- Afro-Mexico: Dancing between Myth and Reality by Anita González
Afro-Mexico: Dancing between Myth and Reality explores the ways in which African cultural production and dance have influenced Mexican social history and ethnic relations. The beautifully published book contains over 60 black and white photographs, mostly of masked Afro-Mexican dancers. Fourteen photographs are [End Page 136] reprinted in color and consolidated in the book’s center. The rich visual display complements the book’s high level of scholarly achievement.
The introduction begins with a discussion of race theory in the Americas and the author’s performance-based research methodology. An elegant summary follows of Mexican socio-racial identities, including the terms indio, mestizo, negro, and mulato. Chapter 1, “Framing African Performance in Mexico,” examines the theatrics of Mexican history through the eras of colonialism, independence, and revolution before turning to modern-day circulations of “negrito” types, such as the Memín Pinguín cartoon character. This chapter also addresses the location of blacks in Mexico and the historical ties between dance in Vera Cruz and Cuba.
Chapter 2, “Masked Dances,” presents González’s detailed research on the Devil, Turtle, and Straw Bull (Toro de Petate) dances. Although performed elsewhere in Mexico, the author argues that these dances are performed distinctly by Costa Chica (Guerrero and Oaxaca) blacks. Costa Chica black dancers use forward-bending, polycentric body posture (use of hips and torso), 6/8 or 3/4 rhythm patterns, frightening masks, and more sexual antics. The author contends that the Devil, Turtle, and Straw Bull dances symbolically portray inter-ethnic relations, rebellion, and resistance to the Spanish and slavery. She also asserts that Costa Chica dances portray the devil character, Pancho/Francisco, and his wife, La Minga, because Christian gods were seen as unjust and hateful for supporting slavery.
“Archetypes of Race” (chapter 3) introduces the concepts of phenotype, stereotype, and archetype, considering how each is expressed and incorporated into Costa Chica dances. The chapter then assesses how ethnic others view black lifestyles. Specifically, González examines the Pescaditos or Costeños dance performed in Guerrero by Nahua communities and the Negrito dance staged in Huamelula, Oaxaca by Chontal Indians.
In chapter 4, “Becoming National,” González reviews aspects of black dances that are incorporated into the national folkloric dances of Chilena and Jarocho. The chapter then explores the related regional dance styles of Artesa and Tarima, rhythmic dances performed on elevated wooden stages to amplify percussion. Performed on a stage fashioned from an overturned canoe, Artesa is indigenous to the Costa Chica. The conclusion revisits the African presence in Mexico through performance, which the author defines as “a dialogic, changeable way to express and negotiate black identities” (137).
What Afro-Mexico does lack is comparative literature concerning dance and performance in the African diaspora. The author believes that African-based dances in Mexico demonstrate violence and protest, yet little comparative literature on dance in Latin American and Caribbean black communities is mentioned. Afro-Mexico, nevertheless, provides us with a valuable case study of dance along the Costa Chica and is a welcome addition to any scholar’s collection of books on Mexican culture, blacks in Latin America, and dance and performance. [End Page 137]