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In African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, photographer Ayana V. Jackson and writer Marco Villalobos combine portraiture and poetic rendering of historical research. The resulting story is one of provocation against colonial oppression and affirmation of human dignity. Based on the founding of San Lorenzo de Los Negros in Veracruz, Mexico, 1608, this narrative presents one of many overlooked stories of freedom-making in the Americas. We are reminded that modern democracy in the western hemisphere begins with Indigenous and African alternatives to colonial rule.


Ayana V. Jackson & Marco Villalobos

The Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

For Alan L. Jackson, Esq. & Don Luis Villa


Ayana V. Jackson & Marco Villalobos

A program of

Published in conjuction with the exhibition

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth. Exhibition dates: Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center, African Diaspora Institute, New York, NY January - May 2006 Mexican Museum and Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco August – October, 2006 Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, Texas, November 2006 – January 2007 Copyright © 2006 Caribbean Cultural Center and Villalobos Jackson Co. The Yanga Letters and Introduction © 2003 Marco Villalobos Positivizing Blackness © 2005 Marco Villalobos African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth Series 1 © 2003 Ayana V. Jackson African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth Series 2 © 2005 Ayana V. Jackson All rights reserved ISBN 0-9663978-9-4 (Unilan Publishing Company) ISBN 978-0-9663978-9-5 (Unilan Publishing Company) Produced by Tahir Hemphill Media, Inc. Designed by Tahir Hemphill Edited by Mariel Cruz & Camila Torres Translation by Lilly Alcántara and Melody Capote Published by Unilan Publishing Company, East Orange, NJ 07018 This exhibition and the accompanying publication are supported by a grant from New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Dept. of Cultural Affairs, New York City Dept. of Youth and Community Development, New York State Black and Puerto Rican/Hispanic Caucus, The Hearst Foundation, The Emma Shaefer Charitable Trust, Community Wellness Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation, PepsiCo, Douglas X. Patiño and Villalobos Jackson Co. Front cover La Puerta de Doña Bertina / Mrs. Bertina’s Door Santo Domingo, Oaxaca 2003



Making the Invisible Visible Haciendo lo invisible visible


CURATOR’s Statement declaración del CURADOR


Re[Viewing] Mestizaje Mestizaje Re[Evaluado]


TELLING THE UNTOLD Contando Lo Que No Se Ha contado


Positivizing Blackness Afirmando LA Negritud


Introduction Introducción
















Photo Index índice de fotos







Making the Invisible Visible Haciendo lo invisible visible

The Caribbean Cultural Center’s 30th Anniversary celebration of 2006 is dedicated to telling the story of African descendants in the Americas through diverse programming that places our stories at the center of an expanding African Diaspora global movement. When the Caribbean Cultural Center was created in 1976 there were few organizations dedicated to understanding the historic and cultural linkages that we shared as African descendants in the Americas. The Center’s international work has certainly contributed to making the presence and contributions of our communities visible. There is still much more information to be shared and much work to be done to address the conditions faced by the children of enslaved Africans in the Americas. Our 30th year celebration is an opportunity for us all to experience our journey from the African continent to the Americas. Our history did not start with enslavement, of that we are clear. Nonetheless the ravages of enslavement, a crime against humanity, continue to have an imprint on our contemporary lives. Our African descendant communities remain marginalized and under-resourced, rendering invisible more than 150 million Afro Latinos and African descendant communities throughout the Americas. Important to our story is the spirit of freedom, the spirit of the maroon, that ancestral legacy that refused to accept enslavement and oppression. The spirit of the maroon that created sacred spaces of liberation recreating and inventing systems of survival and liberation that continue to inform and impact the African philosophy and practices that vibrate throughout our cultures in the Americas. African American scholar Dr. Ivan Van Sertima in his book, They Came Before Columbus, utilizes research in arguing that Africans had journeyed to Mexico long before the presence of Europeans in the Americas. The features of the monumental Olmec heads are

clear evidence of African presence according to Van Sertima. Such an assertion indicates that the African presence in the Americas predates the African Slave Trade of more than 400 years from the 15th to 19th Centuries. In honor of this history our celebration starts with the extraordinary work of Ayana V. Jackson and Marco Villalobos. Their combined work actively speaks to the spirit of the maroon Yanga of Mexico who valiantly fought for the liberation of his people and assured the continuing presence of Afro Mexicans as an integral part of our African legacy in the Americas. His maroon spirit speaks in the faces of the photographs of Ayana V. Jackson as his actions echo in the narrative of Marco Villalobos. Ayana and Marco as young scholars and creative artists bring inspired insight, voice and vision that unite a historical perspective with a continuing narrative addressing the role of racial and cultural citizenship as it impacts the lives of African descendants in Mexico and throughout the Americas. The beauty of the images and recreated voice of Yanga, the warrior maroon of Mexico takes us on a journey that is replicated throughout the African Diaspora in similar yet varying ways. It is in the images of Afro Mexicans that Ayana and Marco share with us. It is in the image of our faces and in our actions. Extraordinary maroon leaders like Yanga of Mexico personify the lasting warrior spirit that insists upon justice at all levels of society. Yanga lives in us. We are all the spirit of Yanga.

