DALLAS MORNING NEWS ARCHIVES
African Roots Stretch Deep into Mexico
Racial Amnesia--African Puerto Rico and Mexico
José María Morelos y Pavón
José María Teclo MORELOS y PAVÓN
Blacks in Mexico - A Brief Overview
Morelos (y Pavón), José María
VICENTE GUERRERO:---President: April 1 - December 31 1829
Vicente Guerrero-2nd Pres. of Mexico
Afro-Mexicans of the Costa Chica
Current: Black Racial Identity in Mexico
The Dallas Morning News There's a shared lineage in Mexico
Blacks to the continent/To the New World you have given/The salt that was missing. Without black people the drums don't breathe/And without black people the guitars don't sound. - Pablo Neruda.
Black history month, which is February, is for Mexicans, too. That may
seem counter-intuitive since conventional wisdom holds that the vast majority
of Mexicans are Indian or Mestizo (mixture of Indian or European).
But things are not always as they seem. And so it is with the notion of the Mexican gene pool. For it is a barely acknowledged fact that the blood
of black Africans also runs strongly through most Mexicans, according
to Jose Antonio MacGregor Campuzano, a Mexico City anthropologist
who spoke during Teatro Dallas' ongoing international theater festival.
In the 17th century the population of New Spain, or what today is Mexico,
was 3 million Indians, 1 million black African slaves and about 150,000 Spaniards. Most of the blacks were concentrated around the Caribbean coastal state of Veracruz and the Pacific coastal states of Oxaca and Guerrero.
What happened to all those black Mexicans? Dr. MacGregor who works
for Mexico's National Council for Culture and the Arts, says that they intermarried with Indians and Europeans and were eventually absorbed
into the Indian and mestizo populations.The physical features of their descendants are especially evident in the people of the coastal states.
The cultures that they brought from Africa are present in traditional
Mexican music and dance.
It is good that Mexico embraces its racial and ethnic past.
There's a shared lineage in Mexico
By Antonia Marta Borrero
Every time I hear the cry, Que Viva la Madre España, I translate it in my mind to Que Viva la Madre Africa. Why? Because as an Afro Latina, I know that the African heritage has made Latinos what they are today. People of African descent have helped to mold the history, culture, religion, language, diet, music, literature, and psyche of every Latin nation. Yet too often we are invisible to our fellow Latinos and unacknowledged as being an essential element within our common culture and history. Ask most Latinos whether there's discrimination against black Latinos, and they will deny it. And yet, in most Latin societies, dark-skinned people are at the bottom of the ladder. At the same time, Latinos of African descent (from baseball great Sammy Sosa to Puerto Rican freedom fighter Pedro Albizu Campos and musician Juan Morell Campos) are revered for their accomplishments. We dance to the African-derived rhythms of tango and salsa, listen to the Moorish cante hondo style of the Gypsy Kings, or carry the Yoruba Orisha beads of Santería under our three-piece suits. The dichotomy is everywhere, especially in the media, where our printed and televised images portray Latinos as white Spanish Europeans, when in fact our culture, history, and people are more complex. Whether white or of mixed race, Latinos should not leave the African part of their psyche and culture behind. As Venezuelan patriot Simón Bolívar, a mulatto often held in contempt by "pure blooded" Spaniards, once said: "We are no longer European, just as Spain is no longer (just) European, because of its African blood, character, and institutions." It was the Africans in Spain (through eight centuries of Moorish rule from 710 A.D. to 1492 A.D.) who brought that country out of barbarism. Eurocentric scholars may claim that Moors were not black or mulatto, but Caucasian, but the truth is that the word Moor was synonymous with "black" in medieval times. There is a large body of evidence from tradition, history, art, and literature pointing to that reality. Much of what we consider to be the height of Spanish culture was built, influenced, or introduced by Moors (from cante hondo and Spanish architecture to flamenco and medicine.) They advanced our knowledge of astronomy, chemistry, medicine, physics, mathematics, geography, and economic theory. Moors built irrigation systems and introduced the manufacture of gunpowder. Perhaps most tellingly, Spanish Moors built more than 70 public libraries and seventeen great universities, when all of Europe had only two centers of learning and 99 percent of the European population could neither read nor write. In the new world, Latinos of African descent have played an important role in every phase of Hispanic history, from Pedro Alonso Niño, the