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Forgotten culture
Houston Chronicle ^ | July 3, 2004 | RACHEL GRAVES

Posted on 07/04/2004 8:14:56 AM PDT by Max Combined

Ignored by society, black Mexicans deny their history

EL CIRUELO, Mexico -- They call each other negro and sing and joke about living in an all-black community. But ask the villagers here about their African ancestry, and they respond with blank stares.

They are not, they insist, the descendants of African slaves. There was never slavery here, even in ancient times.

They have undeniably African features -- black skin, tightly curled hair, broad noses. And though the fact has been largely ignored in Mexico's history books, historians know that the back-breaking labor of Mexico, as in much of the Americas, was once done by African slaves.

A handful of historians and anthropologists have studied the tens of thousands of negros living in remote enclaves of Mexico -- no one knows exactly how many -- in villages founded as early as the 1500s by fugitive slaves.

Mexico's blacks have been forgotten by time and ignored by the government and much of society.

"How can you expect someone who is black to esteem his blackness?" asked the Rev. Glyn Jemmott, a priest in the entirely black village of El Ciruelo. "Blacks have been invisibilized in Mexico."

Around the turn of the 17th century, Mexico imported more African slaves than anywhere else in the New World. But countless Mexicans are unaware of that history or that there are blacks in the country.

The Mexican census does not acknowledge them, treating all Mexicans as one race.

It does enumerate people who speak indigenous languages, though, meaning Indians get more recognition than blacks, who speak Spanish.

The small group Mexico Negro is fighting to have a racial breakdown added to the census before the 2010 count, but members are not optimistic.

The movement has not exactly taken off. One leader, Sergio Peñaloza, said it needs "a titanic fight" to change the mind of the government and instead has few people and no money.

The government designed the census without racial categories in an effort to combat racism by counting everyone as simply Mexican, said Claudia Suarez, coordinator of a joint program between Mexico and the United Nations for the development of indigenous people.

The few leaders among the country's blacks say it is just another way to ignore them.

A series of stories on racism that ran in the national newspaper La Jornada in June never mentioned Mexico, instead describing slavery and racism in the United States with an essay and a photo montage of a U.S. flag, Klansmen and a lynching.

"Mexico has convinced itself that its racial mixing created a new race in which everyone is equal," said Jemmott, a leader in Mexico Negro.

Mexicans closely note different skin tones But Mexicans, like most people in Central and South America, are hyperaware of subtle differences in skin tone, rattling off the colors of their family members the way Americans might name their occupations.

Antonio Añorve, for example, looks like a typical mestizo -- or mix of indigenous and European blood -- with brown skin and straight, dark brown hair.

His father is whiter, of Spanish ancestry. Añorve's mother clearly has African blood; "la negrita" they call her and the cafe in Cuajinicuilapa that is her namesake.

Ana Laredo is black, but she says that in her town of El Ciruelo, every other generation is blanco, meaning they have lighter skin but otherwise African features.

"There is no doubt in anyone's mind who is black and who isn't," said Bobby Vaughn, a cultural anthropologist who has studied black Mexicans for a decade, "and there is a general recognition that the blacks are at the bottom of the social scale in many ways."

Suarez acknowledged that the government has no programs geared toward blacks.

"They are considered part of the population of Mexico," she said. "They are not considered indigenous people."

While the indigenous people in Mexico speak traditional languages, blacks in Mexico speak only Spanish, their African languages forgotten, like much of their culture.

And while Mexican museums and government programs celebrate indigenous languages and cultures as a vital part of Mexican history, those of blacks have disappeared.

Sparse infrastructure heightens isolation

Most of Mexico's blacks live in about two dozen villages along Costa Chica, a rural stretch of Pacific coastline about 160 miles southeast of Acapulco.

A smaller group lives in Veracruz, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

In Costa Chica, there are roughly 30,000 to 40,000 blacks, Vaughn estimates.

The area is divided between Oaxaca and Guerrero, two of Mexico's poorest states.

In the lowlands of picturesque coves and verdant fields, the residents are mostly poor blacks. Up in the hills, toward the blue and green mountains, there are equally destitute indigenous villages.

The beaches are coated in garbage and trampled by pigs and chickens. The fields are reduced to charred stumps, burned by increasingly desperate farmers.

In a country in which virtually everything connects through Mexico City, Costa Chica has no roads to the capital and no commercial airports.

The rest of the nation is most easily accessible by driving several hours northwest to Acapulco on a rough two-lane highway dotted with speed bumps.

