When we are little we don't wonder if we are different, we don't see the differences in skin colour. We start to ask these questions as we grow up and become more involved in society, no matter where we come from. So as we grew up and discovered new things and cultures, questions started to arise. A good classmate was the one who raised questions about my background. Why did some of my family members have a different skin colour from me? Why was my hair different? Since then, the issue of Afro-Mexicans began to resonate more and more in my head and I started to look for information about this community. The more data I found, the more I understood why in my state, Veracruz, I found people with different physiques and the more logical the answers to my questions became. The first Africans, mainly from sub-Saharan countries, came to Mexico as companions of the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés to participate in the subjugation of the indigenous peoples, some of whom received goods as a reward, although others were used as slaves. After the conquest, men and women continued to arrive for forced labour, in colonial enterprises and on farms and livestock farms, but also in domestic service. It is estimated that around 250,000 enslaved people came to Mexico from various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, although there are not a number of enslaved people brought into the country illegally. The ports authorised to legally receive slaves and bring them into the country were: Veracruz, Campeche and Guerrero, from where they were sent to all the other states of the country (Tabasco, Nuevo León, Yucatan, Mexico State and Chiapas, mainly). Between the years 1580 and 1650, this system of slavery was very extensive, as trade intensified at that time.
The first free city in America: the story of Yanga, Veracruz
A few years ago, when I started to discover the existence of an Afro-Mexican community in Mexico, I discovered a city in Veracruz that was the first free city in America. On one of my trips to Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit it. Its name is Yanga, like the slave who fought for its liberation. Founded in 1630 by African slaves, Yanga on behalf of its founder Gaspar NyangaThe town of San Lorenzo de los Negros has had several names over the years: San Lorenzo de los Negros, San Lorenzo de Cerralvo and finally Yanga, Veracruz. Gaspard Nyanga was, although this is not known for certain, a member of the royal family of the African country of Gabon who was sold into slavery and arrived in Mexico. Others say that he was from the Yang-Bara people or the Bran nation. According to historian Adriana Naveda, Nyanga fled from her master around 1570 and took refuge very close to what is now known as the city of Cordoba, leading a group of maroons who, over time, became more numerous. It is known that in 1609 the group exceeded 500 men. Cimarronaje was a constant anti-hegemonic process among enslaved Africans, directed against the Spanish authorities with the aim of obtaining their freedom through escape. After the beginning of this liberation, difficulties arose to demand the recognition of their rights, territories, slavery, among others. The foundation of Yanga had several processes: first in 1618, the Viceroy Diego Fernández de Córdoba created the city of the free blacks of San Lorenzo; later in 1630, the Viceroy Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio, Marquis of Cerralvo, founded the city of San Lorenzo de Cerralvo. Finally, in 1746, San Lorenzo became a town inhabited by some 70 free black families, but with rather limited living conditions. Although January 6, 1609 is considered the beginning of the struggle and the foundation of Yanga, this process had other situations that took time and finally freedom was not achieved in political terms. There are other cases of cities claiming the status of the first free people in the Americas, such as San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia or Quilombo Dos Palmares in Brazil.
Ultimately, what Nyanga sought, for example, and what he achieved, was to join the vice-regal system in order to mobilise himself socially within the European culture, which was dominant at the time. To date, theNyanga's struggle is a reference point for the history of the African and Afro-descendant population, as well as a symbol for many "black identity" organisations and movements, and for other maroons in America. In conclusion, the dissemination of the contributions and recognition of the African and Afro-descendant community in the history of Mexico implies the evaluation of these contributions in the construction of a collective identity, as well as the creation of a social environment in which the recognition of differences - ethnic and cultural - are the basis for a more inclusive and diverse society.
Afro-Mexicans in Mexican History
The Afro-Mexican and Afro-descendant community has actively participated in the history of the country. However, some contributions have been ignored and have not been reflected in the historical events that make up the great Mexican history, and as a result, many Mexicans are unaware of the heritage and wealth that this third root has brought to the country. Some famous people who have actively participated in the construction of contemporary Mexico are:
-José Maria Morelos y PavónThe "Servant of the Nation" was a Mexican priest, politician and soldier who, in 1810, participated in the struggle for Mexican independence. It is said that because of his Afromestizo features, the authorities who sentenced him to death were reluctant to condemn him or send him back to Africa. -
-Vicente GuerreroHe was the second president of Mexico and the first president of the Afromestizo descent on the American continent.
-Lázaro Cárdenas del RíoHe was a Mexican politician and military officer of African descent who served as President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. Among the major achievements of his presidential term was the expropriation of oil in 1938 from British and American companies, creating PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos).
In accordance with the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, published 103 years ago, which envisages a reform in 1992 that includes the recognition that Mexico is a multicultural country. After many years and requests for recognition of the descendants of African citizens of this country, finally in August 2019, more than 500 years after their arrival, it was reflected in Article 2 that: "C. This Constitution recognises the Afro-Mexican peoples and communities, whatever their denomination, as part of the multicultural composition of the nation..." So who are the Afro-descendant or Afro-Mexican communities? The answer is found in the third paragraph of this article, which states that those who identify themselves as Afro-Mexican will be called, that is, it corresponds to them, to declare themselves or not as Afro-Mexican people, community or people and it will be they who will assume their cultural belonging with according to their customs, traditions or history. According to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) in 2015, the Afro-descendant population in Mexico is 1.4 million people, or 1.16% of the national population. The main regions where they live are the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz; although they are also found in Mexico City, Chiapas, Coahuila, Yucatan and Zacatecas (See map). In 2020, these communities will be recognised for the first time and will appear in the population census carried out by INEGIThis is an achievement for the country's Afro-descendant populations. This is an achievement for the country's Afro-descendant populations, as the economic inequalities in which they live will be taken into account and it will be one more step towards finally recognising their presence in history, as well as their rights as citizens of Mexico. In conclusion, Mexico's cultural wealth, in addition to being tangible, also has a heritage that cannot be observed. But the heritage of the Mexican third root is and has undoubtedly been throughout history, although relegated and hidden, the time has come for it to take its place and to recognise its influence in this melting pot of cultures that is Mexico.
- Relatos e Historias 10 batallas decisivas, Mayo 2015, num 81.