great African navigator who piloted one of the Christopher Columbus' ships, to Vicente Guerrero, known as the Black Warrior, who fought in Mexico's war of independence and later became Mexico's second president. Guerrero abolished slavery in 1829. History does not substantiate the invisible second-class role Latinos of color often occupy in the rhythm of Hispanic life. This problem is deep, complex, and hypocritical, but like all family problems, only when we acknowledge it can we get on the road to recovery. Hispanic Americans have entered the new millennium as the fastest-growing minority group in the nation, and it's time to leave the stereotypes behind and acknowledge our story fully. It's time to honor the African current that has given so much substance to our collective identity and that, along with our Spanish and Indian roots, is one of our great binding legacies. Once the subject of whispered conversations, Latinos' African heritage needs to be recognized as a legitimate and important part of Hispanic history and life. Every element of our population contributes to the whole: We're Indian, African, Spanish, and now American. The mix is powerful: It is us. It is Hispanic culture. H Borrero dedicates this article to the memory of "my first black Spanish history teacher: my father, Heriberto Borrero."
Ishmael Reed's Konch magazine
Racial Amnesia--African Puerto Rico and Mexico
by Ted Vincent
The border agent was bothering an immigrant, and the aggrieved party declared, "You can't hassle me, I'm Puerto Rican." The agent replied, "I don't care what kind of Mexican you are. " Puerto Rico and Mexico share the dubious honor of being the two Latin American nations that have been forced to send the largest numbers of their citizens to the racist exploitative United States. The light-hued immigrants from each country tend to have money and they pass into the North American mainstream rather easily, leaving the dark Puerto Rican and Mexican to work for starvation wages--and be hassled by " la migra." In cities of the mid-west where the two nationalities often share the same neighborhood, the dark Puerto Rican will make introductions with a Mexican neighbor saying, "I am Puerto Rican," and the dark Mexican will respond, "and I am Mexican." Neither African nor Indigenous roots will be mentioned. The national pride of the two neighbors cloaks difficulties in both Puerto Rico and Mexico in acknowledging non-white roots. Puerto Rico and Mexico took different paths to achieve their racial denial. Puerto Rico has denial in an essentially black-white two race situation. A report in the 1560s said there were 15,000 black slaves and some 500 Spaniards on the island. As Jack D. Forbes has pointed out, Spanish head counts were always inaccurate. In this case, many of the "blacks" were mixed race children or grandchildren of the native Puerto Ricans, and a small handful of the latter still survived in 1560. Mexico has a three race situation, counting the Indigenous, the whites and the descendants of the estimated 250,000 to 500,000 African slaves brought to colonial Mexico by the Spaniards. And Mexico has a four race situation if one adds in the descendants of the estimated 100,000 Asian slaves brought to Mexico on the colonial Manilla to Acapulco route. Since the law decreed that only Africans could be slaves, and the Spanish wanted more slaves, the Asians were declared Africans. Most were dark, having been captured in parts of Asia where people are dark complexioned, such as Malaysia, New Guinea, and the southern Phillipine Islands, including the island of Negros, so named because the Negritos lived there. Puerto Rico gradually acquired white settlers in large numbers, and with consideration that Spanish census counts were inexact, we find that in 1827 in Puerto Rico the 159,527 African people (black and mixed), were only 49% of the total island population. A Spanish census made in Mexico in 1910 on the eve of its independence war showed 634,461 African people (real African and dark Asian). This was 10.2 % of the population. The native Mexicans were 60%, so-called whites were 18% and the rest mixed Indian and white. Racial amnesia over African roots is common in Latin America, and usually can be traced to the master slave relationship, which even after slavery is abolished leaves a belief among many dark complexioned Latin Americans that a successful life is one in which the children are lighter hued. Mexico puts an unusual twist on the Latin drift toward being white. In Mexico it is o. k. to stop at brown on the way to becoming white. Mexico calls itself "the cosmic race." A hospital certificate given to parents of new-borns at a large Mexico City hospital says, "Congratulations on your addition to our bronze race." Notes William Nelson in a 1997 study comparing racial attitudes of Mexico and