The largest of the majority-black towns is gritty Cuajinicuilapa, where many of the 8,000 residents proudly direct visitors to the Museo de las Culturas Afromestizas.

The modest museum is one of the only official places in Mexico that acknowledges the country's African ancestry.

But take the narrow roads south toward the coast, and the pride vanishes.

`Third race' exhibits little cultural pride

Fishermen in the lush, cliff-ringed cove of Punta Maldonado say their fishing methods, using nets or hooks attached to reels instead of poles, did not originate in Africa.

Widows struggling to feed their families by selling fruit and small fish to their poor neighbors in El Ciruelo deny that they are descended from slaves.

Housewives in San Jose Estancia Grande and Santiago Tapextla say their ancestors did not come from Africa, that their families have always lived right here.

Then how did blacks come to live in Mexico?

"Quien sabe?" many answer. "Who knows?"

Although Mexico claims that its "raceless" society means there is no racism and that blacks are better off than in the United States, Jemmott and others in his group say Mexico is committing the worst kind of racism: ignoring the very existence of blacks.

When the police pull over black motorists, they are sometimes forced to sing the national anthem to prove they are Mexican, said Jemmott, "because `Mexico has no blacks.' "

Jemmott, a priest from Trinidad, said the open racial strife in U.S. history is almost preferable because "blacks knew where they stood and who they were from the beginning."

Peñaloza with Mexico Negro said he was astonished during a recent trip to Cuba to see how much black culture is celebrated there.

"The value of the negro is different in Cuba than the value of the negro in Mexico," Peñaloza said. "We are the third race."

Jemmott, known as Padre Glyn, was working as a missionary in Mexico City when he learned about the blacks of Costa Chica.

He asked to be moved to the parish and arrived 20 years ago to find a self-loathing so ingrained that a black man did not believe Jemmott was a priest.

"Blacks are not priests," the man told Jemmott. "Blacks are not fit to be priests. I've never seen a black priest."

Many of the residents of Costa Chica are illiterate, and they say they are struggling to ensure their children get a decent education.

In the black village of San Jose Estancia Grande, residents say the five mestizo teachers and the principal at the primary school let their children run wild, often leaving classes unattended during the day while the teachers drank at the cantina.

When the government did not respond to their complaints, the townspeople took action on their own, telling the teachers to leave and not came back.

Maria Irma Vargas, a single mother of two girls, said the government finally promised the town new teachers. They would not arrive until the end of a weeks-long teachers strike that had kept all the children in the region out of school for much of May and June.

Vargas blamed laziness for the teachers' lack of interest in their students, but Jemmott saw something more sinister.

"The kids here are considered by the teachers to be largely unteachable," the priest said.

Orlanda Baños, a third-grade teacher who lives and works in El Ciruelo, said she and other teachers do believe their students have a bright future.

"There are many intelligent children," Baños said, and she added that she hopes they will leave and go to the United States, where there are more opportunities.

Vargas, who has a fourth-grade education, said she is ashamed of the lack of education and the poverty among blacks.

Asked if she has pride in her culture, she replied, "No."

Historians see shreds of African customs

Only tatters of African culture remain in Costa Chica.

One remnant is the Danza de los Diablos, the devils dance, performed at the beginning of November with gruesome black masks with several-foot-long beards and horns and long, pointy ears that vaguely resemble those of rabbits.

The ritual coincides with the Day of the Dead, which melds Catholic and Aztec traditions to celebrate and try to communicate with the souls of the dead.

No one interviewed in Costa Chica could explain the origins of the dance, but anthropologists have linked it to Africa.

Although los negros are mostly devout Catholics, many also believe they have an animal counterpart whose illness or death causes the person to also become sick or die.

A man in the village of Corralero had his arm bitten off by an alligator in May, and men in the village responded by killing five alligators.

Then, Jemmott said, rumors started that five people had died in nearby Santiago Tapextla.

Elias Bongmba, a religion professor at Rice University, was raised on the West African coast, where many of the slaves in the New World came from.

He said the belief in animal doubles is similar to what he saw in Cameroon.

"In the area where I grew up, there's a common belief that someone can transform themselves into a double ... an animal of the choice of the individual," Bongmba said.

Only certain people were believed to have this power, which they could use to frighten others, hunt or escape from dangerous situations.

If they were hunting large game and the animal charged, for example, some people were said to be able to turn themselves into birds.

"They would use that power, and then just fly away," Bongmba said.

