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4 Performing the African Diaspora in Mexico Angela N. Castañeda Much has been written about Mexico’s rich indigenous heritage and its major role in the colonial expansion of the Americas. Until recently, Mexico’s contribution to the study of Afro-Latin populations was largely missing from this discussion. Where is the Afro-Mexican population located? How is the AfroMexican identity defined or constructed? And what makes Afro-Mexicans different from otherAfrican-descended groups in LatinAmerica? This chapter will address these questions through an analysis of representations of Afro-Mexican cultural identity in cultural performances. History of Africa in Mexico The history of Africans in Mexico dates back to the colonial period when an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 enslaved Africans were introduced to the area via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most of them were taken to the port city of Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico, but other port cities in this region received slaves, includingTuxpan and Campeche,followed later byAcapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast (Cruz-Carretero 2005, 73). However, questions about the number of Africans brought into Mexico remain unanswered. Given the incomplete documentation available from slave ships,the number of undocumented slaves that were transported on pirate ships and through other means, and other factors, it is difficult to accurately estimate how many slaves arrived at any given port in the Americas. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán notes in his seminal work Cuijla: Esbozo etnográfico de un pueblo negro (Ethnographic Outline of a Black People) that“blacks in Mexico were a minority group; they represented from 0.1 to 2 percent of the colonial population; the numbers introduced were not more than 250,000 individuals during the course of three centuries”(Aguirre Beltrán 1958,8).However,Adriana Naveda ChávezHita ’s work emphasizes the lack of accuracy associated with the slave trade in Veracruz,“The real numbers might never be understood because there weren’t  94  Angela N. Castañeda any complete registries of the slaves brought legally through the Port of Veracruz , not to mention the evidence that suggests the extended presence of an illegal commercial operation” (Naveda Chávez-Hita 2001, 32). The Spanish census for 1810 further complicates these numbers by showing“635,461 Afro-Mexicans in Mexico, or 10.2 percent of the total”(Vincent 1994, 258).We can contrast this figure with the numbers produced by Minority Rights Group, which recorded the minimum and maximum estimates of the Afro-Mexican population for the early to mid-1990s: the minimum is 474,000, or 0.5 percent, and the maximum is 9 million, or 10 percent of the entire Mexican population (1995, xii). Along with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Naveda Chávez-Hita points to other more recent migrations of people of African descent to Veracruz. She notes that many soldiers who fought with the United States during the Mexican -American War (1847) and with France during the Pastry War (1838) included people of African descent who ultimately stayed in Veracruz after their battles. Additionally, economic reasons led to an increased African presence in Veracruz. During the Porfiriato, or presidential term of Porfirio Díaz, which lasted from 1876 to 1911,many workers from the Caribbean,mainly Jamaica,were brought to help build railroads in this state (Naveda Chávez-Hita 2001, 41). From their initial arrival, African slaves were forced not only into agricultural activities such as sugar cane cultivation and cattle ranching but also into all aspects of economic and social life in the Americas. New historical research suggests that “the single greatest oversight created by this picture of slavery in New Spain is the underestimation of the importance of Afro-Mexican slave labor to the obrajes de paños [woolen textile mills] during the middle part of the colonial period (1630–1750)” (Proctor 2003, 35). This suggests that a large and stable workforce of Afro-Mexican slaves sustained this vital colonial industry. During the colonial period there were very few economic areas where slaves were not employed. In protest, they continually resisted the unjust system of slavery. Throughout the colonial period the formation of fugitive slave settlements , or palenques, and armed insurrections were not uncommon. One of the most famous rebellions occurred in the state of Veracruz, where the mountains of Orizaba created an ideal environment for runaway slaves, or cimarrones. It was within this region in the early 1600s that an escaped slave named Yanga established a maroon community and fought against the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813042695
Related ISBN
9780813037561
MARC Record
OCLC
793166733
Pages
382
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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