|1,381,853 2015 intercensal estimate|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Costa Chica of Guerrero, Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Greater Mexico City and small settlements in northern Mexico|
|Predominantly Roman Catholicism;
minority of Protestantism and Animism
|Related ethnic groups|
|West Africans, Afro-Latin Americans, and other Mexicans|
Afro-Mexicans (Spanish: afromexicanos; negros; afrodescendientes) are Mexicans who have a heritage from Sub-Saharan Africa. Also known as Black Mexicans, they are an ethnic group made up of recent immigrants of African descent to Mexico and the descendants of slaves, such as in the communities of the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Veracruz and in some cities in northern Mexico. The history of blacks in Mexico has been lesser known for a number of reasons: their relatively small numbers, regular intermarriage with other ethnic groups, and Mexico’s tradition of defining itself as a “mestizaje” or mixing culture.
According to The Atlantic Slave Trade an estimated 200,000 enslaved Africans disembarked in New Spain. From the beginning, the slaves, who were mostly male, intermarried with indigenous women. In some cases Spanish colonists had unions with female slaves. Spanish colonists created an elaborate racial caste system, classifying people by racial mixture. This system broke down in the very late colonial period; after Independence, the legal notion of race was eliminated.
The creation of a national Mexican identity, especially after the Mexican Revolution, emphasized Mexico’s indigenous and European past; it passively eliminated the African ancestors and contributions. Though Mexico had a significant number of African slaves during colonial times, most of the African-descended population were absorbed into the surrounding Mestizo (mixed European/indigenous) and indigenous populations through unions among the groups. Evidence of this long history of intermarriage with Mestizo and indigenous Mexicans is also expressed in the fact that in the 2015 census, 64.9% (896,829) of Afro-Mexicans also identified as indigenous. It was also reported that 9.3% of Afro-Mexicans speak an indigenous language. About 1.2% of Mexico's population has significant African ancestry, with 1.38 million recognized during the 2015 Intercensus Estimate. Numerous Afro-Mexicans in the 21st century are naturalized black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. The 2015 Intercensus Estimate was the first time in which Afro-Mexicans could identify themselves as such and was a preliminary effort to include the identity before the 2020 census. The question asked on the survey was "Based on your culture, history and traditions, do you consider yourself black, meaning Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant?" and came about following various complaints made by civil rights groups and government officials.
Although the vast majority had their roots in Africa, not all slaves made the trip directly to America, some came from other Hispanic territories. Those from Africa belonged mainly to groups coming from Western Sudan and ethnic Bantu.
The origin of the slaves is known through various documents such as transcripts of sales. Originally the slaves came from Cape Verde and Guinea. Later slaves were also taken from Angola and the Canary Islands.
To decide the sex of the slaves that would be sent to the New World, calculations that included physical performance and reproduction were performed. At first half of the slaves imported were women and the other half men, but it was later realized that men could work longer without fatigue and that they yielded similar results throughout the month, while women suffered from pains and diseases more easily. Later on, only one third of the total slaves were women.
From the African continent dark skinned slaves were taken; "the first true blacks were extracted from Arguin." Later in the sixteenth century, black slaves came from Bran, biafadas and Gelofe (in Cape Verde). Black slaves were classified into several types, depending on their ethnic group and origin, but mostly from physical characteristics. There were two main groups. The first, called Retintos, also called swarthy, came from Sudan and the Guinean Coast. The second type were amulatados or amembrillados of lighter skin color, when compared with other blacks and were distinguishable by their yellow skin tones.
Mexican anthropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán estimated that there were six blacks who took part in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Notable among them was Juan Garrido, a black soldier born in Africa, Christianized in Portugal and who participated in the conquest of Tenochtitlan and Western Mexico. Another conquistador, Pánfilo de Narváez, brought an African slave who has been blamed for the smallpox epidemic of 1520. Early slaves were likely personal servants or concubines of their Spanish masters, who had been brought to Spain first and came with the conquistadors.
Mexico never became a society based on slavery, as happened in the U.S. south or Caribbean islands, but its economy did use slaves for many years during the colonial period. While a number of indigenous people were enslaved during the conquest period, later the colonists imported African slaves. Over time their mulatto (black/European) descendants were also enslaved if born to slave mothers (as was typical). The demand for slaves came in the early colonial period, especially between 1580 and 1640, when the indigenous population quickly declined due to the high fatalities from new infectious diseases. Carlos V began to issue an increasing number of contracts between the Spanish Crown and private slavers specifically to bring Africans to Spanish colonies. These slavers made deals with the Portuguese, who controlled the African slave market. Mexico had important slave ports in the New World, sometimes holding slaves brought by Spanish before they were sent to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Important economic sectors such as sugar production and mining relied heavily on slave labor during that time. After 1640, slave labor became less important but the reasons are not clear. The Spanish Crown cut off contacts with Portuguese slave traders after Portugal gained its independence. Slave labor declined in mining as the high profit margins allowed the recruitment of wage labor. In addition, the indigenous and mestizo population increased, and with them the size of the free labor force. In the later colonial period, most slaves continued to work in sugar production but also in textile mills, which were the two sectors that needed a large, stable workforce. Neither could pay enough to attract free laborers to its arduous work. Slave labor remained important to textile production until the later 18th century when cheaper English textiles were imported.