Songs and dances are vital part of community

Ana Laredo buys small fish from fishermen, then tries to sell them in El Ciruelo. She would like to have a job but says no one will hire her because she is black, a complaint echoed by others.

Mexico does not ban discrimination in employment, and classified ads are replete with requests for applicants who are young and beautiful.

Laredo, like the other residents of Costa Chica, does not know how her ancestors arrived in this steamy coastal area.

Historians do know that slaves were brought to work on cattle ranches. Some fugitive slaves may also have escaped from ports and sugar mills.

As the rainy season started in June, residents of Costa Chica were busy planting, and music was scarce.

But they say dancing and singing are common, and that townspeople tell one another stories through the singing of corridos.

The sometimes impromptu narratives of daily life are derived from oral traditions in Africa, said Luz Maria Martinez in the article "Mexico's Third Root," written for the Smithsonian Institution.

Though the custom has survived, the original songs have not. There are none that tell the history of slavery or of Africa.

A corrido performed for visitors by two young children, though, acknowledges the color, if not the ancestry, of the forgotten people of Costa Chica.

"All are painted black," the song in Spanish goes, "black boyfriends and godfathers, cousins, brothers and fathers-in-law."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Mexico
KEYWORDS: archaeology; blacks; economic; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history

1 posted on 07/04/2004 8:14:56 AM PDT by Max Combined
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To: Max Combined

"There are many intelligent children," Baños said, and she added that she hopes they will leave and go to the United States, where there are more opportunities.

Oh great. Just what we need.


2 posted on 07/04/2004 8:22:47 AM PDT by Max Combined
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To: Max Combined

well, for my part, i think we can always use more intelligent children, as long as they love this country and are industrious.


3 posted on 07/04/2004 8:25:32 AM PDT by wildwood
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To: Max Combined

The truth of the matter is that 85 or 90% of the Africans ever brought to the new world as slaves were brought to the carribbean where they were worked to death on sugar canes and then replaced after four or five years. That was a deliberate policy, which was viewed as cheaper than allowing slaves to have children.

Only in the United States did slaves live well enough to reproduce themselves and become self sustaining.


4 posted on 07/04/2004 8:26:47 AM PDT by judywillow
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To: Max Combined

Does it always have to come back to song and dance?


5 posted on 07/04/2004 8:28:39 AM PDT by Old Professer (Interests in common are commonly abused.)
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To: Max Combined
Jemmott and others in his group say Mexico is committing the worst kind of racism: ignoring the very existence of blacks.

This is tripe. Mexico, in general, did not create the stigma against Blacks, so they largely interbred with the Mestizos. Now they find a few very isolated villages that have 40-50,000 brownish-blacks. The USA has 3x Mexico's population but 200x as many Blacks. This Jemmott has too much time on his hands. He's making a problem where none exists.

6 posted on 07/04/2004 8:29:22 AM PDT by DJtex
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To: Max Combined
The Mexican census does not acknowledge them, treating all Mexicans as one race.

It does enumerate people who speak indigenous languages, though, meaning Indians get more recognition than blacks, who speak Spanish.

They should claim to be Olmec.


Stone Olmec Head

So9

7 posted on 07/04/2004 8:40:16 AM PDT by Servant of the 9 (Screwing the Inscrutable or is it Scruting the Inscrewable?)
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To: mhking; rdb3

Ping


8 posted on 07/04/2004 8:41:55 AM PDT by Fiddlstix (This Tagline for sale. (Presented by TagLines R US))
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To: judywillow
The truth of the matter is that 85 or 90% of the Africans ever brought to the new world as slaves were brought to the carribbean where they were worked to death on sugar canes and then replaced after four or five years.

Hey, that's a fascinating statistic, but I've never seen it anywhere else before! Do you have a source?

9 posted on 07/04/2004 8:58:07 AM PDT by Mudcat
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To: judywillow
FWIW< your "85% to 90% to the Carribean" statistic conflicts with this academic study, which says:

12 million total slaves brought from Africa
50% or 6 million brought to Cuba
42% or 5 million brought to Brazil
8% or 1 million brought to other destinations (Mexico, US, Columbia, Peru, etc.)

10 posted on 07/04/2004 9:10:27 AM PDT by Mudcat
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To: judywillow
Only in the United States did slaves live well enough to reproduce themselves and become self sustaining.

You know, this isn't really true either! Where are you acquiring your data?

11 posted on 07/04/2004 9:22:19 AM PDT by Mudcat
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To: Max Combined

She wants black Mexicans to leave because she's a racist fool.