Marta Moreno Vega, President/Founder Franklin H. Williams, Caribbean Cultural Center, African Diaspora Institute, New York, NY

STATEMENTS declaraciónES declaraciOnES


During a lecture at the Caribbean Cultural Center in the 1980’s, scholar Bobby Vaughn stated that for most of its history Mexico City had a population of more Africans than Europeans. Vaughn was reminding us that New Spain, later to be renamed Mexico, was in fact one of the most prolific importers of enslaved Africans in the Americas. Some of the great heroes of resistance to enslavement in the Americas, like Gaspar Yanga and Francisco de la Matosa, did their fighting in the Veracruz area of New Spain. As historian Carlos Moore of Cuba has pointed out, African ideas regarding statehood and independence were instrumental in the formulation of new American states like Mexico, Cuba, and Brazil. What happened to those Africans and their descendants? Why are they still unseen in Mexico? For the most part, the Afro-Mexican population, like many Afro-descendant communities throughout the Americas, has become economically marginalized and socially invisible. This exhibition, African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, helps illuminate the situation of African descendants in contemporary Mexico. Through the skilled camera of Ayana V. Jackson and the crafted pen of Marco Villalobos we commemorate the continued existence of Afro-Mexicans and their enduring legacy in that country. Afro-Mexicans, or more accurately, Afro-Mestizos, exist and continue their complex lives in rural Mexico. They live principally in the state of Veracruz and in the Pacific area of la Costa Chica, which bridges the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Ayana V. Jackson’s images focus on Afro-Mexicans of la Costa Chica, as well as in Veracruz near the town of Yanga. Some of those depicted in her photographs may in fact be descendants of the maroon leader Gaspar Yanga and his followers. In her carefully composed images, Ayana caresses the culture of the people while celebrating the beauty and dignity of their lives. Using historical records and a creative literary imagination, Marco

Villalobos constructs a clarifying text of what it could mean to be Gaspar Yanga, the man responsible for the well-being of his people. Via the fictive letters of Yanga to a contemporary African-American woman, Marco helps us understand the strength, compassion and genius of this national Mexican hero. He gives a human face to a hero’s force. The Franklin H. Williams-Caribbean Cultural CenterAfrican Diaspora Institute is proud to present the film, photography and text of Ayana V. Jackson and Marco Villalobos as part of our 30th anniversary celebration. Their exhibit, African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, has figuratively and literally “made the invisible visible.” C. Daniel Dawson Exhibit Curator

Re[Viewing] Mestizaje Mestizaje Re[Evaluado]

In all cases where mestizaje in Mexico is spoken of, the authors make exclusive reference to the mix of the white dominating population and the defeated American population. Nobody is careful to consider the part that belongs to Blacks in the integration of a culture in Mexico.

Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, 1946

As part of its mission, The Mexican Museum is committed to exhibitions and public programming that “voices the complexity and richness of Latino art throughout the Americas, encouraging dialogue among the broadest public.” Thus, we are very honored to collaborate with the Galeria de la Raza to present the Caribbean Cultural Center’s exhibition, African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth in San Francisco. By presenting this exhibition that adds to a more comprehensive view of Mexican culture and its com-


plex mixture of races, it is our hope that the public gains a better understanding of the multifaceted character of all our heritages. Through the intimate portraits of Ayana V. Jackson and fictionalized letters by Marco Villalobos, African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth creates a unique artistic experience and powerful historical record of a forgotten segment of Mexico’s citizenry: the Africans brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquerors and transatlantic slave trade. In giving a face and voice to their descendants living in multiple communities within different regions of the country, the exhibition moves their personal histories into the realm of a more accurate definition of what constitutes a “Mexican” national identity. For in spite of Dr. Aguirre Beltrán’s pioneering work to bring recognition to the African presence, this important nutrient of our Mexican cultural and social history is still overlooked or remains entirely invisible. Exhibitions such as this one that build on the early groundbreaking photography of Tony Gleaton serve to re-inscribe a more accurate account of the racial mixtures that compose the Mexican reality of mestizaje—the bedrock of Mexican nationality—by including African along with Spanish and Indigenous roots. Just as important for us in the U.S., the exhibition’s Chicano and African American perspectives offer the opportunity to raise awareness of the need to undo the bifurcation of culture in our society today. Tere Romo, Curator of Exhibitions The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA



Contando Lo Que No Se Ha Contado The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is proud to be one of three venues to mount African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth. After opening at the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York City, where it originated, and traveling to the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, we are excited to provide a southwest venue for an exhibition that tells the story of a legacy that too rarely has been explored by researchers and historians.

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth addresses an important chapter in the African Diaspora. The inspired photographic work of Ayana V. Jackson captures the inner spirit of African descendants who have grown into a Latino legacy. Her images are amplified by the profound story Marco Villalobos recounts so that we might begin to gain a deeper understanding of a people who strove for freedom from oppression, action over submission, sacred space against marginalization. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is grateful to the Caribbean Cultural Center for organizing this important exhibition and for including the Guadalupe in its first tour. These are stories that need to be told as we celebrate our diversity and reawaken to the proud heritage of our ancestors’ struggles and triumphs.

R. Bret Ruiz, President Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, Texas



Over the past two decades Padre Glyn Jemott has established himself as an organizer for the visibility, consciousness, and rights of Afro Mexicans, particularly those residing along la Costa Chica. A Catholic priest and cofounder of Mexico Negro, he shares the community’s active interest in the affirmation and advancement of Afro Mexicans on both local and national fronts. Jemott was interviewed by the artists. El Ciruelo, Oaxaca, 2003 & 2005

2003 Mexico has a minimum of two percent Black but it could be much higher depending on your level of self-definition— this of course is an important ingredient. It would also depend on the tradition of the level of autonomy— autonomy is perhaps not the right word. Let’s take two examples: the Black population in the Choco area on the Pacific coast of Colombia, and the Garifuna population on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. These are small populations but they have an internal organization that is strong. So who carries the flag of the Black presence in Honduras? It’s the Garifuna population, even though it’s a population that arrived there late 200 years ago (there were Blacks there before). In Mexico the only Black population is the one that has been mixed and diffused and ignored and so on. So it means that the whole movement is starting almost from zero. Whereas in a place like Honduras, especially with a Garifuna population, or because of the long phase of isolation of the Black population in Colombia, they had to sort of strengthen themselves from within and therefore you have populations that have been able to resist more effectively and are more vociferous and have laws passed. In a place like Mexico people have not been free to identify themselves. From the beginning the Amerindians could call themselves Mixteco and Zapoteco. The elements of identity are theirs and they measure themselves from what they were and what they still are. Whereas for the Afrodescendants there’s nothing endemic that is part of that definition.


