Mexico Slow to Confront Racial Issues, Experts Say

Lennox Samuels, Dallas Morning News, July 31

MEXICO CITY—The man visiting from the south of Spain was having a revelation as he walked along Michoacan Street in the city’s fashionable Condesa section.

“There are an awful lot of brown people on the street,” he exclaimed. “You don’t get that at all from the TV and advertising.”

Foreigners in Mexico City who look at Mexican television—or movies or magazines or anything with human faces on it—could be excused for thinking they had landed in a European city.

Officially, Mexico’s population is mestizaje—a mixture of White and Indian, or mestizos. But the country’s political, business, social and cultural elite is dominated by White descendants of Spanish conquistadors, while mixed-race, indigenous and Black people generally are relegated to supporting roles in society.

Mexico has taken major steps toward democracy but lags significantly on civil rights, analysts say. The nation, they say, harbors racism and is years away from addressing it because few in positions of power understand or even acknowledge the situation, and many of those affected by it have long accepted the status quo.

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But Indian activist Abel Barrera said indigenous people have long been at the bottom of society.

“They are considered second-class persons,” said Barrera, director of the Human Rights Center in Tlapa, Guerrero. “Throughout history, they have been stigmatized for their languages, religious expressions and culture.”

In a speech recently, Fox sought to embrace the Indians.

“Cultural diversity of the indigenous people is an essential part of our national being and enriches us as a nation,” he said. “The indigenous people in Mexico are not part of the past; they belong in the present, and together we are building the future.”

Neither he nor any other top official has made such a statement about Black people. No one even has a firm idea how many Blacks there are in the country, although the government estimates 500,000 Afro-Mexicans live along the Costa Chica, which covers the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.

Most history textbooks have little if any reference to Mexican Blacks, who were brought into the country by the Spanish. Sintesis de la Historia de Mexico (Synthesis of Mexico’s History), a textbook used in junior high school, devotes less than one of its 405 pages to Black Mexicans.

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