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The Erasure of Mexico’s Black Population

In a country as diverse as Mexico, full of multiculturalism and habited by people who are a complex mixture of indigenous, white Spanish and even some minimum African blood, you would expect fair treatment for everyone. But as every country, Mexico is not immune to what people call “harmless” racism.

One day, I was inside a convenience store and decided to look around all the promotional images and the faces of the products in search for a model, just one, who somehow represented the Mexican people I saw on the street. One, just one out of all those hundreds of models with clear Euro-centric features. I didn’t find anyone. I tried watching Mexican soap operas to look for a Mexican actor or actress with native or African features. I found one, with clear black ancestry. She was the maid.

You might be asking yourself: is there a black population in Mexico? The sad thing is that even Mexicans themselves don’t know about it. Yes, we’re taught that slavery happened a long time ago but nobody asks the question: what happened to those slaves? What happened to their kids and the kids of their kids and so on? What is even more absurd is that the Mexican government, the head of the whole country, didn’t officially recognize Mexico’s afro descendants until 2015.

Mexico’s black history isn’t in textbooks, even though the influence is still strong. Almost 200 years before the United States, Mexico had their first black president: Vicente Guerrero, a hero from the Independence War (1810-1821) who practically sealed the deal and gave the country the freedom they longed for. He was the second president. And even before that, Gaspar Yanga, an African royal from Gabon who was captured and sold as a slave, organized a rebellion against the Spaniards and in 1618, Yanga Veracruz became the first free town of the Americas.

The Afro population in Mexico decreased after the Independence War and the Revolution (1910-1920) but they didn’t disappear at all. Nowadays, the Afro-Mexican population represents 1.7% of the nation’s population and can be found in states like Oaxaca, the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Veracruz. The main problem is that most of these people barely have access to good jobs, or healthcare and education, and are easy victims of stereotypes and discrimination.

Samantha Leyva, from Guerrero, the second miss of black ancestry to represent Mexico in an international pageant and an afro-Mexican activist, was asked whether she still thinks there’s racism in her country. She answers with a personal example from her own experience as a contestant in the Miss Mexico pageant in 2016: “yes, without a doubt” she says. Someone once left a comment saying “I hope anyone but the black girl wins.”

Afro-Mexicans are often detained at National Customs and are asked to prove they’re Mexican.

The truth is that Mexico’s black history and current reality has been hidden from their own people and that has heavily influenced the way non-black Mexicans treat people from those southern states, falling in common stereotypes and erroneous ways of thinking and treating people. While non-blacks should be allies in the constant Afro-Mexican battle for recognition, they became their biggest nightmare each time they shame them for the color of their skin, the texture of their hair or their other prominent features.

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