From the outside, whether you say “moreno,” whether you say “Black,” whatever term you use there’s a very low selfdefining content in that concept. For a Black Mexican to begin thinking in terms of his blackness and positivizing his blackness is already a big victory because we’ve had to define ourselves negatively. But we’ve seen signs of acceptance. Before you used to hear with more frequency “Soy moreno,” and you would often hear “Soy Mexicano.” And with that people were attempting to say, “It doesn’t matter if I’m Black or not, I am Mexican, that’s what’s important.” Now people are saying, “Soy Negro.” In the cultural events we’ve sponsored we see a more enthusiastic participation and acceptance. We’ve reached a point where the people in Pinotepa who are not Black begin to feel a bit uncomfortable with the scant affirmation that there is. The postures, the language, the situations, the force of (racism), the weight of it may vary from country to country but I think basically what the Black population or the indigenous population in the United States has gone through is very much like what the Black Mexican population has still to put up with. That’s why it’s so important for linkages among diasporic people. We’ve often had Black students from Spelman & Morehouse coming here, so I’ve heard comments from both sides. The students who come from Spelman somehow go away with a feeling that people here have a low level of sensibility on who they are and they’re not as sensitized or sensibilized as we (non-Mexicans) are in terms of our Blackness. There’s nothing further from the truth. The comments that are very often heard here are that when [the students] come [they’re] more American than Black. What comes through is North Americaness, not necessarily or not first of all Blackness. So there are different ways of being Black and of sustaining that and of defending and articulating it. We have to accept that. That also makes it very urgent that we begin seeing each other and looking at each other and understanding each other. So that Black Brazilians and Panamanians,


Venezuelans and Mexicans, North Americans and Bolivians, somehow or other realize we do have the same common story and we have the same goals.

2005 When we started off, our first concern was history— people getting to know their past as a way of explaining the present. That was the tone of the first Encuentro de los Pueblos Negros (Meeting of the Black Towns). The concern then was to become aware of what we can call ours. It was a question of identity in a context in which that identity had been systematically denied. The second Encuentro came right after hurricane Paulina and even though we were planning to go deeper into the identity question with a wider participation, Paulina put on the agenda something very concrete. Paulina hit the Black Mexican communities hard. We could not just have a nice little Encuentro talking about the past while people had roofs blown away and their crops destroyed. So that was where we were more or less forced to look at current levels of poverty— the actual situation of the current Afro-descendant population in this area. Even so, we didn’t get into it, as we would have liked because we didn’t know how to go about it. We didn’t have the right contacts. People were not yet on that scene. By the fourth Encuentro in Collantes we were already telling ourselves that we had to find our place in contemporary Mexico. In fact the theme of that Encuentro—not so much the objective, but the theme was “Buscando Nuestro Lugar en el Mexico de Hoy” (Looking for Our Place in Today’s México). Then we went to Tapextla, then San Nicolas, then Santo Domingo, and then Huehuetán, and I’d say even in all these four we were still working to combine development— social and economic development— and questions of identity. We were conscious that we had to build a future with the tools we have, and one of these tools is culture. This ninth Encuentro, perhaps in a way didn’t change very much the concern, but what was new in this Encuentro was


it was the first time we had key people in government, and to a lesser extent in the university, who were beginning to say, “Yes, we think that the Black communities have been left out. They did not receive their share of the cake. Let’s do something.” I think that’s what made this ninth Encuentro different and more hopeful. The bottom line is this: 400 almost 500 years after Africans were brought to this country as to all other countries in the Americas, and after having contributed to building up this country, somehow their presence is not being recognized. There is a law we are referring to as just a mechanism that guarantees that descendants of Africans anywhere in Mexico will have the same social, cultural, economic and political rights and opportunities as any other group. In 1993 there was a change in the Fourth Article of the Constitution. And the element that was introduced is this: Mexico is a multiethnic and pluri-cultural nation. That theoretically says that we are not just a monolith culturally, as it was understood formally. Now, what are the mechanisms which will bring the ethnic and cultural groups that have been and are being marginalized to the table? That’s what we are looking for. One of these mechanisms is a law, a law which has to be regimented, which has to be broken down into very concrete steps. That law was promulgated in Oaxaca, or something related to this was promulgated in Oaxaca, 6 years ago. It’s called “La Ley de los Pueblos Indígenas” and in just one line, in one paragraph, they said, “Well, these rights and privileges are also available to populations which temporarily live in this community and to the Afro-Mexicans,” So it’s like saying, “Oh, you can also benefit from this.” On the Federal level, there is no such (law). There is an initiative right now in Congress to establish this, so the discussion is important and it is ongoing.