Slave labor was most common in Mexico City, where they were domestic servants such as maids, coachmen, personal service or armed bodyguards. However, they were more of a status symbol rather than an economic necessity.
Although integral to certain sectors of the economy through the mid-18th century, the number of slaves and the prices they fetched fell during the colonial period. Slave prices were highest from 1580 to 1640 at about 400 pesos. It decreased to about 350 pesos around 1650, staying constant until falling to about 175 pesos for an adult male in 1750. In the latter 18th century, mill slaves were phased out and replaced by indigenous, often indebted, labor. Slaves were nearly non-existent in the late colonial census of 1792. While banned shortly after the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, the practice did not definitively end until 1829.
Slave rebellions occurred in Mexico as in other parts of the Americas, with the first in Veracruz in 1537. Runaway slaves were called cimarrones, who mostly fled to the highlands between Veracruz and Puebla, with a number making their way to the Costa Chica region in what are now Guerrero and Oaxaca. Runaways in Veracruz formed settlements called “palenques” which would fight off Spanish authorities. The most famous of these was led by Gaspar Yanga, who fought the Spanish for forty years until the Spanish recognized their autonomy in 1608, making San Lorenzo de los Negros (today Yanga) the first community of free blacks in the Americas.
From early in the colonial period, African and African-descended people had offspring with people of European or indigenous races. This led to an elaborate caste system based on ethnic heritage. The offspring of mixed-race couples was divided into three general groups: mestizo for (Spanish) White/indigenous, mulatto for (Spanish) White/black and zambo or zambaigo for black/indigenous. However, there was overlap in these categories which recognized black mestizos. Black mestizos account for less than .5 percent of the Mexican population as of today. In addition, skin tone further divided the mestizo and mulatto categories. This loose system of classification became known as “las castas.” This did have problems. For example, those with African and indigenous heritage would hide the African as indigenous had a somewhat higher status at points in colonial history. Slaves with indigenous blood would be branded to prevent this. Free persons of African blood would hide such to avoid paying head taxes, not imposed on the indigenous. Las castas paintings were produced during the 18th centuries, commissioned by the wealthy to reflect Mexican society at that time. They portray the three races, European, indigenous and African and their complicated mixing. They are based on family groups, with parents and children labeled according to their caste. They have 16 squares in a hierarchy with the most European at the top. Indigenous and black women may appear at the top if they mix with European, but similar men never do. There is evidence that those of African heritage were classed as inferior to the indigenous, such as the idea that African heritage could not be “cleansed” in future generations. Also, as the formal caste system began to erode, those classed as “castizo” (Spanish/mestizo) were considered white, but moriscos (light-skinned offspring of Spanish and mulattoes) were considered mulattoes.
According to the 2015 Encuesta Intercensal, there were 1,381,853 Mexicans that self identified as Afro-descendants, or 1.2% of the country's population. This is the first time that the government of Mexico has asked citizens whether they identify as Afro-Mexican. Places with large Afro-Mexican communities are: Costa Chica of Guerrero, Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Veracruz. While Northern Mexico has some towns with a minority of Mexicans of African descent. Afro-descendants can be found throughout the country, however they are numerically insignificant in some states. There are also recent immigrants of African and Caribbean origin.
The Costa Chica (“small coast” in Spanish) extends from Acapulco to the town of Puerto Ángel in Oaxaca in Mexico’s Pacific coast. The Costa Chica is not well known to travelers, with few attractions, especially where Afro-Mexicans live. Exceptions to this are the beaches of Marquelia and Punta Maldonado in Guerrero and the wildlife reserve in Chacahua, Oaxaca. The area was very isolated from the rest of Mexico, which prompted runaway slaves to find refuge here. However, this has changed to a large extent with the building of Highway 200 which connects the area to Acapulco and other cities on the Pacific coast. African identity and physical features are stronger here than elsewhere in Mexico as the slaves here did not intermarry to the extent that others did. Not only is black skin and African features more prominent, there are strong examples of African-based song, dance and other art forms. Until recently, homes in the area were round mud and thatch huts, the construction of which can be traced back to what are now the Ghana and Ivory Coast. Origin tales often center on slavery. Many relate to a shipwreck (often a slave ship) where the survivors settle here or that they are the descendants of slaves freed for fighting in the Mexican War of Independence. The region has a distinct African-influenced dance called the Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) which is performed for Day of the Dead. They dance in the streets with wild costumes and masks accompanied by rhythmic music. It is considered to be a syncretism of Mexican Catholic tradition and West African ritual. Traditionally the dance is accompanied by a West African instrument called a bote, but it is dying out as the younger generations have not learned how to play it.
There are a number of “pueblos negros” or black towns in the region such as Corralero and El Ciruelo in Oaxaca, and the largest being Cuajinicuilapa in Guerrero. The latter is home to a museum called the Museo de las Culturas Afromestizos which documents the history and culture of the region.
