After winning the right to be counted as part of Mexico’s population in 2020, Afro-Mexicans are still fighting for the right to protect their heritage. In a country where roughly 2.5 million people self-identify as Black, these communities are working to pass better legislation that protects the human rights to Afro-Mexicans.
“It’s extremely important that they count us as Afro-Mexicans,” said García, an engineer in the community of Cuajinicuilapa. “We’re of African descent – but we’re Mexicans because we were born here and we built this country.”
On June 8, 2021, the Mexican Federal Congress returned a reform bill with changes being presented by the Mexican Senate Culture Commission, which was sent to the United Commissions of Culture; Indigenous Affairs; and Legislative Studies, for its corresponding ruling.
Named ‘The New General Law for The Protection of Cultural Heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Peoples and Communities in Mexico,’ the act intends to recognize the right to property of Afro-Mexican and Indigenous communities over the elements that make up their cultural heritage, which is their knowledge and expressions.
In general terms, the reform is an attempt to harmonize national legislation with international legal instruments on the matter, trying to give a seal of “inclusivity” to minorities, demonstrating the recognition and respect deserved by Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people.
“We are convinced that with this reform is an act of social justice for our peoples. That is why it is very important, because we will be able to achieve reconciliation with ourselves, with those who are different from us and, of course, reconciliation with the entire Mexican society and that this is the turning point for the regeneration and rebirth of our homeland,” Adelfo Regino Montes director of Mexico’s National Institute for Indigenous People told Reporte Índigo, a Mexican news outlet.
In June, Afro-Mexicans achieved a very important victory within the Mexican political system. The Mexican Federal Government took affirmative action to include Afro-Mexicans in the country’s legislative branch. 37 Afro-Mexicans were elected as representatives under the rules of this new program.
Afro-Mexican cultural contributions
Despite the fact that Afro-Mexicans constitute a significantly smaller segment of the population than indigenous peoples (who make up 10% of the Mexican population), the Afro-Mexican contribution to popular Mexican culture, economy and industry cannot be overlooked.
Historically speaking, Afro-Mexicans, alongside helping advance the Mexican silver mining industry and develop farmland and sugar plantations during their slave days, were vital in overthrowing Spanish rule during the War of Independence. In fact, the second post-Mexican Revolution president was Vicente Guerrero, an afromestizo with possible Filipino ancestry.
Culturally speaking, much Mexican cuisine shows rich African influence, thanks to the use of peanuts, plantain (which arrived via the Canary Islands) and tropical fruits like cassava, malanga, taro and sweet potatoes.
However, the principal African legacy in Mexico comes undoubtedly from music and dance, from Veracruz’s son jarocho style of music (of which La Bamba is the most famous example) to the Danza de los Diablos along the Costa Chica and the use of the typically Afro-Mexican musical instruments guijada (a percussive made from donkey jawbone) and bote (a friction drum).