Brazil, "Although Mexican culture has elements of racism, the concept of mestizaje - the idea of the goodness of being classed as racially mixed" is strong and contrasts sharply with Brazil, "where the population is increasingly collectively desirous of the white label... which points toward an ideal of being light rather than brown." In all of Latin America, Mexico is the only country with a national culture. Everyone else has a folk culture. In Cuba and Brazil people get down with the folk through African culture. In Peru and Guatemala people get down with Indigenous culture. In Puerto Rico, there is the Le Lo Lai Festival of folks songs and dances that "showcase the European and AfroAntillean heritage of the island. " Mexico has MEXICO! It has taken national culture to a higher level. It has its Indigenous "folk dances, " but it has a commercialized hybrid pop culture on top. Mexico's "high class" Ballet company doesn't do the Nutcracker. It is the Ballet Folklorico that raises, folk into high class "art. " Mexican dance is women twirling in skirts of beautiful Indigenous color patterns to rhythms of Africa that are stomped out on a "tarima" sound box, that is adapted from the African sound box used by rhythmic dancers there. Mexico is "La Bamba," which in beat and phrasing defies modern musicologists. This quintesenttial "Mexican" song and dance is too old for their analysis. It is dated to at least 1683 and historians show it was the creation of blacks in Veracruz who came from the town of MBamba in Angola, in that nation's district of Bamba. Puerto Rico was held back in terms of cultural originality by the presence of a large white population that was happy with culture dictated from Europe. Mexico had a complex enough racial mix to create a new social synthesis. Africans in Mexico, in general, internalized the colonial master and slave self-depreciation only part way, only far enough to "pass" out of African identity. But they did not become white. They looked around and saw a huge Indian majority. And in a number of regions of Mexico, and under certain conditions that favored black and Indian alliance, there occurred what happened in the climatic scene in the film about the U.S. west, BUCK AND THE PREACHER. The black cowboys Sidney Poitier (Buck) and Harry Bellefonte (the Preacher) have battled the whites the whole movie. They are on the run and outnumbered, and it looks as if the whites will finally win out. Then on the horizon there appears a sea of Indians, friends of Buck and the Preacher. The two black heroes and the Indigenous unite and chase away the whites. Buck and the Preacher had horses and guns. They were free. One would hope that liberation would overcome self-depreciation, and there would be acceptance of the vibrant plus that being African brings to life. But freedom in our racist world is, apparently, not enough. Puerto Rico and Mexico are countries where most blacks were free from the shackles of slavery by around 1800. In Puerto Rico in 1827 only 32,000 Africans were in bondage, 21 % of their total. In Mexico in 1810 only 15,000 were in bondage, 2.5% of all Africans. The small number of slaves in Puerto Rico was related to the absence of a large sugar industry - - farms were small. They were effectively handled by free labor, and they produced food for some of the nearby slave islands, where life was marked by gangs of chattel suffering on agribusiness style plantations. An 1834 appraisal by a Britisher wished Puerto Rico luck in avoiding the profiteers who might turn it into another sugar island. Slavery declined in Mexico for three main reasons. First, manumission was encouraged by slave rebellions and the ease of slave flight into unconquered Indigenous lands. Second, Africans showed during the first decades of Spanish conquest that they could be quite useful when free. Freedom papers for becming translators was one case. Africans learned Indigenous languages far easier than did Europeans, said Spanish, English and Dutch reports. And according to a Spanish slave ship captain, slaves allowed on deck during the middle passage would learn Spanish before his ship reached the Americas. (Perhaps African language ability was related to attention to sound structure which came from African emphasis upon music? Perhaps becoming translators was simply a case of the African putting in extra effort so as to obtain a job that wasn't field labor? Perhaps Africans learned Indian languages more easily than did whites because the Indians, prefered to talk to their fellow oppressed and helped the Africans along? Whatever the reason, someone needs to explain this language knack to those school teachers in U.S. public schools who claim that blacks can't learn). In regard to abilities, the bulk of the slaves brought to Mexico in chains from Africa had seen cows and horses. The