Feb 15, 2022 - World

Being Black in Mexico: How this country is changing its views

A woman wearing black stands in front of a large mural, half of her face obscured by shadows.
A member of the Mascogos, an Afro-Mexican community in Coahuila state. Photo: Carolyn van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Black Mexicans are starting to get widespread public recognition after centuries of being ignored.

Why it matters: Mexico has historically underplayed the roles and contributions of Black people, largely keeping them out of textbooks, too.

  • The country added Afro-Mexicans to the Constitution's second article, which lauds the nation's multiculturalism, in 2019.
  • The 2020 Census asked, for the first time, whether people identified as Black, Afro-Mexican or of African descent.

What to know: Two out of 100 Mexicans, or around 2.5 million people, identified as Black in the Census.

  • Black communities are mostly found in Veracruz — where the Spanish disembarked enslaved people from Africa — and the coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero, where Afro-Indigenous traditions from colonial times endure, like the dance of the devils for Day of the Dead.
  • Mascogos, descendants of Black Seminoles and of people who fled U.S. slavery in the 1830s after Mexico outlawed the practice, live in Coahuila state, which borders the U.S.

Between the lines: The Spaniards had a racist caste system that considered Blackness the lowest societal status, creating a stigma around identifying as Black.

  • A majority of Mexicans consider themselves mestizos, or mixed race, and many falsely claim that disparities in access to education or jobs are due solely to socioeconomic differences, not skin tone.

What they’re saying: “It was difficult and painful to come out and say ‘soy negra,’ because it’s almost ingrained into you that the term itself is bad, let alone being Black,” Denisse Salinas, who owns a coffeehouse in Oaxaca, told Axios Latino.

  • “But I see many young people doing the same as me, reclaiming the term and identity, and that does give me a glimmer of hope.”

Flashback: Historians believe two key figures in Mexico’s independence were of African descent:

  • José María Morelos y Pavón, who led insurgents to occupy and reclaim the south and southeast parts of Mexico.
  • Vicente Guerrero, who was Morelos’ right-hand man and went on to be the second president of Mexico. Guerrero declared the end of slavery.

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