Wednesday, March 2, 2016



*courtesy of Consulado de México en San Bernardino, CA.

ÉBANO (Ebony) is a photographic exhibition by Nicolás Triedo on the African presence in Mexico consisting of 40 art photographs in black and white.

Afro-Mexicans, also known as Black Mexicans (Spanish: afromexicanos; negros; afrodescendientes), are Mexicans of African descent, and have been largely ignored by researchers of the African diaspora in Latin America. They encompass those Mexicans descended or recently immigrated from Caribbean countries, as well as Africa in recent decades, but also Mexicans who are directly descended from slaves during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Albeit carried out on a smaller scale and over a shorter period of time relative to other colonies in our hemisphere, such as Brazil and Cuba, Mexico had an active slave trade since the early colonial period and an estimated 200,000 Africans were brought there. African labor was vital to the Spanish colonists. As Indigenous peoples were killed or died from European diseases, slave labor assumed a disproportionate share of the burden of work. African slaves labored in the silver mines of Zacatecas, Taxco, Guanajuato, and Pachuca in the northern and central regions; on the sugar plantations of the Valle de Orizaba and Morelos in the south; in the textile factories ("obrajes") of Puebla and Oaxaca on the west coast and in Mexico City; and in households everywhere. Others worked in skilled trade or on cattle ranches. 

The history of afromexicanos in Mexico is of rich complexity and not very well known for a number of reasons: the comparatively small numbers, regular intermarriage with other ethnic groups and absorption into the surrounding Mestizo (mixed European/Indigenous) and Indigenous populations. Further, the creation of a national Mexican identity, especially after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, emphasized Mexico’s Indigenous and European past; and passively eliminated African ancestry and contributions, considered historically as our “third root”.

Young afromexicanos are trying to raise awareness about their own history and identity – to, in effect, counter the generalizations many people in the United States (and in Mexico) – have about Mexican culture.

A deeper look into Mexican history reveals that, in fact, some of Mexico’s earliest national heroes were afromexicanos! The revolutionary Gaspar Yanga established a free society (one the first free towns) of formerly enslaved Africans in all of the Americas after the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade. National heroes such as José María Morelos y Pavón, Independence leader, and Vicente Guerrero, second president of Mexico, were both of African descent.

Black resistance occupies a special place in Mexico's revolutionary tradition, a tradition that is a source of pride for many Mexicans. It was in 1829 that the Guerrero decree conditionally abolished slavery throughout Mexican territories.

Advocacy groups during the last two decades relentlessly campaigned for official recognition of the Mexican Black population and to seek more resources allocated to Afro-Mexicans. In just recent months (Dec. 2015), and for the first time in its history, the move by the Mexican government to officially recognize 1.38 million afromexicanos in the national census has been hailed as a step in the right direction as Latinos and Latin Americans of African descent continue with their quest against racism and invisibility. 

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