Indigenous were unfamiliar with these animals, as they were with the use of the wheel and many European tools, about which African immigrants were often acquainted. The skilled cattle hand from Africa soon won freedom. The slave on horseback tended to be a slave who disappeared. Within a century of the landing of Hernando Cortez and his conquistadors, Afro-Mexicans were a very disproportionately high percentage of the Mexican cowboys, and they practically dominated the all important mule driving business -- which compares to today's big-rig truck driving business. In the colony's all important mining industry, a labor force of free Africans and Indigenous peasants gradually replaced most of the slave labor. The third reason for the manumission trend in Mexico was related to the second. Mexico was by far the wealthiest of Spain's colonies. The wealth of the mines and large haciendas supported an elite that was large enough to isolate itself and forego much of the skilled labor needed in the colony, and to leave that labor to others (to free blacks, for instance). The size of the basically white elite of Mexico influenced how the nation's combined majority of Indigenous and Afro-Mexicans related to one another, and in certain areas, and under certain conditions, were able to unite. The Mexican elite had mansions, a university, monasteries, numerous cities to visit in, great governmental buildings to hang out in, and had the bishop's cloister for social teas and poetry readings. A tight and exclusive circle of wealthy whites and their lackeys hid in the mansions drinking Spanish wine, eating white bread rolls, and practicing the "Minuet.' Out in the town square, the dark hued people created Mexico, with tequilla, tortillas and La Bamba. When opportunity arose to strike for political independence large numbers of blacks and Indians had a common culture and life-style to fight for. It was a world that the Spanish had tried to repress. Blacks were hardly off the slave boats in Mexico when the Viceroy issued his first edict against black musicians, in 1537. The bans continued, but the party was still going in 1802 when the Viceroy issued a ban on that years hit song, an "Jarabe" that allegedly caused delinquent behavior and exhibited licentious African body movements. In terms of wealthy whites, colonial Puerto Rico produced little "surplus wealth" around which an elite could function. The whole island developed but one legitimate city, San Juan, which was actually but a small town that was isolated out on a spit of land across from Puerto Rico proper. Puerto Rico did not have a distinct Indian population around which blacks could juxtapose themselves and the whites. After the native Borinquens fought and lost a great battle with the Spaniards in 1510, their men were mostly killed off, or escaped to other islands, while many of their women ended up making families with black slaves, or with a conquistador. Without a sizable Indian presence Puerto Rico fell into the standard white master/black subject relationship, even without slavery. The African in Puerto Rico who sought mobility through a skilled labor position had to compete with those within the large white community who wanted those jobs. The wars of the decade of 1810 that brought independence to most of Spanish America left Puerto Rico in Spanish hands. During the 1810 wars great numbers of Spaniards fled the nations that were becoming free. Many thousands in this exodus resettled in Puerto Rico. The presence of zealous pro-Spain whites on the island dampened prospects for black militancy. And Puerto Rican radicalism was further weakened by a comparatively easy going, almost pre-capitalist way of life on the island, which encouraged intermarriage and a loose attention to caste law, which resulted in children of whites and mulattos being labeled "Espanol" (that is an increase in number of whites). In succeeding decades the notion that the people of the island were Puerto Ricans first, and a given race second, was fostered both by whites of wealth, who used the idea to deflect anger of the basically black peasantry, and by those who wanted Puerto Rico to gets its independence. The leaders of a brief rebellion for independence in 1868 declared that any slave who joined the rebellion was thereby free. The revolt was quickly suppressed, but the1868 effort at national unity for independence frightened the Spaniards into reforms. Slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873. The Puerto Rican uprising of 1868 was largely an effort of paternalistically minded whites. In Mexico in 1810, by way of contrast, the masses themselves produced independence leaders. An alliance of Afro-Mexicans, Indigenous and a few white intellectuals launched the war to oust the Spaniards with demands that all slaves be freed immediately, "under penalty of death for non-compliance" by the slave masters. Fear of the "ejercito moreno" (dark army) of Mexican peasants drove the White Mexican elite to rally around the resident Spaniards in defense of Crown and profit. The "ejercito moreno" fought on and eventually won independence. Of three heroes of the Mexican independence war to have states created in their names, two were AfroMexicans -- the ex-muleteer turned village- priest Jose Marra Morelos y Pavon, and the muleteer Vicente Guerrero. The third was the white radical, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo. At least 10 Afro-Mexican military heroes of the 1810 war have had cities named in their honor. