A lil FYI...
1:59PM on July 28, 2008
Afro Mexican (Spanish: "afromexicano") is a term used to identify Mexican people of African ancestry. African Mexicans, now largely assimilated in the general population, have historically been located in certain communities in Mexico. They are currently found in the coastal areas of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Veracruz, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán.
When the Spanish first arrived in Mesoamerica, they brought over their African slaves. The African slaves contributed to the conquistadors success in New Spain, but they did not share in the victory because of their status.  African presence in the New World was strictly for labor. The decline of the Amerindian population and the difficulty of making Native Americans into slaves and later the Pope's prohibition against enslaving them, prompted the Spanish to import large numbers of slaves from Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, the Congo, and Angola. Some priests, like Bartolome de las Casas actually invoked humanitarian reasons to replace the native labor force with black slaves. Bartolome later retreated from this position after he saw how black slaves were treated. (Note: other forms of forced labor replaced the slave system for the Native American population.)
During the colonial period in Veracruz, Spaniards placed restrictions on contact between Africans and Natives to discourage the formation of alliances . Intermarriage between the races, whose descendants were called Lobos in the caste system of New Spain and Zambos in other parts of Spanish America, was heavily discouraged by some individuals in the Catholic clergy. Africans soon outnumbered Europeans in certain areas, and the Spanish implemented many tactics to ensure that they remained the dominant racial group in Mesoamerica.
The Spaniards ruled the racial groups under their control according to medieval conceptions of strict social order. In the first place, they tolerated sexual relations with native or black women, but not marriage with them; and indeed, since males predominated among the waves of Spaniards and their African slaves, both European and African men had intercourse with Native women, so that from the beginning of the colonial period a complex order of racial mixture arose. And although the indigenous peoples, who did not want their communities to be overrun by outsiders, opposed the intercourse of Native and African, so that Africans sometimes took Native women by force (a fact that did not contribute to the establishment of good relations), Spaniards actually accorded the black population a higher status than the Native, who had the status of minors. Spanish authorities thus created a set of rules, so each mix had its place in colonial society, and a set of rights and prohibitions. For example, mulatto women could not use silver jewellery, while mestizo women could, and so on. Evidence of the racial order is to be found in a series of paintings known as pinturas de castas wherein the races and mixtures are categorized and classified. Eventually this system became too complex, and skin color became the standard of measurement of social level. Mexicans to date are still very sensitive to skin color, but as a sign of social status, rather than in racial terms. In this system, the black population had some rights: Since 1527 married black slaves could buy their liberty at twenty pieces of gold and own lands, although they could not have public positions and black women could not use jewels.
The Black population grew rapidly, and by 1608 most white homes had at least one black slave.
In the early days of the colonial period, slavery was very harsh, and lead to rebellions. In 1609 there was a black rebellion in Veracruz, lead by Gaspar Yanga and Francisco de la Matosa. After fierce battles, Yanga came to negotiate a peace with the viceroy Luis de Velasco. A black community, called "San Lorenzo" (Later renamed Yanga) was founded and still exists; it would be the first of several. But this would not stop the hostilities. Spanish authorities suspected a new rebellion, in 1612, they imprisoned, torture and execute 33 slaves (twenty nine males and four women). Their heads were cut off and remained in the main square of Mexico City for a long time as an example.
There were also some persons of African descent who were not made slaves. These were the descendants of slaves who escaped their slave-masters in the sugar cane farms in United States, especially Texas, and settled as free people in Coahuila in the nineteenth century. Mexico also experienced a settlement of thousands of Black Seminoles, who are descendants of free and escaped Africans who married Native Americans of Seminole ancestry. These settlers also escaped their slave-masters in Oklahoma Indian Territory and made a free African village in Nacimiento, Coahuila and a few villages along the Texas-Mexico border. Some of the Indio African in yucatan traveled to the country of Belize. Though there is an African presence in Belize some forget their roots. In recent years, some Afro-Mexicans include blacks who immigrated to Mexico from Caribbean countries such as Cuba, or from Africa to earn money in Mexico as contract workers. Many Afro-Mexicans also went abroad to find better economic fortune, mostly to the United States, where they and their U.S. children are called African Americans and Mexican Americans of African descent.
Gaspar Yanga and The First Free People of the Americas
The Setting: The first shiploads of slaves from Africa to Mexico were hardly off the boat when an abortive slave uprising occurred in Mexico City. It was in 1537. This uprising frightened the Spaniards on many counts. The conquest was still proceeding. Only about a fifth of Mexico was in Spanish hands, and much of that not yet secure. The threat of "barbarian" Indian invasion from the far North or South was quite real. Moreover, wrote the Viceroy to his King, the uprising was preceded in Mexico City by close organization by Blacks, who chose their own "King," and devised a plan that called for Blacks and Indians to cooperate and together rise and slaughter all the Whites.
