The transatlantic slave trade and the mass migration of Africans from sub-Saharan Africa started in the 15th century. And these movements led to the presence of black communities in most nations. Of course, Mexico isn’t exempted. There are a great number of black populations in Mexico, sometimes referred to as Blaxican.
Blaxican is a term for describing Mexico’s black population. Sometimes, people call them Afro-Mexicans and Black Mexicans.
A 2015 Intercensal survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography revealed that Afro-Mexicans account for 1.2% of the nation’s population. And this is about 1.38 million people.
Afro-Mexicans are a blend of African descendants from the transatlantic slave trade, African immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. Also, runaway slaves from the United States and neighboring countries are part of Mexico’s black population.
Unlike the United States, there was no great migration of blacks to Mexico. The black Mexicans settled in small communities. But they are prevalent in some southern states like Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz. Interestingly, 4.9%, 6.5%, and 3.3% of the Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz populations are Afro-Mexicans.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF BLAXICANS
The first account of Afro-Mexicans in Mexico dates back to the 16th century during the transatlantic slave trade era. And during this era, several enslaved Africans found their way to Spanish America.
Between 1580AD and 1640AD, there was a decline in the indigenous population in the Americas. And the decline was due to infectious diseases and harsh treatment from the Spanish colonists.
The first Africans to disembark in Mexico during this period were 200,000 in number. By the early 1600s, Mexico had the largest population of Blacks in Latin America. And by the 1800s, the population of Afro-Mexicans exceeded the number of Spaniards in Mexico.
During this period, there was frequent intermarriage between male African slaves and indigenous women. Also, Spanish colonists raped African female slaves; this gave rise to a generation of Mexicans with mixed ancestral heritage.
Furthermore, there was a well-defined racial caste system during colonial Mexico. And the Spanish colonial masters reinforced the system, which made Afro-Mexicans occupy the lowest rank in the racial hierarchy. But the racial caste system ceased to exist in 1830.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BLAXICANS
Since its inception, Afro-Mexicans aka Blaxicans have always been of huge socio economic relevance in Mexico. For instance, during the colonial days, slaves bore the burden of labor, and they carried out a wide range of economic activities. While some were domestic workers, others were laborers on sugar plantations, silver mines, and textile factories. Some also worked in cattle ranches and farmlands.
However, the colonists started utilizing slave labor less after 1640. High-profit margins in mining made the recruitment of wage labor possible and led to a decline in slave labor.
Even though there was a decline of slave labor in sugar production and mining after 1640, slave labor continued in textile factories until the 18th century.
Afro-Mexicans also played vital roles in the fight for Mexico’s independence. Vicente Guerrero and Jose Mario Moreles are two leading generals of the Mexican War of Independence. They were a mix of African and indigenous descent.
Vincent Guerrero went on to become Mexico’s second president. He also abolished slavery in Mexico. As a result of his fight for independence and racial equality in Mexico, Guerrero’s city was named after him.
RACIAL AND IDENTITY STRUGGLE OF BLAXICANS
Afro-Mexicans have been at the receiving end of racial erasure in Mexico. Fellow Mexicans are appalled, shocked and surprised to discover that Afro-Mexicans exist, accusing them of being illegal immigrants from Cuba and Haiti.
Racism in Mexico is deeply rooted in colorism. There have been cases of Afro-Mexicans being deported to Cuba due to their skin color, with the police saying, ‘there are no black people in Mexico.’ Dark-skinned people report twice as many cases of police brutality as do their light-skinned counterparts.
Sadly, the history of Black Mexicans is neither taught nor contained in school history books. As a result of this, most Mexicans are ignorant that Mexico had ports for the transatlantic slave trade and have a population of African descent who are Mexicans.
Racism in Mexico was ignited by the Spanish Caste System, which was established before independence. In recent years, it has been fuelled by ignorance and manipulation of national history.
It was not until 1992 that Blaxicans’ contribution to Mexico’s culture was recognized by the Mexican government, with African culture being ranked as the third major influence on Mexico’s culture.
