A professor at the University of New Mexico addressed confusion surrounding African identity in Mexico during her talk Thursday.
Doris Careaga Coleman, Ph.D., a professor in the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department, gave a lecture on African identity as a part of the “Afro-Latino Talks” series hosted by Chicana and Chicano Studies, Africana Studies, African-American Student Services and El Centro de la Raza, which occurs throughout the Spring 2018 semester.
“Discussing this topic is very interesting to us, because it gave us a way to help make the invisible visible,” said Student Program Specialist Yesenia Ruiz, who helped organize the talk.
Those of African descent, or Afrodescendente, in Mexico is a population that has spent most of its existence in a perplexing state.
Awareness of Afro-Mexican identity was not prominent until the 1980s, Careaga Coleman said.
Careaga Coleman has been essential in illuminating the unique Afro-Mexican and Afro-Mestizo populations in Mexico. She founded Colectivo Afro-Tamiahua, a civil rights organization in Veracruz, Mexico.
According to Careaga Coleman, Eurocentric historical views are largely responsible for the erasure of African identity in Mexico. She discussed how the Mexican population interprets the history of Gaspar Yanga, who was brought to Mexico as a slave, led a slave revolt and established his own town, which is now called Yanga.
Careaga Coleman showed a video in which Mexican people referred to Yanga as a folk hero — this comes from a generally held understanding that in the 17th century, he freed slaves, resisted Spanish colonialism and was related to an African royal family. She said he is commonly referred to as a liberator and prince among most Mexican people.
The 20th century Mexican government’s interpretations of Yanga’s slave revolt were different.
Careaga Coleman talked about her experience at government-run museums, like San Juan de Ulua, a museum in Veracruz, where they referred to Yanga as a criminal. She said that this tradition began to reverse under President Felipe Calderon’s administration, and the Mexican government now officially recognizes 100 municipalities as Afrodescendente.
“However, this recognition does not apply to post-colonial African communities in Mexico,” Careaga Coleman said.
A major period of Afrodescendente identity erasure was during the 20th century when a Mestizo identity was prevalent in discussions of Mexican nationality, Careaga Coleman said.
“During the 20th century one can see the ‘whitening’ of President Vicente Guerrero’s image take place, and Mexican popular culture portrays darker-skinned people as malevolent or as unrelatable antagonists,” Careaga Coleman said.
“The resurgence in awareness for the Afrodescendente population began in the 1980s after a Trinidadian priest named Father Glen Jeemont, who pointed out uniquely African cultural norms among Afrodescendente communities around Veracruz,” Carega Coleman said.
The Spring 2018 “Afro-Latino Talks” will continue again on March 28 with a talk held by the Africana Studies department and will conclude with a panel discussing the other two events on April 18.
Donald Amble is a freelance news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Deambler.