During the 1540s there were two uprisings of Blacks near Mexico City, and rumors of plots for African uprisings in the capital were heard frequently during the 1600s. In the 1560-1580 period, Afro-Mexicans who had fled the mines in Zacatecas kept the area in turmoil with raids on haciendas and roads. During this period one group of escaped Black miners from Zacatecas joined with the unconquered Chichimec Indians northwest of city and together they descended upon the settler communities in what became a brutal war. Also in the late 1500s slaves from the Pachuca mines rose up and fled the city. These ex-miners found refuge in an inaccessible cave from which they sallied forth periodically to steal cattle and other necessities.
The African population in Mexico was pronounced along the Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas. On the Atlantic side, large slave labor sugar plantations in coastal Veracruz produced great profits for the Empire. A combination of the profiteers' need for workers and the habit of slaves running away, led the slave masters to utilize chains and other cruel measures on their subjects. Nevertheless, the enormous mountains behind the Veracruz lowlands became the home of fiercely independent maroon communities of both ex-slave Blacks and of Indigenous, too. The peaks of the range rise to 12,500 feet on the south, and to 18,300 Mt. Orizaba and 14,000 Cofre de Perote in the center. Below the ridges in the 10,000 foot northern stretch of the range there is the best evidence of the value of these jungle covered mountains for hideaways. Located in a canyon is a small city of an Aztec tributary state that became an Indian refuge that the Spaniards never discovered. The town remained occupied on into the 1700s, and its existence did not become known to the outside world until 1994.
Yanga: The most memorable of the numerous Afro-Mexican maroon colonies in the range was the one founded after a bloody slave rebellion in the sugar fields in 1570. The rebel leader Gaspar Yanga was a slave from the African nation of Gabon, and it was said that he was from the royal family. Yanga led his rebel band into the mountains, where he found a locale sufficiently inexcessable to settle and create his own small town of over 500 people. The Yangans secured provisions by raids upon the Spanish caravans bringing goods from the highlands to Veracruz. Relations were established with neighboring runaway slaves and Indians. For more than thirty years Yanga and his band lived free while his community grew in size. A Spanish study of the situation concluded that Gaspar Yanga must be crushed. With that goal in mind a Royal war party left the city of Puebla in January of 1609. It did not succeed in its goal. Before he died, Yanga would have in hand a treaty with the Spaniards that granted freedom to his followers and established their own "free town."
Five decades after Mexican independence Yanga was made into a national hero of Mexico by the diligent work of the grandson of Vicente Guerrero, Vicente Riva Palacio. The energetic Riva Palacio was an historian, novelist, short story writer, military general and major of Mexico City mayor during his long life. In the late 1860s he retrieved from moldy Inquisition archives accounts of Yanga and of the expedition against him. From his research, the grandson of the first "Black President" brought the story to the public in an anthology in 1870, and as a separate pamphlet in 1873. Reprints have followed, including a recent edition in 1997. Others have written about Yanga, but none have matched the flair of Riva Palacio in conveying the image of proud fugitives who would not be defeated.
Riva Palacio informs us that Yanga was quite old in 1609 and "the revered ancient one" had delegated military organization to his aid, the Angolan Francisco de la Matosa. Upon receiving word of the Spanish expedition that had left Puebla, Yanga had General de la Matosa gather fighters for a defense. The General dressed in clothing fitting a commander, in the hope of instilling military decorum on troops which had little weaponry and nothing in the way of a military uniform. Their combat had been guerrilla raids. The maroon band whipped into shape by de la Matosa, aided by Yanga's son Ñanga, had but a hundred fighters with firearms, and some were using old muskets of the conquistadors. Four hundred others prepared to fight with rocks, poles, machetes, and bows and arrows. Into their mountains marched the well armed Spanish war party of 550. There were 100 crack Spanish troops, but the rest were a mix of adventurers looking for spoils and conscripted Mexicans, including Indians and "mulatos" some of them also armed with bows and arrows.
A retreat further up into the wilderness, no doubt, tempted Yanga. The 39 years that he had lived in the mountains gave him knowledge of the routes in and out of the ravines, around the 200 foot waterfalls, and through the forests of 150 foot high vine and fern covered trees. But should he flee? "The revered ancient one" had already moved many time while creating a community that tried to farm land and tend cattle. The band included ever more children and elderly. Yanga gambled on standing up to the enemy. The reports Riva Palacio found in the Inquisition led him to conclude that Yanga had decided ahead of time that he would join de la Matosa and his son with the troops, and that they would make a show of force that they hoped would inflict enough damage to interest the Spaniards in negotiations for peace. The terms? Perhaps the Spaniards would be interested in granting a form of peace treaty similar to the one that had ended hostilities with many Indigenous groups in Mexico, that is, a "homeland" in which there would be self-rule on local matters, but from which would come tribute taxes for the King of Spain and loyalty to the Crown in case of foreign attack. There was, however, a major difference between the Indian and Afro-Mexican situation. Because of the slavery inflicted upon the Blacks, any free "homeland" would soon be crammed with African runaways from servitude. Yanga offered an answer to this worry of the slave masters. He promised to return any new slaves who sought asylum in his free territory. Early in February word reached the Yanga settlement that the Spanish war party was near. Yanga all but lit the way to his village by sending the enemy a captured Spanish prisoner, who carried a message that offered the deal. The message also included gratuitous insults to the Crown and a warning that to take on the Yangans would prove costly.