Some of the reasons for the erasure of Blaxicans include their small population, irregular intermarriage, and Mexico’s culture of defining itself as Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Amerindian population.)
It is often challenging to distinguish Afro-Mexicans from their physical features because most Africans intermarried with indigenous Mexicans to enable their offspring to gain citizenship status. This was a method of ethnic cleansing adopted by the Spanish colonists to dilute the population of Blacks in Mexico.
Racism has always been an issue for the black community in Mexico. The fight for freedom in Mexico began as early as the 16th century with the slave rebellion led by Gaspar Yanga.
In 1570, Yanga led a slave rebellion in a sugar plantation in Veracruz. There was guerrilla warfare with several losses on both sides. This prompted the slaves and Spanish officials to sign a treaty in 1618 that granted former slaves their freedom.
The town of Yanga (formerly known as San Lorenzo de Los Negros) was the first community of free Blacks in Latin America. By the seventeenth century, the number of freed Africans exceeded the number of enslaved Africans in Mexico.
In 2008, the Mexican government released a study affirming that Afro-Mexicans were victims of institutionalized racism.
The 2008 survey was succeeded by a national study conducted by CONAPRED (2010) and COPRED (2012). Both studies ascertained that Afromexicans are “a vulnerable population facing exclusion, discrimination, lack of representation, racism and unequal access to resources and opportunities.
Afro-Mexicans are marginalized at an ethnic and socioeconomic level. They are only able to access government aid accessible to low-income Mexicans. Unfortunately, they have no government aids for minority groups since they have not legally been documented as an ethnic group by the federal government.
MODERN DAY BLAXICANS
Even though numerous non-black Mexicans have trace amounts of sub-Saharan DNA, Mexico’s present black population is relatively small. Most modern-day Afro-Mexicans have a mixed heritage, and the few with full African ancestry are recent immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Modern-day Afro-Mexicans still make an effort to connect with their African roots through the arts. For instance, Quijada, a musical instrument of African origin, made from a dried-out donkey’s jawbone with rattling molars, is used in Afro-Mexican music.
A group of Afro-Mexican dancers called Obatala stay connected to their roots by learning African dance steps from Youtube. Modern-day Afro-Mexicans are becoming more intentional about reclaiming their roots.
SIGNIFICANCE OF AFROMEXICAN INCLUSION IN 2015 PRELIMINARY CENSUS SURVEY
Up until 2015, Afro-Mexicans were not recognized as an ethnic group in Mexico. The failure to acknowledge Afro-Mexicans as a distinct ethnic group in Mexico has had devastating consequences on Mexico’s Black community, most of which live in high poverty levels.
The 2015 preliminary census findings brought widespread attention to the magnitude, livelihood, and cultural practices of the Afro-Mexicans. Before this initial census, Afro-Mexicans have been recognized in states like Oaxaca and Guerrero, whose constitutions were amended in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Before the 2015 preliminary survey was conducted, there were no reliable statistics concerning the Afro-Mexicans. It was known that Afromexicans lived in deplorable conditions without good plumbing and in overcrowded conditions.
However, there was no substantial data to highlight the extent of the problem. Subsequently, it was difficult for the government to call attention to these issues and plan to address them.
In 2015 CNDH carried out a special survey on the situation of the Afro-descendant population in Mexico. They were able to make the following findings:
- 6.6% of Afromexican children do not have their births registered, and 18% of Afromexican children are not affiliated with any health system or service.
- The average highest schooling for Afromexican adult males is 9.2%, and the average highest schooling for Afromexican adult females is 8.7%.
- 40% of Afro-Mexicans in the workforce do not have labor benefits.
- 55.8% of men and 48.9% of women do not have paid leaves,
- 47.1% still cook with wood or coal.
- 15% do not have access to piped water
Through the government and Afro-Mexican activists’ help, Mexico’s Black community is on a challenging but worthwhile journey to reclaim their heritage and identify.
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