The Afro-Mexicans here live among mestizos (indigenous/white) and various indigenous groups such as the Amuzgos, Mixtecs, Tlalpanecs and Chatinos . Terms used to denote them vary. White and mestizos in the Costa Chica call them “morenos” (dark-skinned) and the indigenous call them “negros” (black). A survey done in the region determined that the Afro-Mexicans in this region themselves preferred the term “negro,” although some prefer “moreno” and a number still use “mestizo.” Relations between Afro-Mexican and indigenous populations are strained as there is a long history of hostility. Afro-Mexicans are as indigenous to Mexico as the palest Mexican with strictly European ancestry. However, the social stigma and internalized racism associated with blackness and dark skin causes many Afro-Mexicans to feel shame and deny their negritude instead of finding self-acceptance and pride in their dark skin, kinky hair, and African features.
Like the Costa Chica, the state of Veracruz has a number of pueblos negros, notably the African named towns of Mandinga, Matamba, Mozambique and Mozomboa as well as Chacalapa, Coyolillo, Yanga and Tamiahua. The town of Mandinga, about forty five minutes south of Veracruz city, is particularly known for the restaurants that line its main street. Coyolillo hosts an annual Carnival with Afro-Caribbean dance and other African elements.
However, tribal and family group were separated and dispersed to a greater extent around the sugar cane growing areas in Veracruz. This had the effect of intermarriage and the loss or absorption of most elements of African culture in a few generations. This intermarriage means that while Veracruz remains “blackest” in Mexico’s popular imagination, those with black skin are mistaken for those from the Caribbean and/or not “truly Mexican". The total population of people of African Descent including people with one or more black ancestors is 4 percent, the third highest of any Mexican state.
The phenomena of runaways and slave rebellions began early in Veracruz with many escaping to the mountainous areas in the west of the state, near Orizaba and the Puebla border. Here groups of escaped slaves established defiant communities called “palenques” to resist Spanish authorities. The most important Palenque was established in 1570 by Gaspar Yanga and stood against the Spanish for about forty years until the Spanish were forced to recognize it as a free community in 1609, with the name of San Lorenzo de los Negros. It was renamed Yanga in 1932. Yanga was the first municipality of freed slaves in the Americas. However, the town proper has almost no people of obvious African heritage. These live in the smaller, more rural communities.
Because African descendants dispersed widely into the general population, African and Afro-Cuban influence can be seen in Veracruz’s music dance, improvised poetry, magical practices and especially food. Veracruz son music, best known through the popularity of the hit “La Bamba” has African origins. Veracruz cooking commonly contains Spanish, indigenous and African ingredients and cooking techniques. One defining African influence is the use of peanuts. Even though peanuts are native to the Americas, there is little evidence of their widespread use in the pre Hispanic period. Peanuts were brought to Africa by the Europeans and the Africans adopted them, using them in stews, sauces and many other dishes. The slaves that came later would bring this new cooking with the legume to Mexico. They can be found in regional dishes such as encacahuatado, an alcoholic drink called the torito, candies (especially in Tlacotalpan), salsa macha and even in mole poblano from the neighboring state of Puebla. This influence can be seen as far west as Puebla, where peanuts are an ingredient in mole poblano. Another important ingredient introduced by African cooking is the plantain, which came from Africa via the Canary Islands. In Veracruz, they are heavily used breads, empanadas, desserts, mole, barbacoa and much more. One other defining ingredient in Veracruz cooking is the use of starchy tropical roots, called viandas. They include cassava, malanga, taro and sweet potatoes.
There are some towns with few blacks in them, far north of Mexico, especially in Coahuila and the country’s border with Texas. Some ex slaves and free blacks came into northern Mexico in the 19th century from the United States. A few of the routes of the Underground Railroad led to Mexico. One particular group was the Mascogos, a branch of Black Seminoles, originally from Florida were runaway slaves and free blacks intermingled with Seminole natives. Many of these settled in and around the town of El Nacimiento, Coahuila, where their descendants remain.
|State||% Afro-Mexicans||Afro-Mexican population||% Partial Afro-Mexicans||% Total Afro-descendants||Total Afro-descendant population|
|Baja California Sur||1.55%||11,036||0.72%||2.27%||16,163|
|Estado de México||1.88%||304,327||.45%||2.33%||377,171|
|San Luis Potosí||.04%||1,087||.51%||.55%||14,948|
|Source: INEGI (2015)|
The majority of Mexico's native Afro-descendants are Afromestizos, i.e. "mixed-race". Individuals of exclusively black ancestry make up a very low percentage of the total Mexican population, the majority being recent immigrants. The following list is of notable Afro-Mexicans, a noteworthy portion of which are the descendants of recent black immigrants to Mexico from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Americas. Mexico employs jus soli when granting citizenship, meaning that any individual born on Mexican territory will be granted citizenship regardless of his or her parent's immigration status.
The comic character Memín Pinguín, whose magazine has been available in Latin America, the Philippines, and the United States newsstands for more than 60 years, is an Afro-Cuban. The Mexican government issued a series of five stamps in 2005 honoring the Memín comic-book series. The issue of these stamps was considered racist by some groups in the United States and praised by the Mexican audience who remember growing up with the magazine.