Gaspar Nyanga, a native of Gabon, West Africa, was brought to Veracruz, Mexico, as one of over 200,000 enslaved Africans shipped to the country’s Gulf and Pacific coasts to work the sugarcane fields and mines controlled by the Spanish Crown during the mid 16th and late 17th century. As with other instances of slavery throughout the new world, no sooner did the first ships disembark in 1537 that the uprisings began. Throughout Mexico, Africans and Indigenous alike escaped the mines and haciendas to create “maroon” societies in the mountains. After one of Mexico’s most brutal rebellions, it was to the mountains of Veracruz that Gaspar Nyanga led 500 other self-liberated peoples. For more than thirty years this community lived off goods secured through raids on caravans en route to Mexico City. As the community grew and the raids happened more frequently, Nyanga became an increasingly hunted man: So fierce was this hunt that over 500 armed men were sent to destroy his colony. Nyanga and hundreds of men living in the highlands of Veracruz battled against the troops sent to capture them by order of the Spanish Crown. With hopes of causing enough destruction to force the Spaniards into negotiations that would help protect his people, Nyanga sent a message to them through a prisoner held captive by his men. This message asked that a free homeland be granted upon fertile soil for his community of self-liberated Africans and their descendants to settle.


After a battle that suffered many casualties on each side, Nyanga and those under his care arranged a move to the lowlands of Veracruz. All African descendants, as well as any offspring who had liberated themselves prior to 1608, were granted legal freedom to settle in this new town, anointed San Lorenzo de los Negros. In exchange, Nyanga assumed the position of mayor and agreed to pay taxes to the Crown as well as turn away any slaves seeking refuge within the city, a promise perhaps made out of formality rather than actual intent. Thus, Nyanga and his supporters became the settlers of the first free colonial town for Africans in the western hemisphere, later renamed Yanga. Based on existing historical research and personal field research, the proceeding text recounts this story through fictionalized letters written in the voice of Gaspar Nyanga, addressed to a contemporary African-American woman living in North America. The accompanying images were taken in the town of Yanga, in surrounding communities within the state of Veracruz, as well as in parts of Guerrero and Oaxaca on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.



Querida Amiga: Yo soy el mero negro Yanga y te escribo del primer pueblo libre de todas las americas. Yes, I in fact am Yanga

that same African stolen from my homeland some years ago and now escaped from captivity in Veracruz, Mexico, where those of us who so desire have once more secured our undeniable right to self-government. On behalf of the men and women who have struggled alongside me here, I deliver to you our successes, hoping to pass unto you the spirit of our free town, indeed the first recognized free town for African peoples in the Americas, established with much hardship and endurance in the year 1608 in this place now called San Lorenzo de los Negros that occupies the hilltop territory outside Cordoba, amidst the haciendas of nine wealthy men who now understand the seriousness with which we African descendants consider our liberty. It will be some time before history begins to recognize our achievements in this land where the indigenous struggle will occupy the romantic and politicized nature of artists, scholars, and guerillas for centuries to come. Few are aware of us Afro Mestizos—African by legacy, Mexican by birth and culture—yet these enlightened few signal an interest both profound and intense in its nature, leading me to believe that one day our story as New Americans will prove invaluable in understanding how it is that Africa takes shape in the Americas, as well as understanding exactly what it is that these Americas can be.


Our narrative here, while it is in some respect similar to those Brazilian, Haitian, and larger Caribbean and American narratives of liberty, is altogether different.

Our interaction with the native and colonizing populations appears to me distinct from their interactions with Africans elsewhere in this hemisphere—perhaps this is why our presence is slow in gaining attention. So it is with this thought that I reach out to you now, wondering exactly what of our legacy has made its way to your attention, if any, and to what degree you have attained liberty under northern rule. If it interests you, I can send you a more detailed account of our own path to greater self-rule here in Mexico. I wish unto you the best of light while awaiting your word here in the spirit of true freedom. Ever your brother by birth, Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico




I was born a prince in Gabon, then stolen from my fatherland at a young age by men consumed with commercial gain.

The days following that removal are a tempest of muscles seizing in anguish, swift streams of tears hidden by night, and vengeful vows made in the daylight presence of my captors—all activities that afforded me a strengthening self-assurance as to the ultimate justice of my fate. Like all other new world sons borne of ship bellies onto foreign soil, my experience in transit was both horrible and common, with little variation in detail other than the accent of my captors’ dialects and the port of their destination. My story takes no distinction until reaching the shores of Veracruz, Mexico, from where many of New Spain’s enslaved Africans are still being dispersed. My people and I arrived following the emancipation of indígenos due to their swift decline at the hands of European disease and labor demands. The enthusiasm and greed with which Spaniards consume this land mandates a work that is never-ending. Indigenous and Africans are worked to death at such accelerated rates that rivers here overflow with the disposal of corpses; over 7 million indigenous lives have been extinguished and nearly half a million Africans have been enslaved to replenish the labor force. Now the displaced African population easily surpasses that of the colonizer, a detail that causes much worry to the latter who, in suffering an acute insecurity seek to smother our spirits in every way:


the valor and genius of the African is repressed, our customs punished on sight, and our religious creeds persecuted to no end.

We are forced to adopt Christianity to such a degree that our generations will know little of their origins—indeed, it is our very memory of Africa that these colonizers seek to destroy. Music, dance, gods: all are made to disintegrate to the click of Spanish heels. But I assure you, we have ways of guarding our lives and culture, and the fright with which our resistance is feared has made way for legislative assurance of lashings, imprisonment, castration, and death for those of us who think freedom. Of course some of us seek liberty by any means, fleeing from bondage by stealth or by force as soon as the moment permits. We favor steep lands in uninhabited regions and establish palenques where inaccessible but hospitable soil permits us. For 30 years now, I’ve been a fugitive, inhabiting with my rebel group an isolated section of mountainside between the peaks of Orizaba and the coast of Veracruz. Each day here feeds our dignity and each year our number rises. So too does our spirit. In this way my heart grows big enough to share with each of my people, and in this way I send you word as time permits. Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico




Yanga’s THIRD Letter LA TERCERA CARTA DE YANGA detailing the approaching military conflict

Dearest Sister, Chosen Eye that Grants Sight to Her People: Our livelihood here is made by tending the earth and is aided by the fact that we are near a major thoroughfare.

