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Black History Month, day 6

Reading about Elizabeth Catlett for yesterday’s post made me curious about Mexicans of African heritage. Catlett was an immigrant late in life, like other artists from the U.S., but Mexico does have a small population of people whose ancestors include Africans. As in the United States, many are descended from people who were enslaved, though the Spanish conquistadores brought comparatively few slaves to Mexico from Africa, preferring to enslave the indigenous population. The state my family and I lived in for six months in 2016, Oaxaca, actually has the 2nd-largest percentage of people who identify as afromestizo, people of mixed race that includes African roots, but I had no idea until now.

A significant number settled in the Costa Chica (little coast), defined here as the stretch of Pacific Coast “from the port of Acapulco, Guerrero to Huatulco, Oaxaca.” Huatulco is a beach town my family visited and loved so much when we were living in the city of Oaxaca–which is inland, a short plane ride over the mountains from the coast–that we just had to squeeze in a trip when we spent three weeks in Oaxaca city the next year. Next time we go, we’ll know to seek out afromestizo music and dance there, and not just swimming and snorkeling.

Even if you haven’t lived in Mexico, you have encountered Mexican afromestizos. The actor Lupita Nyong’o identifies that way, having been born in Mexico City and holding dual Mexican and Kenyan citizenship, though she is ethnically Luo (Kenyan) on both sides. That explains her first name, a nickname for Guadalupe, which for obvious reasons is a common Mexican name. The afromestizo probably known best to people who know a scrap of Mexican history, though, is Vicente Guerrero, a hero of the War of Independence, Mexico’s second president, and namesake of a street in probably every city in the country, as well as a state.

I didn’t know much else about him, so I looked him up. One of his notable achievements before being deposed by his vice president and assassinated: freeing Mexico’s enslaved people.

Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña

Portrait of Vicente Guerrero, by Anacleto Escutia after an anonymous portrait. Chapultepec Castle [Public domain]

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