Mexico’s Black History Is Little-Known

John L. Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2008

In Mexico, the story of the country’s black population has been largely ignored in favor of an ideology that declares that all Mexicans are “mixed race.” But it’s the mixture of indigenous and European heritage that most Mexicans embrace; the African legacy is overlooked.

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“What they are not saying is that in ordinary life in Mexico, lighter-skinned Mexicans are accepted and have first place,” [said Padre Glyn Jemmott, a Roman Catholic priest from Trinidad and Tobago who has had a parish of a dozen Costa Chican pueblos since 1984.]

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In Cuajinicuilapa, in the state of Guerrero, there’s a small museum dedicated to telling the story of the black presence in Mexico.

But Costa Chicans often say they learned little in school about how blacks came to live on the coast, little about the history of slavery—only myths passed down over generations.

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They were not taught the details of their history: that Spanish slavers took Africans to colonial Mexico (New Spain) in the 16th century, long before the first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Va.; that during the colonial period there were more Africans than Europeans in Mexico.

The Costa Chicans were also not taught that some of the blacks were not slaves; that blacks lived throughout what is now Mexico, working in mining, sugar plantations and fishing.

In some instances black Mexicans were explorers and co-founders of settlements, including Los Angeles.

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Earlier this year, the California African American Museum in Exposition Park opened a major traveling exhibition, “The African Presence in Mexico,” detailing the contribution of Africans to Mexican history and culture.

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