By: Candelaria Donají Méndez Tello, MBA (translation by Patricia Ann Talley, Editor)
When we talk about the roots that form Mexico, we find that officially there are 62 different ethnic groups, with preserved customs and traditions. 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 and taught in the school textbooks, therefore still today, many compatriots and people around the world don’t know the importance of our African heritage.
Africans were present in Mexico long before colonial times, but the population increased when enslaved Africans were brought here. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, pioneer of the study of black culture in Mexico and author of books such as Mexico’s Black Population, estimates that the Spanish brought more than 500,000 African slaves to Mexico, and during colonial times there were more Africans in Mexico than Europeans.
For almost 20 years now, I have been working to assess our black roots in my home in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero and Oaxaca. The black presence in our area is manifested in music, dance, poetry, verses, oral tradition, gastronomy and more. In the 1980s, there was renewed interest to conduct investigations into our black culture. Now, we are working with the federal government for constitutional recognition of blacks in Mexico, and conducting a public relations campaign to educate our population so that they will be properly counted in the next census in 2020.
Professor Candelaria Donají Méndez Tello is a founding member of Mexico Negro, A.C.
Mexico Negro, A.C. (Mexican Black Civic Association) is a non-profit civil society, incorporated in 1997 for the purpose of organizing the communities of African descent in Mexico. The association is directed by Professor Sergio Peñaloza and a group of collaborators of which I am a part. Our mission is: 1) To seek constitutional recognition of the black population of Mexico; 2) to promote the development of Afro-descendant communities in the Costa Chica area of Guerrero and Oaxaca and all states of the country where there is a black population; 3) to rescue, promote and disseminate our cultural traditions; 4) to fight against all forms of discrimination; and 5) to work with the government to eliminate the social invisibility of blacks in Mexico.
Our organization also develops workshops for painting; sculpture; drawing of masks; theatre; paper recycling; the preparation of food; medicine; agriculture; percussion and African dance; and the preservation of traditional dances of the area. We dedicate the month of March to celebrate the black population in Mexico.
Our organization participates in numerous regional and international events such as the Forum on People of African Descent; Iberoamericans Against Discrimination; Forum on Afrodescendencia; International Meeting of the Black Family in Windward, Venezuela; and the meeting on the Afrodescendencia in Salvador Bahia, Brazil. We also collaborated with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force in Southfield, Michigan, USA to develop information and teaching materials about Afromexicans in English. We have a website: www.FreedomPathways.org and a travelling exhibition in Michigan.
I am so proud and honored to announce that Mexico Negro, A.C. is now recognized for our work in the area of equality and human rights. It is a long pathway to freedom, but – I have a dream too!
* About the Author: Professor Méndez Tello is an instructor at Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero. She is an expert in African-Mexican history and co-founder of the Black Mexican Civic Association.
For more information about the Ixtapa Zihuatanejo area, see: