Afro Mexicans, a population that ascended from the enslaved Africans of Spanish colonizers in the 1600s and escaped slaves reclaiming their freedom in Northern Mexico in 1900s, are currently fighting for recognition and rights within their country.
Due to somewhat rarely talked about race hostility between Indigenous Mexicans, Afro-Mexicans and Euro-Mexicans, sometimes Afro-Mexicans are often mistaken as illegal immigrants even after asserting their nationality as Mexicans. Some are even deported to other countries by police that state that Black Mexicans simply do not exist. Contrary to what many believe, Afro-Mexican people are found in regions of North of Mexico, as well as in the south in areas like Costa Chica. Costa Chica of Guerrero is an area along the south coast of the state of Guerrero, Mexico, extending from just south of Acapulco to the Oaxaca border. And, thankfully, with a population of 1.4 million, the ability for the people in these areas to identify as “Black” in Mexico will finally debut in 2020 during Mexico’s nationwide census.
The activist working to advance the rights and recognition of the people are numerous. However, one of the most prominent groups, Mexico Negro run by Sergio Peñaloza Pérez, was founded in 1997 and has been working hard to spread the visibility, historical impact, and culture of the Black Mexican population. One of the projects Mexico Negro is running focuses on teaching African history to primary and secondary school children. They believe that learning their history will help this community gain a sense of self and understanding of their cultural contributions to Mexico.
Although Afro Mexicans don’t have a language of their own, like the afro-mixed nations in Cape Verde, their community has body language and gestures that make them easily identifiable amongst one another. They also don’t have their own cultural dress styles, but in the past, they’ve exhibited their cultural links to West Africa by building houses with mud-brick and thatched roofs.
Black Mexican cultural artifacts also echo remnants of Africa through drumming. The style and sound of the drums used in this community are a blend of sounds from West African and the Chilean sailors that came to Mexico during the Gold Rush. This musical blend includes playing the Quijada, or the jawbone of a donkey rubbed with a stick to accent along the sound of the drum.
They also have a popular dance known as the Dance of the Devils that is performed near the end of October. This dance pays homage to the colonial days which can have a bit of a mixed message as it has a “white” foreman swinging a whip around to the black painted devils as they run around being chased, while occasionally flirting with the devils.
Interestingly enough, most Afro-Mexicans identify as indigenous, especially for those that have been in Mexico for generations predating the colonial occupation. Due to the intermarriage between enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples, a little under 70% identify as indigenous with over 9% speaking indigenous languages as their first language.
With all of these cultural markers present for Black Mexicans, many tourists wonder how they too can learn more about this population. For those that are interested in learning more about their customs and culture, spending an afternoon and visiting Cuajinicuilapa, their cultural center, would lend you to a visit through The Museo de las Culturas Afromestizas. Nevertheless, through supporting cultural centers and showing genuine interest in preserving cultural artifacts and people’s stories, this is the best way to learn more about Afro-Mexicans.