Where are the Afro-Mexicans?

A Celebration for Black History Month, Part 1

When we think of the African diaspora in Latin America; Cuba, Puerto Rico or Panama might come to mind first. However, this largely unrecognized heritage is an important third root of the mestizo population in Mexico combining; Europeans, Indigenous people and Africans. The long-held notion that La Raza was only blending the Spanish and the first peoples of Mexico has been overturned with genetic testing which has revealed sub-Saharan African as part of the mix. Although, this is a fact many Mexicans don’t know about or actively deny. Since 1980, Afro-Mexicans have worked diligently to bring history to light.

The majority of Africans arrived on Mexican shores the same way as in the United States, through the Portuguese slave trade. Estimates vary a great deal; from 200,000 to 500,000 enslaved Africans were brought through Veracruz between the 1500s and 1800s. African slaves were brought to replace the scores of indigenous workers who had died from European diseases. According to colonial records, the African population outnumbered the Spanish three to one in the late 1500s! Not until the 1800s did the Spanish officially have a larger population than their slaves.

Did that lead to slave revolts? It most certainly did. The very first free black colony in the Americas was in Mexico in 1608. Gaspar Yanga led a group from Veracruz to the Costa Chica and founded a city they called, San Lorenzo de los Negros. Today, the name is Yanga, in his honor. A higher population of folks with African heritage are in Southern Mexico; Veracruz where the slave ships landed and Costa Chica where escaped slaves founded towns (in the State of Guerrero).

Why is the history of Afro-Mexicans unknown? Where did that quarter to half million African people go? One answer is that three of every four slaves were men. Most African men married indigenous women. Under colonial law, slavery of the indigenous people was illegal, so the children of their unions would be born free. That led to a large mixed-race population, who then intermarried with the Spanish. Although slavery ended earlier in Mexico than in the United States, a lot of judgment against those with darker skin color exists in Mexico today (as it does in her northern neighbor).

Next installment is about the first Afro-Mexican president and freedom from slavery!

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé!  –Rebecca


Afro-Mexican Girl in Guerrero, Mexico    PuntaMaldonada66.JPG   Photo credit: Alejandro Linares Garcia


Rebecca Cuningham

13 thoughts on “Where are the Afro-Mexicans?

    1. Sorry to hear that, Henry. Unfortunately my experience is similar, although I have not traveled as widely as you have. I hope this is the century where content of character counts more than the color of skin.


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