When we are little we do not ask ourselves if we are different, we do not see the differences in skin color. We begin to ask ourselves these questions as we grow and we are more involved in society, whatever our origin.
So, as I grew up and discovered new things and cultures, questions began to come. A good fellow student was the one who incited questions about my origin. Why were some members of my family of a different skin color than mine? Why was my hair different?
In this way the Afro-Mexicans issue began to resonate more and more in my head and I began to search 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 were the answers to my questions.
The first Africans, mostly from countries of the sub-Saharan region, came to Mexico as companions of the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés to participate in the subjugation of indigenous peoples, for which some received properties as a reward, although others were used as slaves.
After the conquest, men and women continued to arrive to work in forced ways, in colonial companies and on agricultural and livestock farms, but also in domestic service. It is estimated that about 250 thousand enslaved people came to Mexico from different regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, although there is no number of the enslaved people illegally brought into the country.
The authorized ports to legally receive enslaved people and introduce them to the country were: Veracruz, Campeche, Guerrero, from where they were sent to all the states of the country (Tabasco, Nuevo León, Yucatan, the state of Mexico and Chiapas, mainly). Between the years 1580 and 1650 this system of slavery was very extensive, since at that time trade intensified.
The first free town in America: the history of Yanga, Veracruz
A few years ago, when I began to learn about the existence of an Afro-Mexican community in Mexico, I discovered a city that is located in Veracruz and that was the first free town in America. On one of my trips to Mexico I had the opportunity to visit her. His name is Yanga, like the slave who fought for his liberation.
Founded in 1630, by African slaves, Yanga on behalf of its founder Gaspar Nyanga, has had several names over time: San Lorenzo de los Negros, San Lorenzo de Cerralvo and finally Yanga, Veracruz.
Gaspard Nyanga was, although it is not known with certainty, a member of the royal family of the African country of Gabon, who was sold as a slave and who arrived in Mexico. Others say that he was originally from the Yang-Bara people or the Bran nation.
According to the historian Adriana Naveda, Nyanga fled from her master in approximately the year 1570 and took refuge very close to what is now known as the city of Córdoba², leading a group of maroons that over time became more numerous. It is known that by 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 flight.
After the beginning of this liberation, difficulties came when demanding recognition of their rights, territories, slavery, among other issues.
Yanga’s foundation had several processes: first in 1618 the viceroy Diego Fernández de Córdoba created the town of free blacks of San Lorenzo; later in 1630, Viceroy Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio, Marquis of Cerralvo, founded the town of San Lorenzo de Cerralvo. Finally in 1746, San Lorenzo became a town inhabited by some 70 families of free blacks, although with quite limited living conditions.
Although January 6, 1609 is taken as the beginning of the struggle and the foundation of Yanga, this process had other situations that took time and in the end, freedom was not obtained in political terms. There are other cases of towns that also claim the status of the first free town in America, such as San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia or Quilombo Dos Palmares in Brazil.
In the end, what Nyanga was looking for, for example, and what he achieved, was to join the viceregal system to mobilize socially within the European culture, which was the dominant one at the time.
To this day, the Nyanga struggle is a benchmark for the history of the African and Afro-descendant population, as well as a symbol for numerous organizations and movements of “black identity”, along with other maroons in America.
To conclude, 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 – both ethnic and cultural – are the basis of a more inclusive and diverse society.
Afro-Mexicans in the history of Mexico
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 therefore, many Mexicans ignore the inheritance 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 Pavón, known as “Servant of the Nation”, was a Mexican priest, politician and military man who, in 1810, participated in the fight for the Independence of Mexico. It is said that due to his traits of Afromestizo in the end, the authorities who sentenced him to death were hesitant to convict him or return him to Africa.
–Vicente Guerrero: He was the second president of Mexico and the first president of Afromestizo descent in the American continent.
–Lázaro Cárdenas del Río: Of African descent, he was a Mexican politician and military man who held the presidency of the country from 1934 to 1940. Among the great achievements during his presidential term are the oil expropriation in 1938 of British and American companies, by creating PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos).
In accordance with the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, issued 103 years ago, which contemplates a reform in 1992 that includes the recognition that Mexico is a multicultural country. After several years and demands to recognize 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 recognizes Afro-Mexican peoples and communities, whatever their self-denomination, as part of the multicultural composition of the Nation… ”
So who are the Afro-Mexican or Afro-Mexican communities? The answer is found in the third paragraph of that article, which says that those who identify themselves as Afro-Mexicans will be called, that is, it corresponds to them, to declare themselves or not as Afro-Mexican people, communities or peoples and who will assume their cultural belonging with based on their customs, traditions or history.
According to the figures of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) of 2015, the population of Afro-descendants in Mexico is 1.4 million people, that is, 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, Yucatán and Zacatecas (See map)
In 2020 these communities will be recognized for the first time and will appear in the demographic census carried out by INEGI, which confirms the country’s population composition. This is an achievement for the Afro-descendant populations of the country, because the economic inequalities in which they live will be taken into account and it will be one more step to finally recognize their presence in the history of the country, as well as their rights as citizens of Mexico.
-² Relatos e Historias 10 batallas decisivas, Mayo 2015, num 81.