12 posted on 07/04/2004 9:26:59 AM PDT by hershey
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To: Max Combined
The Mexican census does not acknowledge them, treating all Mexicans as one race.

Our next census ought to treat all Americans the same way.

13 posted on 07/04/2004 9:30:55 AM PDT by Oatka
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To: Oatka
Our next census ought to treat all Americans the same way.

Well Said!
Being American has nothing to do with race. I am sick and tired of hyphenated Americans.

14 posted on 07/04/2004 9:55:30 AM PDT by Fiddlstix (This Tagline for sale. (Presented by TagLines R US))
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To: Oatka
AMEN! On this Fourth of July I am an AMERICAN!

That is my race, my culture, my identity, my very self.

15 posted on 07/04/2004 10:01:55 AM PDT by LibKill (Happy Birthday America! I love you.)
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To: Servant of the 9

In Colonbus's journal there is a description of a village on the east coast of Central America, where he found a population of blacks.

Just thought I'd add this datum to the thread.


16 posted on 07/04/2004 10:03:35 AM PDT by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon liberty, it is essential to examine principles - -)
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To: Thud

You will find this of interest.


17 posted on 07/04/2004 11:01:33 AM PDT by Dark Wing
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To: blam

Maybe you're right after all about the Olmecs.


18 posted on 07/04/2004 11:30:49 AM PDT by JudyB1938 (I am not paranoid. I have "rational fear".)
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To: JudyB1938
"Maybe you're right after all about the Olmecs."

Yup. Probably. I think the Olmecs represented all the races on earth at one time...even Jomon cord-pottery has been found in Olmec Ruins.

19 posted on 07/04/2004 11:52:49 AM PDT by blam
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To: Max Combined; JudyB1938; FairOpinion

This Is Luzia, the second oldest skeleton ever found in the Americas. She died in Brazil 10,500 years ago at the age of 20-24. A recently dated skeleton from an island off the coast of California is older, Spirit Cave Woman has been dated to 13,000 years ago.

If you're interested in Africans in America, do a search on the name, Clyde Winters (Afro-centric). Most of his stuff is 'off-the-wall' but, some is believeable.

20 posted on 07/04/2004 11:59:13 AM PDT by blam
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To: *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; A.J.Armitage; abner; adam_az; AdmSmith; Alas Babylon!; blam; NukeMan; ...
"A handful of historians and anthropologists have studied the tens of thousands of negros living in remote enclaves of Mexico -- no one knows exactly how many -- in villages founded as early as the 1500s by fugitive slaves."

PING

This is a "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" -- Archeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc. PING list.

Please FREEPMAIL me, if you want on or off this list.

21 posted on 07/04/2004 12:32:15 PM PDT by FairOpinion (If you are not voting for Bush, you are voting for the terrorists.)
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To: Max Combined; JudyB1938; FairOpinion
Correction to post nunber 20.

The Oldest Skeleton in the Americas is Arlington Springs Woman not, Spirit Cave Woman

22 posted on 07/04/2004 12:34:17 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
Spirit Cave Man is the oldest mummy ever found in the Americas
23 posted on 07/04/2004 12:40:37 PM PDT by blam
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To: Max Combined

As long as they APPLY for immigration LEGALLY, and OBEY ALL the LAWS, and don't expect SPECIAL TREATMENT, and DON'T COMMIT CRIMES, AND LEARN ENGLISH, and GET JOBS, and PAY THEIR TAXES (yeah, I know I'm living in a dream world), what's the big deal?


24 posted on 07/04/2004 4:00:13 PM PDT by solitas (WP,WW)
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To: solitas

How about they do all that in their own country?

There is not an infinite amount of land, water, and living space in this country or haven't you noticed?


25 posted on 07/04/2004 8:23:15 PM PDT by Max Combined
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To: Max Combined

Do you have something against legal immigrants? Are you a member of an indigenous tribe in the United States?


26 posted on 07/04/2004 8:33:55 PM PDT by cyborg
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To: cyborg

And how would the people in this article become legal immigrants?


27 posted on 07/04/2004 8:42:07 PM PDT by Max Combined
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To: Max Combined

By going through the same process as everyone else. That's how.


28 posted on 07/04/2004 8:43:09 PM PDT by cyborg
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To: Mudcat; judywillow
Only in the United States did slaves live well enough to reproduce themselves and become self sustaining.

You know, this isn't really true either! Where are you acquiring your data?