Our location makes it possible for us to control the commercial road used to transport goods between the port of Veracruz and the city of Mexico. In this way, we secure arms, food, and textiles, and are able to retreat safely over familiar terrain. So consistent have we been in this manner of gaining goods that a messenger arrived just this morning at dawn with the report that the Viceroy Luis de Velasco II has ordered 550 men against us in an effort to protect his sovereign’s commerce by attacking our stronghold. It is my wish, Great Sister, that I send you only the warmest account of the blessings that surround me. I want only to describe to you how this unblemished sky stretches from Africa to Mexico like a thorough embrace that finds each of us no matter where we wake; I want only to tell you of the intense green that covers these hillsides in silk leaves that blossom into the corn, fruit, and cane nourishment that keeps us strong and ensures our tomorrows; I want only to recount to you these thousand little things that make our lives familiar and complete, but here in our free town the children have grown quiet and the men restless. We prepare for battle and I count the days until the Crown’s army arrives with its royal decree and its Spanish captain, its assembly of musket-bearing soldiers and its tail of fortune seekers and hangers-on:



Mestizos, Africans, and Natives all lost in the illusion that by attacking our freedom they guard their own.

As we near confrontation with the Spanish King’s forces I spend my days counting children and adults, counting able-bodied men and women, counting those I trust to lead and those who will need to be led. If I were to count our years then we would be a troop of young and old, but years I do not count, for while they can be determined to a finite end, the elements that most drive our spirits remain countless always. What can be said of my peoples’ ages is that their years are full with a common experience that has granted certain wisdom to even the youngest among them. What we have each seen and endured connects us all to a higher level of perseverance. Of my own age all that can be said is that like an ancient tree overlooking this mountainside, it grows ever upward, affording a clear view of each arroyo that once threatened to thorn our routes to this palenque we may soon leave behind. And as my age heightens I am compelled to tell my story in full, before your ears grow more distant, before my voice rises beyond the clouds. My story is a message sent to you in a dove’s beak, a simple wish for peace that may go unheard here where it matters most. In sending you this account, I hope my desire for tranquility finds amplification in the space traversed between us. Let it be known that what I want for each of my brothers is Freedom, and what I want for each of my sisters is Freedom; Let it be known that what I want for each of our sons and daughters is no less than that same Freedom, and what I want for each of my distant selves, people like yourself whom I consider of the same flesh and blood as me, people like ourselves, of similar African, Human origin who find ourselves removed by degree from homes where our warmest fires once burned,


what I wish for us all is freedom and nothing more than the responsibility that such Liberty delivers.

It is this exact hope that I send here in this letter, imagining that upon reaching your hands it bounds over you as would a wave traveled from a distant shore where not long ago our tears first mingled with the ocean that carried us here. It is this single wave that I wish to wash over us all, at once reminding us of how we arrived here and cleansing us of that voyage in order to meet the approaching tempest. May the spirit of our fathers carry these words to you with love. Your brother by birth, Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico




in which he abstracts his passion in New Spain

Dearest Northern Sister, They call me the ancient one, but I do not count my years. I count only the accumulation of freed men in my care,

and with each of them I count the number of lashes that ridiculed them, the impossible humiliations that murdered them daily; I count the endless flavor of salt that from their eyes still wets their cheeks and bitters their lips; I count each breath that escapes me and every heartbeat that skips when I count the number of gorges crossed, the ranges of nearly unreachable summits climbed to reach this settlement; I count the scars on the backs of the men and women, on the ankles of the escaped, and again count the floods of tears for each distant home that burns a memory in every one of our eyes here. Then I count blessings from this mountainside perch: the number of caravans that we halt, the number of mouths that eat of what we intercept from merchants traveling roads under our gaze; I count our own harvesters who drop the baskets of maĂ­z and frijol into our storerooms; I count the peeled oranges in the hands of children, the number of swipes it takes to clean their chins from the juice of endless mangos that sweeten their faces; I count the smiles on those faces, the youngest faces, born here amongst these countless hills; I count the feet that dance on a freer earth and count the kisses and sighs that pass behind the thatched walls of huts between those countable moments when the sun leaves and greets us; and I count the huts, the dried palm roofs that rustle a crisp chatter in the breezes I count as whispers, as messages blowing and trailing us from across the great eastern ocean; I count the natives who settle with us, their women without whom our men would grow lonely and our generations decrease;


I count the tongues we speak and the words we share; count the emotions that pass like blood between us; count the branches of families that rise from these roots;

I count the shades of our skin and measure the shapes of our faces and count the hemispheres, continents, and nations that make us all possible. I count all these things and add them together and their sum is One. And so my conclusion is One. And One reason is all the reason we need to keep fighting. And our One reason is all the reason we need to survive. Yours in the struggle to come, Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico




expressing his vision and tranquility before battle

This night’s quiet is undisturbed by the chattering forest, as though the mountainside hushes us into a deeper rest.

I dream a great chain has been snapped. I smell the dust of rotted iron and taste ages of rust that give way to a determination beyond what can be forged of metal. I smell the wet breath of the soil from which cane stalks rise and sway against each other whispering in the wind. I slip again through the stalks and my path is as resolute as it is narrow. The moon silent, the clouds silent floating, all the stars silent watching the cane stalks whispering to one another as I brush past. The soft sound of their gossip gives way little by little to the babble of the river over its rocks and in an instant the cane field opens up and is behind me as my legs step into the chill of the fresh water. My knees and soon my hips are wet and now my chest as I dip my head and let the current run over me for a moment until the fresh water is my mother and I have crossed the river reborn now on the other side where I slip out among the first roots of the forest to climb up over this first hill and down its opposite side to climb the next hill and then the next. The forest snaps and chirps until I have reached my tomorrow. The sun rises with the glint of a thousand machetes all sharp and burning, surging like my own machete held to the sky by my sleek arms extended through pitch night to midday, this willful arm unflinching, this iron machete that snaps the great chain and slashes against the bondage that threatens to turn my very flesh to bone.




