An educational exhibit is on display in Michigan, USA about the history, culture and contributions of Afro-Mexican President Vicente Guerrero and other Afro-Mexicans in Guerrero. The exhibit opened in November 2012 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan, the world’s largest institution of its type, and was then on display at Marygrove College. The exhibit will now tour universities, schools, libraries and business groups throughout the state. During the first five (5) months of display, the exhibit was viewed by 25,030 persons and the website had 2,588 visits, demonstrating the high level of interest in the subject.
Professor Candaleria Donají Méndez Tello of Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, Zihuatanejo’s tourism and university, led the research on this project, entitled, “Pathways to Freedom in the Americas,” which was organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force, Inc. of Southfield, Michigan and funded by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, the MGM Grand-Detroit Hotel and others. An expert in Afro-Mexican history, Professor Tello is co-founder of Mexico Negro, A.C. (Black Mexican Civic Association), a non-profit civil society, incorporated in 1997 for the purpose of organizing the communities of African descent in Mexico.
“When addressing the black presence in Mexico, unfortunately there is little information on the matter, but the black roots of Mexico are so important. The black roots of Mexico are not explained in the primary and secondary school textbooks or in our universities, therefore still today, many compatriots and people around the world don’t know the importance of it. But, the black presence in Mexico is manifested in music, dance, poetry, verses, oral tradition, gastronomy and more,” says Professor Méndez Tello.
According to the African Studies Center and Michigan State University, the first contact between Africans and Mexicans dates back to the existence of the Olmec Civilization, as far back as 1,200 BCE. The largest number of Africans arrived in the Mexican territory during the three hundred years of the colonial period, 1521 – 1821. During colonial times, Africans and Afro-mestizos (people of African, European and/or Indigenous heritage), outnumbered Europeans by up to 3 to 1 in Mexico. 1
In Guerrero, there is a well-documented and sizable presence of Afro-Mexicans in the Costa Chica Region of the state. The African presence in Costa Chica is a result of colonial expansion in the area and the need for a larger labor force following the destruction and migration of the local Indigenous communities and the seizure of their lands. African slaves were transported to the region in order to work on large plantations.2 African slaves were also brought to Zihuatanejo by the Spanish. In contrast to Afro-descendant communities along the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz, these communities along the Pacific coast have experienced greater geographic isolation and have maintained many of their original African traditions, like carrying articles on their heads and building “round huts,” similar to those found in Africa.
Mexico’s second president Vicente Guerrero was of African descent. The State of Guerrero, in which Ixtapa Zihuatanejo is located, is named after this great Mexican hero. A mural of Vicente Guerrero is in the conference room at City Hall in Zihuatanejo. Historians refer to Vicente Guerrero as the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of Mexico, indicating this great man’s stature. He was a general commanding Mexico’s liberation army during much of its independence movement in the early 19th Century, assumed his country’s presidency in 1829. He helped to write the Constitution of Mexico and abolished slavery during the first year of his presidential administration – 36 years before slavery was abolished in the United States (1865) and before it was abolished in Canada (1833). The “Pathways to Freedom in the Americas” exhibit is in English and Spanish, and uses video, maps, photographs, art, and music. It depicts a different aspect of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the story of fugitives from slavery in the United States taking the Underground Railroad south to Mexico, African heritage as it continues to permeate Mexican culture—especially in the Costa Chica Region of Guerrero, the migration of Mexicans to Michigan and the culture as it has manifested in Southwest Detroit. Click here to obtain a brochure about the exhibit: Pathways to Freedom Exhibition Brochure – English
There are many interesting educational articles on exhibit website www.FreedomPathways.org that were compiled by educators, researchers and museum curators in Michigan and in Guerrero. The website also contains Teachers’ Resources, bibliography, photographs and videos and can be translated into any language. Please see:
Plans are currently underway to have a similar exhibition in Zihuatanejo. You can take a short tour of the exhibit by clicking on the video below:
For more information about the Ixtapa Zihuatanejo area, see: