaign to bring the territory under its control. According the Wall Street Journal, the township still exists today, and in 1932, it was renamed Yanga in his honor.
The 1609 Attack
Yanga was allies with a former enslaved Black man from Angola named Francisco de la Matosa who also led a group of freed enslaved people. The two decided to work together to defend against Spanish aggression. Yanga sent peace terms to the Spanish promising to cease raids and helping other Africans escape slavery in return for autonomy. The Spanish rejected his terms and in 1609, they invaded the area with 500 men carrying firearms. Being too old by then to physically join the fight, Yanga had Matosa lead the charge of 100 freedom fighters armed with firearms, and about 400 more carrying machetes, bows and arrows, rocks and other crude weapons. Although the maroons were out-gunned, they knew the land and used the terrain to out maneuver and cause significant casualties to the Spanish.
Aftermath of the 1609 Attack
The 1609 battle ended with no clear victor. The Spanish managed to burn down the town, but was unsuccessful in subduing the maroons who alluded them in the surrounding areas and later continued raids and helping escaped slaves. After two years, the Spanish were forced to sit down with Yanga to negotiate peace terms. The treaty was signed on Oct 3, 1618 and the San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo was establish as an autonomous region for free Blacks. The town remained mostly undisturbed up until modern times when it was renamed Yanga.
In 1871, Mexico City Mayor, writer and historian Vicente Riva Palacio proclaimed Yanga a “national hero of Mexico” and El Primer Libertador de las Americas or first American liberator. The town is now composed of some 22,000 mixed or mestizo people who hold a yearly carnival held every Aug. 10 that celebrates Yanga’s victorious revolution. There is also a statue which was erected in the 1970s that commemorates Yanga’s victory.