With this machete now I rush into morning and running I hear the gasp of those still suffocating; I hear the prayers that go unanswered beneath the tension of lashes snapping. Horses rear back on their hind legs and their eyes flash wild, noticing how our shoulders share the same brands that stamp their flanks. They find their snorts choked by the disastrous bits that grind their teeth and rearing in shock they kick their forelegs for balance. And then the wind shifts and time bends. The shouts of the slavers rise over the swell of waves against a ship’s sides. A rush of water and filth saturates me where I lay in the dark. The creak of wood sounds around me like enormous trees breaking in a storm. These trees mutilated in grand fashion, bent and twisted, they call out warnings to the deaf men above deck who pretend to steer toward a destiny of their choosing a ship that simply sails itself toward time’s edge. And now there is another ship beyond the port waiting to carry us home, a ship that would deliver us over the sea and through the nights that dropped us here. We know it is there because its sails billow with the breath of our sleep; we see how it waits ready just over the horizon, this new ship that remains empty, waiting for our bodies to guide it home. But we will stay here. We will not go back so that someone can trace our return only to repeat the same atrocities that brought us here. We run only to the next mountain where we will remain on this very land in these very bodies inhabited by our spirits that no one ever succeeded in removing from anywhere.


We let the ship sink and watch it go down empty but for the cries it sounds—they are not the cries of people, they are cries sounded by the wood, the very trees that disguise themselves in the form of a ship; it is those trees that cry out. They say: Stay where you have landed, drop your sadness and remain, for the wicked hands that once chained you in return shall feel a chain’s weight. Let your blood boil and let it cool; let your heart burn and let it calm; it is your mind that will take root in this turmoil; it is your soul that will feed this land, not the blood and sweat that have mingled with the earth here to form your new beginning; No, what shall be of greater legacy is the spirit that rises from you. Let this ship sink but let your ears hear it call always, reminding you that you have arrived here not by chance, but by a design and purpose beyond the comprehension of men. As I wake, I know that there are those among us who ignore such dreams, call them illusion and let them fall away unexamined. But I also know that there is no promise of liberty, that liberty carries no insurance: it is something that is grabbed with a bloodied hand and guarded with a scarred one. There is no freedom but the freedom that is looked after and tended to like an infant in the wilderness. There is no time in which to languish; there is only time to continue this vigil. I sit upon the hill watching the trail below and I breathe knowing who approaches and when. I relax only in guarding this fragile moment of peace. Yours in Breath, Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico


Yanga’s SIXTH Letter LA SEXTA CARTA DE YANGA detailing the military conflict

And so they came into our land and divided forces heading into the hills of Huilango and into the plains between the mountains of Matlaquiahuitl and Zongolica.

Of course, before long we captured one of their scouts and sent him back with a formal message inviting his captain into combat with us. Red in the face, that captain ordered this same messenger, whom we had caught and freed, to lead his army back to our palenque only to find that we—more than 100 in total—had moved on, leaving behind only some food, weapons, and other replaceable items to litter the huts that we destroyed in our exit. The soldiers tried uselessly to follow us for some time before giving up. But as the Crown’s forces tired themselves in searching us out, so too did we long for a moment of rest. In this way, my party and I decided that we should agree to surrender under certain conditions, so that we might live our lives without always having to remain awake at night. I informed the viceroy that we would lay down our arms against his army and merchants if he were to grant us the settling of an exclusively Black township. Further, it was our demand that each slave who had fled bondage before the year 1608 should remain free without penalty and we offered economic compensation for any person in our party who had escaped one of the bordering properties after the designated date so that they too should remain free. Finally, we designated that the only ambassadors allowed to approach us on the state’s behalf would be Franciscan friars. Under these conditions we agreed also to pay to the Spanish Crown the same tribute as any self-sufficient pueblo in the colony.



Upon news of our discourse with the viceroy and Crown, rumors of slave uprisings spread like disease

instilling even more fear into the higher castes that the multitude of Africans would organize resistance. Some time ago, a pig herder drove his pack into the streets of Mexico. Startled by the jump of a dog or the slip of a shadow, those pigs began to squeal and shriek out of control. Encouraged by the banging open of shutters from the homes of the curious, the pigs’ squealing only increased. Panic ensued. From the mouths of the most ignorant sprang rumor that the Africans had begun their revolt. By the end of the next day, 33 innocent blacks had been torn to pieces by a mob intoxicated with fear and hatred. Out of their minds as such, the mob left the heads of the murdered in public view, to rot in the city of Mexico until their very state of decay made it urgent to remove them. Meant as a warning against future cimarrones, this warning is in fact double-edged: it tells us in truth to what degree of panic the viceroys, governors, and aristocracy have arrived, and still, it encourages our persistence toward liberty. Gaspar Nyanga Veracruz, Mexico