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829 by decree of the first of at least four Afro-Mexican presidents: Vicente Guerrero. Eight years earlier Guerrero was the Commander-in Chief of the Mexican independence army and led negotiations that created the peace Plan of Iguala of February 24, 1821 which led to independence six months later. As president, Guerrero led a political faction dedicated to throwing out the resident Spaniards. Guerreroistas raised nationalistic slogans, and called themselves "the Aztec," "Another Aztec," and "the Commanchie, " etc. A reactionary critic said that Guerrero's political activists were but a bunch of "blacks and mulattos" who believed they could get ahead by "passing for Indian." A look at racial roots of the Guerreroistas, shows that, a few intellectuals aside, the critic was essentially correct. Guerrero only became president because Afro-Mexican military and/or political leaders in six key states and the capital allowed and/or orchestrated street demonstrations and riots that overturned the initial election returns that had declared Guerrero's conservative opponent Gomez Pedraza the winner. The anti-Spanish campaign of the self-proclaimed "more Mexican" than the opposition Guerreroistas, bore fruit and many Spaniards were expelled, some of them seeking refuge in Puerto Rico. Mexican history is as much a story of social conflict and revolutions as Puerto Rican history is that of a respite from the traumas of the hemisphere. If "revolution" generates consciousness then Mexico should have much more African consciousness than it has shown. The masses rose up against the Mexican racist elite in 1810-1821, 1830-1831, 1854-1867, 1910 to around 1920, and in regional form over many more years, including 1994 to the present in the state of Chiapas. Mexicans with African heritage made a disproportionately high contribution during the revolution for independence, and continued in subsequent upheavals. The 1830-1831 fight was over the ouster of Guerrero from the presidency, and his defenders were heavily Afro-Mexican. The 1854-1867 struggle was launched by a half dozen militant commanders who included the old Guerreroistas, Juan Alvarez (the second "Black President" of Mexico) and Gordiano Guzman (for whom Ciudad Guzman is named). In the 1910 revolution, there is substantial evidence that Emiliano Zapata had an African heritage, and a major biography and other data show that the nationalizer of oil, President Lazaro Cardenas came from "mulatto" roots. Today, Cardenas' son Cuauhtemoc, is the twice presidential candidate of the left-opposition and is mayor of Mexico City, while a great-great-great-great grandson of President Guerrero is a prominent journalist on the left, Raymundo Riva Palacio. African heritage is being overlooked in Mexico, in part as consequence of the national ideal of an amalgamated "cosmic" or "bronze" race. With the argument, "we are all mestizos," Mexico overlooks even its obvious Indigenous heritage, except when radicals launch one of their periodic "Indigenismo" movements. The scholar Guillermo Bonfil Batalla pointed out in the late 1980s that since the time of Guerrero, there has been much radical play-acting at being "Indian," while actual Indian culture and life-style is ignored. Also ignored is the vibrant mix in the world of Mexico that grew in the shadow of the mansion. Recent studies have shown African contributions to Mexican music, dance, cuisine, marriage customs, medical practices, architecture, and language (the Mexican f-verb chingar coming from Angola). Denial of black roots is convienently congruent with the Latin American attitude that what is best for the family is children who are lighter than grandma or grandpa. Supposedly, Puerto Rico with its nationalism and Mexico with its "cosmic race" are beyond the mentality of this grangy "pigmentocracy." But Puerto Rico and Mexico are socially complex, and contradictory ideas can easily exist side by side. Moreover, the flight to the United States by impoverished Puerto Ricans and Mexicans has put them in contact with that virulent puss filled and thoroughly metastasized U.S. cancer: anti-black racism.