Afro-descendants: between invisibility and discrimination

The exact number of Africans who arrived in Mexico through human trafficking or migration is still unknown

Afro-descendants: between invisibility and discrimination
In Mexico, Afro-descendants have been discriminated for hundreds of years – Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 04/04/2019 16:28 Mexico City Fabián Durán y Mariana Dolores Actualizada 16:35
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At least 250,000 Africans arrived in colonial Mexico, then known as New Spain, enslaved, wounded, and sick. The arrival of African people took place, mainly, because of the increasing number of Indigenous people dying as a result of diseases and mistreatment. Although this number is approximate, the truth is that the exact number of Africans who arrived through other routes such as smuggling or migration is still unknown.

The African people who stayed in Mexico to work at mines, farms, or in domestic labors started marrying with the native population and the Spanish because, in contrast with the United States, where interracial marriage was illegal, it was allowed in New Spain.

For Africans, one of the advantages of these mixed-race marriages was freedom, that is, when an enslaved African married or had children with an Indigenous person or someone from another ethnic group, they were no longer considered as slaves. This way, their descendants are now known as Afro-Mexicans or Afro-descendants, who went from slavery to invisibility.

Denying the past

The invisibility of these Afro-Mexicans is starting to silence their presence and history. “The beginning of discrimination against Afro-Mexicans is denying them knowledge about their history.

That s, many inhabitants of Veracruz don't know why their skin is that color (…) they think it is because of the sun,” anthropologist María Elisa Velázquez explains.

In Mexico, until 4 years ago, Afro-descendants weren't part of the population censuses or polls, therefore, their location was unknown. In 2015, the INEGI included a question to recognize oneself as an Afro-descendent. Experts affirm that as a result of the process of invisibilization, many could have misinterpreted this question and the results showed that 1.38 million Mexicans considered themselves as black or Afro-descendants, which is 1.8% of the population.

Two years later, in the National Discrimination Survey 2017, carried out by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED), it was estimated that there were around 3 million Afro-descendants in Mexico, twice as many as the ones reported by the INEGI. The difference in numbers was attributed to the previous awareness campaigns. The socio-demographic profile of the Afro-descendants in Mexico reported the presence of Afro-Mexican communities throughout the country, mainly in the state of Mexico, Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca.

No rights

In regards to laws, Dr. Said Jalife, a researcher from the Scientific and Technological Information Office of Congress (INCyTU), explained that the Mexican constitution recognizes that Mexico is a multicultural nation. Nevertheless, even when the constitution establishes everyone has equal rights in the country and even when Mexico has signed international treaties to condemn racial and ethnic discrimination, this is far from being true for Afro-Mexicans.

Also, Mexico is part of an international treaty titled “International Decade for the Afro-descendants 2015-2024”, and its aim is to acknowledgment, justice, and development. Nevertheless, Dr. María Elisa Velázquez said that we are halfway through the decade and it would be good if Mexican institutions carry out more concrete actions to benefit Afro-Mexicans in regards to health, economy, employment, human rights, and to fight racism.

Nowadays, there is a proposal to reform the Article 2 of the Constitution, in order to clearly acknowledge the rights of Afro-descendants, and although several bills have been proposed, they have been thrown out after not being discussed by lawmakers.

You can find more information on the topic here: https://foroconsultivo.org.mx/INCyTU/

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