I ran across THIS PIECE while actually researching something else. Lends some credence to this particular claim of Judywillow's; FYI:

The evidence from slave populations elsewhere in history perhaps deserves mention here. In general this favours the argument that slave populations do not normally reproduce themselves. In the United States the reverse was true (there slave numbers increased after importation was banned in 1808), but that was a special case. For example, Brazil and the Caribbean imported more African slaves than North America, yet the slave body in both areas experienced a natural decline in numbers - up to 5% per annum depending on time and place. Why the United States was different is not clear, but a plausible suggestion is that the working and environmental conditions affecting the lives of slaves were more favourable there than elsewhere. It is unlikely that comparable conditions were to be found in the Roman Empire, and so we would expect the trend there to resemble that which prevailed later outside the U.S.A.

FGS

29 posted on 07/04/2004 8:45:30 PM PDT by ForGod'sSake (ABCNNBCBS: An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.)
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To: ForGod'sSake

Much ado about nothing... it's not as if slave families were the most intact and frequently slave babies were sold off anyway.


30 posted on 07/04/2004 8:47:39 PM PDT by cyborg
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To: Max Combined

Well, you can't have it both ways...

In major league baseball, they've been talking about the shrinking number of blacks in the sport; black Hispanics (Sammy Sosa, etc.) are not considered "black".

Spinning just to invent a story...


31 posted on 07/04/2004 8:51:36 PM PDT by Tuco Ramirez (Ideas have consequences.)
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To: cyborg
Much ado about nothing... it's not as if slave families were the most intact and frequently slave babies were sold off anyway.

I miss your point.

FGS

32 posted on 07/04/2004 9:51:11 PM PDT by ForGod'sSake (ABCNNBCBS: An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.)
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To: ForGod'sSake

It doesn't matter where slavery was, it was all bad.


33 posted on 07/04/2004 9:51:53 PM PDT by cyborg
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To: cyborg
It doesn't matter where slavery was, it was all bad.

True enough; it's not one of the brighter spots in human existence, but it's a fact of life nonetheless, even today.

FGS

34 posted on 07/04/2004 10:18:11 PM PDT by ForGod'sSake (ABCNNBCBS: An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.)
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To: ForGod'sSake

And since it exists today still, why focusing on slavery that occured two three four hundred years ago is mystifying to me. I understand the man's motivation, but I'm sure ancestors are the least of these people's problems.


35 posted on 07/04/2004 10:23:17 PM PDT by cyborg
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To: cyborg
Do you mean the 'hump your a$$ across the river to live on free welfare' process??????????????

Because that's the same process the vast majority of "immigrants" are using to get here these days.

36 posted on 07/04/2004 11:27:52 PM PDT by m18436572
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To: Max Combined; cyborg

More leftist racist crap, creating a problem where there is none:

1-"Although Mexico claims that its "raceless" society means there is no racism and that blacks are better off than in the United States, Jemmott and others in his group say Mexico is committing the worst kind of racism: ignoring the very existence of blacks. "

The worst kind of racism is not noticing race?
Good golly, miss molly!!


37 posted on 07/05/2004 12:26:17 AM PDT by XBob (Free-traitors steal our jobs for their profit.)
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To: Max Combined

Hey - whatever they look like and wherever they come from are of no importance, and as long as they become functioning, contributing, responsible, self-sustaining members of society then _I_ have no probs with them.

IF they're planning on coming over here to make a quick buck, ignore the rules and laws, demand citizens' rights, and take every available opportunity to start their suck at the public teat then - hey - I'm all for shooting 'em first-step-over-the-border.

Like all others, they deserve a chance to prove themselves before being neutralized and disposed-of. If they initially try to enter illegally then they abrogate all their basic human rights.


38 posted on 07/05/2004 6:37:43 AM PDT by solitas (WP,WW)
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To: Max Combined
The Mexican census does not acknowledge them, treating all Mexicans as one race.

What a strange idea. Maybe we can send Jesse and Al down there to enlighten them.

39 posted on 07/05/2004 6:45:25 AM PDT by sphinx
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To: XBob

Yeah I don't get it either.


40 posted on 07/05/2004 8:38:17 AM PDT by cyborg
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To: m18436572

No you ignoramus the way my family got here, the legal way. And illegal immigration is NOT how the vast majority of immigrants are using to get here. That may be in your racist fantasy world but not in the real world.


41 posted on 07/05/2004 8:40:57 AM PDT by cyborg
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To: Oatka
Our next census ought to treat all Americans the same way.

As all Mexicans?

42 posted on 03/05/2006 6:06:14 PM PST by ThanhPhero (di hanh huong den La Vang)
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