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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Invisible No More: Affirming Mexico’s Afro-Descendants

from the May 24, 2023 Bulletin

Cecilia Estrada Gasga, a grad of the National Institute of Anthropology and History Afro-descendants in México and Latin America program. 

Cecilia Estrada Gasga, a proud Afro-descendant from México City, has a close relationship to the Costa Chica of Guerrero where her family lives. In 2019, she founded the Afro-descendant Women's Network of Mexico City, an activist group that works to raise awareness and fight for the rights of Mexican women. Ana de las Flores, an Afro-indigenous artist, co-founded the Lunas de Barro Negro Collective and also plays an active role with the Afro-descendant Women's Network of Mexico City.

Ana de las Flores, certified in Afro-Latin American Studies from Harvard University's Afro-Latin American Research Institute.

When and under what conditions did Africans arrive in México?


Cecilia: In 1519, the Spanish colonizer Hernán Cortés first arrived with his expedition to what was then the Aztec empire. An African subject to the Spanish crown, Juan Garrido, came with him. In the 16th century, the colonizers started bringing in enslaved Africans. Slavery became widespread, especially in the 19th century, with Veracruz, the city founded by Cortés, the main port of entry, along with Acapulco and Campeche.


The Africans worked in agriculture in the rural areas of the south. They worked in mining in the north, as domestics in urban areas. Their descendants now live in every part of México.


How did/do people of African descent fit into the project of creating a racial/national identity through mestizaje, racial mixing?


Ana: After gaining independence from Spain, México needed a new national identity to replace the racial hierarchy that put the Spanish, the whites, on top. The government promoted what became known as mestizaje, a racist ideology that homogenized the Mexican” identity and denied the ethnic-cultural diversity of the entire Mexican territory.


That made Afro-descendants invisible. The mestizaje ideology did not consider Afro-descendants in the “mix, especially since the ideology actually amounted to a whitewashing that made it difficult to be black.

Cecilia: Mexican officials attempted to wipe out African culture. They prohibited African moves to form their own groups or meet together. They prohibited the drum, a traditional means of communication, to keep Africans from organizing and resisting the socio-economic order. But Afro-descendants did resist. They kept their culture alive and still practice their traditions in music, dance, and food.


México’s marginalized people of African descent banded together. Today, fully Afro-descendant communities continue to exist in the Costa Chica region along the southern coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Juneteenth Celebration in Nacimiento De Los Negros, Coahuila/Pedro Pardo,

AFP via Getty Images

Can you describe life in these Afro-descendant communities?


Ana: Peripheral people live in peripheral places! Statistical research makes clear that the darker the color of the skin, the poorer we are and the fewer our opportunities for education and work wherever we live.


Our people live with little access to health, education, or decent work, particularly in Afro-descendant coastal communities. Fishing has historically been an important economic activity, but environmental racism has affected the flora and fauna and greatly diminished fishing opportunities. 

In Guerrero’s Barra de Tecoanapa, for instance, Afro-descendant women, many of them single mothers, face many challenges. They lack the resources to fish effectively and the means to keep their fish fresh.


The intense physical effort fishing requires can even put their lives at risk. If they get sick, they have to travel for hours to reach the nearest health provider.


That’s why many of the women have made their way north to México City, where we live.

Hugo Arellanes, Al Dia

How do you see the relationship between Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples?


Cecilia: In the early days of slavery, Africans and indigenous peoples lived close together, but the colonizers separated them. They did not want the two oppressed groups to form alliances. But both groups recognized that they faced many of the same marginalization issues. During colonial times, enslaved Africans could achieve their freedom by marrying an indigenous person. With Afro-descendants and indigenous people sharing spaces and conditions, a lot of intermarriage continues today.


How have Afro-descendants organized themselves? What demands are they prioritizing?

Cecilia: Our first need: to be visible, to have the public recognize that people of African descent have lived in this territory for centuries. In 2020, the Mexican census added the category of “Afro-descendant” for the first time, and we also achieved constitutional recognition of Afro-Mexican peoples, a major step forward. 

Afro-descendants in México/Wilson Center

We’ve finally become visible, and that gives us access to resources and the right to demand equalityBy reinforcing our identity and knowing our roots, by self-ascribing, we feel proud to be black. Today, we’re openly exploring our rich heritage.


Ana: We’re working to eliminate false stereotypes in education. We’re demanding that the textbooks of our children include the history of Africans in México and treat our people not as “slaves but as people kidnapped and taken from their places of origin to be exploited and enslaved in other territories. Children must know that these Africans — people like the rebel Maroons — resisted and fought for liberation.


We demand to be treated with dignity. We will not let color-based violence — or the racism of so-called “funnycomments about how whitening “improves the race” — be normalized. We will not accept the racism we see in health care. In some hospitals in the Costa Chica, the medical staff won’t give Afro-descendant women in labor anesthesia — or attend to them last — because they believe black women can endure more pain.


And we demand reparations! México owes a great historical debt to our people.


You participated in the Summit for Peace in February that brought together people from the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States with Afro-descendants in other Latin American countries. How does working across borders help you in México?


Cecilia: People of African descent are facing the same problems throughout the hemisphere. Through our powerful network of Afro-descendant, Afro-diasporic women in México City, we have become part of a global movement for justice.