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.
“Another important achievement of this Afro-Mexican social activism is that this past March of 2015 was the first time social and academic organizations were able to get INEGI (the National Institute of Statistics and Geography) to conduct a pilot census in a few of our Afro-Mexican communities of Oaxaca and Guerrero. The census did not give us much information because no one had conducted a prior awareness campaign so that people would understand the questions and be able to answer appropriately, but this pilot—since it took place outside of the official census—was also aiming to push for the inclusion of Afro-Mexicans in the next national census of 2020.
“Mexico is a nation with many problems. One problem is widespread racism, not only against the Black communities but also against the Indigenous. But unlike the Indigenous, Blacks are not even seen—they’re invisible. Most Mexicans believe that there are no Black Mexicans, and this leaves the community mired in poverty and all the problems that entails. It is important for everyone to know of the real and current problems Afro-Mexican communities face, to know that they have a presence in Mexico, and it is important that we conduct campaigns of awareness for Mexicans and self-awareness for Afro-Mexicans themselves since there are cases where, because of fear or prejudice, African identities are not acknowledged even though it is obvious.
“There have been incidents when the ignorance of authorities and public institutions about the presence of Afro-Mexicans has led to problems. If an Afro-Mexican is found outside of their community and does not have official identification with them, they can be deported to other South American countries because authorities tend to believe they are undocumented immigrants. Those that aren’t deported have had to prove their Mexican identity by being forced to sing the national anthem, show their IDs or by being subjected to multiple, demeaning questions.
“Today, there are a growing number of Afro-Mexican organizations being created. All over the country, Black people are having meetings and making their first contacts with local public administrators so that they can begin to change the landscape of racism and segregation in this country.”
Those interested in contacting and supporting the film’s producers can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.