Africans in Mexico
In this activity, you will read and answer questions about Africans in Mexico. [Map of North America]
You are strongly encouraged to make use of the maps attached to each of the five case studies presented in this module. Country and regional maps are important tools in assisting your learning about the places that you are studying.
In addition, you are encouraged to make use of the two attached maps of The African Diaspora (Click here to see Diaspora Map One and Diaspora Map Two). These two maps, which detail the many routes of movement to and from Africa, were developed by Professor Joseph Harris of Howard University. Professor Harris is a leading expert on the African Diaspora. You are encouraged to return to these maps as you engage each of the five case studies.
From Africa to Mexico
The first contact between Africans and Mexicans dates back to the existence of the Olmec civilization, centered in present-day Veracruz as far back as 1000 BCE. Evidence of this initial contact is found in artifacts such as the Olmec Head. Olmec heads are thought to be attempts to create representations of early African visitors.
The largest number of Africans arrived in the Mexican territory during the three hundred years of the colonial period, 1521-1821. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 Africans were brought into present-day Mexico during this period. Africans came as slaves, forced to leave their homes and work for the Spanish colonists on their sugar estates, in silver mines, and as domestic servants.
Two of the largest Afromestizo communities (that is, people of joint African and European heritage) in Mexico are located along the central coasts of the country in central Veracruz and in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca in the region called Costa Chica. Click here to see a map of Mexico. Locate Veracruz and Oaxaca on the map. Can you find Yanga? You will read about Yanga below.
Maroon communities developed as early as 1523 in Oaxaca. Maroon is the name given to an escaped slave; hence, these communities were composed of slaves who fled from slavery. These communities were established in remote areas, where maroons could resist the attacks of armies and slave owners. Many of these communities were eradicated, but some did survive and succeeded in getting official recognition as legal communities.
From their mountain enclaves, the maroons sometimes attacked nearby plantations and released enslaved Africans.
San Lorenzo de los Negros (later named San Lorenzo Cerralvo and now called Yanga) is one example of an Afromestizo community that is still in existence today. In 1570, a slave revolt led by an enslaved African named Yanga led to the establishment of this community, which was one of the only settlements of African blacks in colonial Mexico to gain its independence and freedom through revolt. After attempts in 1606 and 1609, the Spanish authorities concluded that they were unable to recapture the slaves and end the revolt, and decided to negotiate with the community. In exchange for giving the settlement its freedom, Yanga agreed to no longer raid Spanish communities and to help New Spain capture escaped slaves. This was probably one of the only ways the community strengthened its position and developed viable relations with the Spanish.
A community of escaped slaves who were fighting for survival had little opportunity to earn money and develop their community unless they negotiated with the colonial power. In 1932, the community was renamed Yanga. Today, a statue of Yanga, the slave who led the revolt, stands proudly in the town Yanga.
The movement of Africans from Africa to Mexico did not always take a direct route. Many journeyed to Mexico from the US, where they had been transplanted as slaves. Before Florida became a part of the US in 1819, it was a Spanish territory, and Spain did not recognize the legality of slavery as it was practiced in the US. Therefore, many slaves escaped to Florida, where Spain freed them and gave them land. A large Native American Seminole community has existed in Florida since 1750. Blacks and Seminoles intermarried, worked together, and formed a community. The existence of freed slaves angered whites in neighboring states, and the US Army, acting on their behalf, waged war against the Black-Seminole alliance in 1816-1818. An uneasy peace after the war ended when a second war occurred in1835-1838 against what had become a mixed-race community. Many were killed. About 500 slaves were returned to captivity, and many of the Seminoles, forcibly, were moved west to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.
The Seminoles were uneasy living in the Territory because they were regarded as blacks and subject to capture and sale. The mixed race nation moved again, this time to Mexico. The fighting abilities of the Seminole Black Indian nation were legendary. The fighters became known as Buffalo Soldiers because their matted hair resembled the matted hair of buffaloes. In 1856, Mexican president Commonfort hired Seminole fighters to protect the state of Coahuila from Comanches, and they were also recruited and paid to fight against the Kickapoo Indians.
After the US Civil War and the abolition of slavery, many Seminoles returned to the US and became fighters in the US army. Many of these Buffalo Soldiers were enlisted to assist the US government in its wars against Native Americans as it attempted to move their communities to the west. The US Army offered these former slaves guaranteed wages and shelter.
Africans in Mexico Today
Today, many communities of Afro-Mexicans endure in rural and isolated locations. About 1% of the total population of Mexico has been identified as being of African descent.
The Mexican landscape offers many signs of the contact between Africans and Mexicans. Town names such as Mandinga, Matamba, and Mozambique resemble the names of African ethnic groups and countries.
Please write your answers to the following questions and assignments on a separate piece of paper. When completed, please place your answers in your Activity Journal.
- Based on what you have learned about Africans in Mexico, what do you think the word “Afromestizo” means?
- Why did Maroon communities settle in rural and isolated areas of Mexico?
- Why did Africans come to Mexico? How did they get there?
- Who were the Buffalo Soldiers? Why do you think they agreed to fight against other Native American nations in Mexico and the US? What did they receive in return for agreeing to enlist as soldiers?
- What traces of African history exist in Mexico today?
1. Go to the Smithsonian African Voices web site.
Click on Themes. Click on Global Africa. Go to African Journeys. On the left of the page, you will see a map of the world. Look at the right side of the page. Click on the dates, and watch what happens to the map! You will see arrows emerge that follow the routes that took Africans to Mexico. Use the reading above to locate the time period during which most Africans came to Mexico. Find the route from Africa to Mexico on the African Voices map. How did Africans get to Mexico during 1521-1821? To what other countries were Africans taken during this time period?
Go on to Activity Two or select from the other activities in this module: