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The first African-Mexicans to come to Mexico, and their descendants, have greatly influenced the Mexican culture. Throughout the centuries, Afro-Mexicans have made vast contributions to the country of Mexico and they deserve to be recognized and acknowledged for their many accomplishments. Afro-Mexicans share a rich history and count heroes and presidents among their ancestors. One was Vicente Guerrero, Mexico's 2nd president and a hero in Mexico's War of Independence from Spain. The state of Guerrero in Mexico was named after him. Amongst other things, these immigrants have contributed to the modern Mexican culinary gamut. Unlike other groups, they unquestionably did not come willingly. Their arrival was a product of what was perceived as economically beneficial by the European conquistadors of Mexico,but during the post-conquest years they have added important and vibrant contributions to Mexico's culture and cuisine. It is said that during the Colonial era, approximately 200,000 African slaves were brought to Mexico. The first group of six was brought by Cortez in 1519 and the rest during 1580 and 1650. They were transported from the West Coast of Africa to wok as domestic servants and in the sugarcane fields. Many of them came in through the port of Veracruz and were sold at the slave market in Antigua. Another large group entered Mexico through the port of Acapulco and to this day inhabit the Costa Chica, a portion of the Pacific coast of Guerrero and Oaxaca. The inhabitants of Costa Chica did not mix with the European and indigenous people to the extent that the slaves in Veracruz did and they have retained a distinctly African identity. In Veracruz tribal and family groups were alienated to a great extent. Therefore much of their original culture was absorbed into the regional identity that has come to be known as 'Jarocho,' a term by which the people of the state and the port in particular, define themselves. The mixing of races in Veracruz was one of the reasons why the people who came to be known as 'afromestizos' had a more insightful gastronomic impact in Veracruz than on the Costa Chica. The fact that nearly all food imported from Spain came into Mexico through Veracruz is another reason that a large variety of ingredients was accessible there from the beginning of colonization. Of all of the African influences, including music and dance know as Afro-Cuban, was brought by the slaves who came to Veracruz through the Caribbean and the influence on the regions cooking is one of the deepest and most far reaching. As the colonial period in Mexico extended, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, the indigenous population of Mexico became decimated by sickness. To make up for this labor shortage, African slaves were brought to Mexico to toil in the sugar fields and in underground mines. They were worth four times more than their indigenous Indian counterparts. These African workers were highly prized for their physical endurance and stamina in the hot, tropical sun. They
were made to work in atrocious conditions and attempting escape was the only viable option for these enslaved Africans. Those who were successful in their escape, fled to areas high mountain ranges where jungle and canyons would hide and shelter them. Indigenous Indians who had also fled to these remote areas joined forces with the escaped African slaves, forming communities and families. After 30 years, an African slave named Gaspar Yanga was able to negotiate a treaty with the Spanish. Yanga achieved his desired goal after great hardship. Today, the town of Yanga In Veracruz is a living testimony to his incredible achievement. The mingling of blood that occurred between the Spanish and Indigenous Indians took place also with African slaves. This third root of the Mestizo race is a topic seldom acknowledged. Traditionally, the Mestizo race is identified as being a mixture of European and Indigenous Indian blood but in truth it can also include the blood of Africans. These are referred to as 'mulattos.' Over the years, this bloodline has been absorbed into the fabric of the Mexican population. Some scholars believe that 200,000 slaves were brought to Mexico while others believe the true number is closer to 500,000. The Costa Chica is one of two regions in Mexico with significant black communities, the other being the state of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast. What makes this story illuminating and mystifying is the profound lack of documentation and discussion on this subject.
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Published on Jan 28, 2012