Yanga’s SEVENTH Letter LA SéPTIMA CARTA DE YANGA A Sort of Resolution

Dear Northern Sister, May You Share in Our Victories, Our struggle HAS TAKEN ON new formS and continues. Opponents have become annoyed by our perseverance and in spite of our good will, the Spaniards in neighboring zones protest to no end. Still, the Crown accedes to our requests. After all, the weight of their wealth is carried on our shoulders: the production of sugar from cane, the staples of café, frijol, and corn, along with mango and orange orchards, all would dry to seed were it not for our sweat. In the year 1630 we settled down near Palmillas in the skirts of the Totula Mountain. We remained there until 1654 when, due to the zone’s inhospitable nature, we asked for the transfer of our town to what is now known as San Lorenzo. All the while, though liberated, we endured constant humiliations on the part of our Spanish neighbors in respect to the boundary of their borders and their significant control and maintenance of the zone’s economy. Although we once stipulated that San Lorenzo should be an exclusive Black town, the Spanish—gradually, as much as the Indigenous—inhabit the pueblo. While some now exhibit their support of our liberty and demonstrate their personal affinity for el mestizaje, the mixture of our races, it is also known that some have come here to further profit from our work and our services. So this is my story—that we have armed ourselves in more way than one and have fought to our victory. I leave you with this: Here in Mexico, natives of the great Mayan empire that begins to the south, in the region of Chiapas say that at the beginning of time their forefathers, the first men of the earth, would rise at the break of day, climb their highest mountain and sit staring at the sun rising over the great sea to the East. Watching the sunrise, these men would say to one another, “That is where we come from.” Today we African Mexicans do the same. In the spirit of liberty, Gaspar Nyanga San Lorenzo de los Negros Veracruz, Mexico




photo index

índice de fotos

El Camino Nos Conecta, 2005 The Road Connects Us El Azufre, Oaxaca

Tres Generaciones y un Santo, 2003 Three Generations and a Saint Tepextla, Oaxaca

El Sabor de Sal , 2005 The Flavor of Salt Llano Grande, Oaxaca

Espíritu Inmutable, 2003 Steadfast Spirit Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

La Ascencion de Nuestra Señora de Primavera, 2005 The Ascensión of Our Lady of Spring Llano Grande, Oaxaca

Cortando Leña, Imagino Fuego, 2003 Cutting Wood, I Imagine Fire Llano Grande, Oaxaca

Cuento las Lenguas que Hablamos, 2005 I Count the Tongues We Speak El Azufre, Oaxaca

Cielito Lindo, 2005 Perfect Heaven El Azufre, Oaxaca

Hojas, Ramas, Raíces, 2003 Leaves, Branches, Roots El Mirador, Veracruz

Entre Estas Incontables Montañas, 2003 Amongst These Countless Hills Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Ramificaciones de Familias, 2003 Branches of Families El Mirador, Veracruz


Y Cuento los Hemisferios, 2005 And I Count the Hemispheres Corralero, Oaxaca

La Brisa Que Cuento Como Susurros, 2005 The Breeze I count as Whispers El Azufre, Oaxaca

Color de mi Madre (Tita), 2003 Color of My Mother (Tita) Llano Grande, Oaxaca

El Pueblo Tiene Ojos, 2005 The Village has Eyes Corralero, Oaxaca

Vivimos Adentro de la Danza, 2005 We Live Inside the Dance Corralero, Oaxaca

Árbol que Crece a Orillas de los Rios, 2003 Tree that Grows on the Riverbanks Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero

La Puerta de Doña Bertina, 2003 Mrs. Bertina’s Door Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Hemos Construido Casas, 2005 We’ve Built Houses El Azufre, Oaxaca

Los Pueblos Agarran sus Manos Mientras Duermen, 2005 The Cities Hold Hands in Their Sleep Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Madera y Cuero, 2005 Wood and Leather El Ciruelo, Oaxaca Esperamos el Almanecer, 2005 We Wait for Dawn Tlacotalpan, Veracruz

Entre Colores y Días, 2003 Between Days and Colors Chacahua, Oaxaca

Con Tanta Luz en la Voz, 2005 With Much Light in the Voice Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Amor de Pobre, 2005 Poor Love El Ciruelo, Oaxaca




Ayana V. Jackson’s work has been exhibited in galleries and non-traditional spaces in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean including shows curated by the National Council de La Raza, Washington DC, Peter Hermann Gallery, Berlin, Germany, Rush Arts Gallery, NYC, and Tribes Gallery NYC. Selections from the African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth series have been included in Columbia University’s Souls Magazine, while the World Bank has acquired a selection from her Hip Hop series, Full Circle, for its permanent collection. Marco Villalobos’ writing has appeared in various journals and major publications such as Step into a World: a Global Anthology of the New Black Literature (John Wiley and Sons, 2000), Bumrush the Page: a Def Poetry Jam (Crown, 2001), Dialogue Through Poetry 2001 Anthology (Rattapallax Press, 2001), Geography of Rage: the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 (Really Great Books, 2002), and ReGeneration, (Tarcher/Putnam, 2003). Poet, writer and performer, Villalobos has presented his work on stage and radio for over a decade. He is author of limited edition chapbook, Barrio Gold (Unilan Publishing, 2002), a 2003-2004 UnescoAschberg Laureate, and a 1998 Hispanic Scholarship Recipient. In the fall of 2005, Villalobos and Jackson traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America presenting photography, text and video work detailing Afro Latino cultural contributions and community within the United States.




2005 Featured Artists, Assembly International, Berlin, Germany. El Negro Mas Chulo, African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, Series I. Planet Magazine, Fall. Interview with poet Pedro Pietri, A Gathering of the Tribes online journal, Summer .

Una Mirada al mundo afrolatino en E.U. El Tiempo, Bogota Colombia, Nov. En exposición imagines afrolatinas, La Prensa, Managua, Nicaragua, Oct. Imágenes con poesía, El Diario, Ciudad Juarez, México, Oct. Artistas de EEUU exhiben fotos en el país, Listin Diario, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Oct. 2004 Selections from African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, and Full Circle, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 2003 Colorproof, and Working Class Advocate, Anthem Magazine #10.