A deal was not forthcoming and a fierce engagement was fought downslope from the settlement with heavy losses on both sides. The maroons retreated back through their settlement, which the Royal troops entered and burned. The prospect of chasing the maroons further up the mountains was not, however, an inviting one for the Spanish war party. A priest was then sent to seek out Yanga, and hopefully convince him the cause was lost. Yanga reiterated his terms: In return for a grant of farmable land and the right of self-government, Yanga offered that he and his followers would return to the Crown authorities any of the slaves who, in the future, might flee to such a Black refuge. In addition to their own town, the rebels wanted it in writing that all the slaves who had fled before 1608 should be free; that only Franciscan friars should attend to their people; and that Yanga should be their governor and that the succession should go to his descendants. In spite of the opposition of the slave holders of the sugar plantations, the Crown acceded to Yanga's petitions, and the maroons were officially settled on the slopes of Mount Totutla in 1630.
Riva Palacio had titled his Yanga account The 33 Negroes. They were not of Yanga's band. Their fate was the horrifying evidence of the long term impact of his achievement upon the psyche of White Mexico, and thus, upon the history of the whole long stay in Mexico by the Spanish rulers. Riva Palacio explains that news of the agreement with Yanga was greeted with great alarm and misgiving among the resident Spaniards of Mexico City. Slave owners in the city were livid and demanded assurances no such breech of private property rights as the massive manumission of Yangaistas would ever happen again. Rumors of Blacks scheming with Yanga for further gains abounded. "Was it true that along the road from Veracruz to Mexico City there was an encampment of thousands of Blacks?" it was asked. Would not the freedom given the band in the Veracruz mountains embolden them to try to free all Blacks? Was not a muleteer from Veracruz seen talking in suspiciously hushed tones with local Blacks? Did not the local Blacks seem to have a chip on their shoulder since the word has spread about Yanga? Were the Blacks about to rise up and kill everybody, especially us, the Spaniards seemed to be asking.
Rumors reached a boil on Easter week 1612. The authorities canceled all celebrations for fear the parades would be used by the Afromexicans of the city to spark an uprising. Then in the middle of the night on Easter a butcher was parading a pack of pigs into town and something bothered the pigs. They began a horrible squeal. Shutters were flung open. Shouts were heard. It was assumed the Blacks and mulatos were rising up. By mid-day 33 Blacks had been rounded up for execution, 29 men and 4 women, While paraded by government authorities to the gallows they were beaten by a drunken mob. The mass hanging did not satisfy the mob, which tore the bodies to pieces and placed the heads and other parts on poles which were left hanging for a considerable time, until the authorities determined that the stench was too strong and the parts were buried. "Thus was snuffed out the sound of conspiracy in the year 1612," writes Riva Palacio.
Yanga's town survived. And it was moved to better farm land in the lowlands. The Yangans had asked for a better location, and the Viceroy agreed, having concluded that he preferred to have the Yangans live near his newly build military base than up in the mountains. The military base became the present large city of Cordova. The town of Yanga, then known as San Lorenzo de los Negros, had 719 people at the time of Mexican independence. Today it is a city of over 20,000, with the majority being people from the highlands rather than Afro-Mexicans from the region. Nonetheless, since 1986 the city has celebrated its founder in an annual August "Festival of Negritude."
The story of the past five hundred years involves the saga of the Afro-Mexico of the villages and small towns where over generations efforts have continued to maintain an African cultural and social tradition. And the story also involves the efforts of a far larger group of Afro-Mexicans who have lived in the regions that had the Afro-centric villages, but who recognized that the vast nation of Mexico was at root Indigenous, and that Indigenous and Black unity was needed to effectively fight the oppression of the Europeans and Europe worshipping Mexican elite. From this sector of Afro-Mexicans has come most of the best known leaders of the politically progressive mainstream of the nation.
Vicente Guerrero exemplifies the progressive tradition and how it has been carried forward from fathers to sons and daughters and grandchildren.
