There is no Mexico without Afro-Mexicans

Karen Juanita Carrillo | 10/22/2015, 11:55 a.m.

The YouTube video “La Costa Chica. Nunca mas un Mexico sin afromexicanos. English subtitles” features scenic depictions of Mexico. It presents snapshots of the bucolic Costa Chica region along Mexico’s Pacific coast. There are palm trees, and people are seen playing, fishing and swimming in crystal clear water.

As the camera zooms in, close-ups reveal that the people seen in the Costa Chica region are Afro-Mexicans. “With the exception of the relatively small Indigenous population that lived in the mountains ... most of the New World inhabitants of the Costa Chica were Blacks, Mulattoes, people of African descent,” a voiceover tells us.

This YouTube video is the first part of what is projected to be a much longer 70-minute documentary on Afro-Mexicans and their political struggles in Costa Chica. I spoke with the film’s producers Aaron Romero and Rosa Maria Castro and directors Talia Garcia Vergara and Edna Herrera Arjona about why this film is being made and what they are attempting to do. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Since the 1990s, the Afro-Mexicans of Costa Chica—located in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca—have been organizing politically. You must understand that this has been a long process of working with the community—initially for people to become aware of themselves as Afro-Mexicans, to recognize their identity and understand their contributions to the nation—and then also for 16 years they have petitioned for constitutional recognition of the Afro-Mexican community on the local and federal levels. Because of this activist struggle, on June 5, 2013, the local congress of Oaxaca approved a reform that constitutionally recognized Afro-Mexicans. But this recognition is still pending at the federal level because there are Afro-Mexicans in some 11 states of the Republic. This is why civil organizations, led by México Negro A.C.—which initiated the Black movement in the Costa Chica—have been urging passage on the federal level.

“Why do we want constitutional recognition? So that Afro-Mexicans can fully use and enjoy the constitutional rights that all Mexicans are supposed to have. Federal recognition will ‘legally’ allow Afro-Mexicans to have dignified lives, allowing them to be recognized in their own country, allowing them to combat racism, allowing them to be part of a culture that has always excluded them, giving them access to public programs that work for the benefit of their communities and allowing them to fight against the problems they find in their environment.

“Another striking example of what Black communities in Mexico are doing, among many things, is that they were able to get the Mexican Catholic Church to officially ask for forgiveness for having supported and helped to enslave Blacks for more than 350 years. They have also demanded to have the contributions of Black people in the economic, cultural and social spheres added to our history books at both the primary and secondary levels; and when it comes to gender issues, it is interesting to see how energetically Afro-Mexican women are taking part in this very intense activist movement even as they are mobilizing for women’s political empowerment.