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Stiffed Me, and The New Machine, Anthem Magazine #9. But Slams Will Never Hurt Them, Teachers & Writers Magazine (vol.34, #3). 2002 Barrio Gold, Unilan Publishing.





African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth.

Viajes Personales and African by

Franklin H Williams Caribbean Cultural

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, exhibitions

Center African Diaspora Institute New

and workshops Binational Center,

York, NY.

Monterrey, México.

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth.

Artist lecture, performance and video

Mexican Museum and Galeria de la

screenings, CEDIM School of Graphic

Raza, San Francisco, CA

Design, Monterrey, México.

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth. Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San

Viajes Personales and African by

Antonio, Texas.

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, exhibitions and workshops, Banco Central de


Nicaragua, Managua, Nicaragua.

Viajes Personales exhibition, Museo del Hombre, Santo Domingo, Domini-

Artist lecture, performance and video

can Republic.

screenings, Universidad Centroameri-

cana, Managua, Nicaragua.

Viajes Personales workshops, Casa de Chavon, Santo Domingo, Dominican

Photography installation, artist lec-


ture, performance and video screenings, UNAN-Leon, Leon, Nicaragua.

Artist lecture, performance and video screenings, Altos de Chavon, La Ro-

Viajes Personales, Exhibition and

mana, Dominican Republic.

workshops, Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá, Colombia.

Viajes Personales and African by

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, exhibi-

Artist lectures, performances and

tions, workshop, performance and

video screenings, the Colsubsidio

video screenings, Teatro La Fe, Ciudad

Schools of Bogotá, Bogotá Colombia.

Juarez, México. Viajes Personales, Exhibition and Artist lecture, performance and video

workshops, Instituto Universitario de

screenings, Universidad Autonomia

Barlovento, Higuerote, Venezuela.

Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Juarez México.


Artist lecture, performance and video

Invited Artists at “From Brown to

screenings, la Fundacion Cultural

Black” a conference centered on is-

Chacao, Caracas, Venezuela.

sues of the African Diaspora, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne.

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, Inter America Foundation, National

El Negro Mas Chulo: African by

Council of La Raza, InterAgency Con-

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, presenta-

sultation on Race in Latin America.

tion and performance, University of

Washington DC.

Art, Berlin, Germany.

Guest Artists, G-Class Seminar series,

Selections from African by Legacy,

New Museum of New York, NY.

Mexican by Birth. Rush Arts Gallery for Black Fine Art Show, New York, NY.

Rompiendo el Silencio, African by

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, Film


screening, Status of Afrodescendi-

African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth,

ente Communities in Latin America

installation at Limbo Café, Centre

Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina,

d’arte Marnay Art Center (CAMAC),

Summer, 2005.

Marnay-sur-Sein, France.

Rompiendo el Silencio, African by


Legacy, Mexican by Birth, Film

Artist lecture, Performance & pho-

screening, Assembly International,

tography presentation on Cuban &

Berlin, Germany.

Ghanaian Hip Hop, Hunter College, New York, NY.

2004 Living art project, L’Espace Out / Neither Nor / ACS, Berlin, Germany. El Negro Mas Chulo: African by

Legacy, Mexican by Birth, presentation and performance, A Gathering of the Tribes Gallery, New York, NY.



Special thanks to Gaspar Nyanga, Francisco de la Matosa, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, and all our ancestors watching over us. Marta Moreno Vega, Melody Capote, Monthina Williams, Danny Dawson, and the CCC family, Padre Glyn Jemott, Andres Maceda Utz, Ximena y la familia Ambriz, el Museo de las Culturas AfroMestizas, Familia Jackson, Familia Villalobos, Vellissia, Dana, and Jeffrey Foushee, Ingrid LaFleur, Mariel Cruz, Tahir Hemphill, Camila Torres, Jose Arriaga, Darius James, Dr. Bruce Wade, Katherina Zieverding, Boro, Tara Herbst, Jochen Heilek, Brad Fox and the L’espace Out crew, Steve Cannon and A Gathering of the Tribes, Susan L. Yung, Brother Bruce Gilbert, Luz del Carmen Zepeda Murillo, Li Alcántara, Familia Jiménez, Nina Julia, Nino Tavo, Chole Mole, I & I, Paula Castañeda Vargas, Sandra A. Garcia, Maria Bonita, Los Cuates de Tlaco, Mario Beltrán, Familia Añorve-Zapata, Doña Rosa, Lupita y Raul, Doña Yolanda y las hijas Ibarra, Francis y Lourdes, Don Melquiades, Don Efren y Son Artesa de el Ciruelo, Los Danzantes de Cerro de las Tablas, Las Cabañas de Kassandra, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Ron Wilkins, Ted Vincent, Bobby Vaughn, Alex and the Ninja at CAMAC, the UNESCO-Aschberg staff, Melissa Levine, Blakeney Lowe, Michelle Proctor, Jane Carpenter-Rock, Gregorio Cortez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Malo, Los Cojolites, Son De Madera, Chuchumbé, and the Royal Chicano Air Force. Marco Villalobos and Ayana V. Jackson can be contacted at: //maschulo.com


In African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, photographer Ayana V. Jackson and writer Marco Villalobos combine portraiture and poetic rendering of historical research. The resulting story is one of provocation against colonial oppression and affirmation of human dignity. Based on the founding of San Lorenzo de Los Negros in Veracruz, Mexico, 1608, this narrative presents one of many overlooked stories of freedom-making in the Americas. We are reminded that modern democracy in the western hemisphere begins with Indigenous and African alternatives to colonial rule.


Ayana V. Jackson & Marco Villalobos

The Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Profile for Ayana Jackson


Ayana V. Jackson, Marco Villalobos


Ayana V. Jackson, Marco Villalobos