The mule driver Vicente Guerrero rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican army during the last years of the 1810-1821 independence war with Spain. Eight years after independence he was president and he issued his nation's slavery abolition decree. Guerrero was a descendant of African slaves brought to colonial Mexico. He also had Indigenous and Spanish roots, and his multi-cultural experience was enriched by contact among the many in his region who were descendants of the estimated 100,000 Asians brought to Mexico in slavery on the Manila to Acapulco galleons. The Asians were labeled "African" because the Spanish wanted more slaves, and by law only Africans could be slaves. Most of the Asians did come from places where people were dark, such as Malaysia, and the southern Filipine Islands, including the island of Negros, so named because the Negritos lived there.
The Black Indian Family on the Museum Wall
Guerrero has a state in his name, only one of four heroes of the nation to be so honored. On a wall in the National Museum of History in Mexico City is a display of the family tree that stems from President Guerrero. He and his wife Guadelupe Hernandez de Guerrero had one surviving child, Dolores. She married Mariano Riva Palacio, who was head of the city council in Mexico City during Guerrero's presidency. Mariano was later the mayor of the capital city, a state governor, a prominent promoter of public education, and a general in the army during the mid-century war of the Reform. In 1831 Vicente Guerrero was assassinated, and in the years that followed Mariano and Dolores made their home a gathering place for followers of the fallen leader. In this environment the children of Mariano and Dolores were politicized. Their sons Vicente (named after grandfather) and Carlos became state governors and army generals. Vicente is best known as a literary light, and for being the most read historian in Mexico. The tall and thick multi-volume compendium, MEXICO A TRAVES DE LOS SIGLOS, that he directed to publication in the 1880s continues to go through reprintings today. Also much republished is Riva Palacio's account of the African slave Gaspar Yanga, who led a revolt in the sugar plantations of Veracruz in 1570.
Additional Guerrero/Riva Palacio generations produced more state govenors, including a second Carlos Riva Palacio. During the latter stages of the 1910 social revolution, Carlos #2 supported President Calles, a loudly nationalistic leftist who drew threats of intervention from the U.S. in 1927. In 1934 Carlos was first president a new ruling political party, which is said to have been originally progressive, and now, under its new name, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, is said to stand for "technocrats" beholden to a wealthy clique. Emerging in the late 1980s to fight the corrupted PRI from a left wing perspective was Raymundo Riva Palacio. A crusading journalist, Raymundo was instrumental in making two Mexico City dailies, EL FINANCIERO and LA REFORMA, into popular anti-establishment papers. The physical appearance of Raymundo does not suggest that he is a descendant of the first "Black President" of Mexico. But he is nonetheless following the family business, opposition to the elite.
To escape the oppressiveness of slavery, some African Maroons escaped to the mountains and formed their own settlements. These settlements, called palenques, were composed of mostly African males. The men in these settlements would periodically raid Native villages and plantations for women and bring them back to their settlements (Carroll, 2001). One of these palenques is Cuajinicuilapa in the state of Guerrero, home to a small enclave of Afro-Mexicans whose ancestors were slaves who escaped from the sugar and coffee plantations along the coast and settled into the mountainous regions of Guerrero (Hamilton, 2002). Today the Afro-Mexican residents of this town have a museum that displays the history and culture of their ancestors. They honor their African heritage through traditional dance and music.
The end of slavery
In 1810, the declaration of Independence of Mexico, called for the ban of slavery and the caste system, although this could not be done until the end of the independence war in 1821. This ban called for the death penalty for those who opposed the ban, so it was adopted. Even so, some "forms of slavery" like the tienda de raya (workers under perpetual debt) remained until the early twentieth century, but this slavery was more oriented to indigenous population.
The African Mexican population has mixed mostly  with the larger populations and many have forgotten their African ancestry, but some populations like Costa Chica and others still remain with stronger visual cues of their African ancestry.
Admixture levels in Mexico have been studied in multiple studies and have shown a strong presence of Amerindian and European genetic contributions with a significant African contribution as well.
= African Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation == ==
For Edward Said, nations are narrations and the power of narrating and blocking the formation and emergence of other narratives is very important for culture and imperialism, and it constitutes one of the most important connections among them (Introduction, xiii).
According to Jose Piedra, Nebrija argued in 1492 that language becomes the source of power when it provides an official home for the memory of all who contribute to the empire, and grammarians act as the official guardians of such a home (306).
So-called Mestizos, or people of mixed blood constitute the largest percentage of the total population in Mexico. It is generally reported that mestizos represent anywhere from 55 to 85 percent of Mexican people. The common belief, even at present, is that this group or minority is the result of the exclusive mix of Amerindians and Spaniards. This partial truth was disseminated in Mexico, and outside the country, during a period identified by Marco Polo Hernandez Cuevas as the cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution (1920-1968). Todays Mexican mestizos, known throughout the colonial period (1521-1821) as m