The year we lived in Chile, our friends talked about their mestizo heritage; combination of Spanish and Indigenous ethnicities. I’ve read recently about heritage groups like the Afro-Chilean Alliance, Oro Negro, Arica Negro and Lumbanga. I realized I know little about Afro-Chileans.
Looking at history, free and enslaved Africans arrived in Chile beginning in 1536, some were soldiers for explorer Diego de Almagro. As of 1570, there were 7,000 Afro-Chileans. By 1590, the number was 20,000. In Santiago in 1695, 29% of the population was of African heritage. By 1811, Chile had 25,000 people of African descent. A regiment of Black soldiers from Chile was key in securing independence from Spain in 1818 (this is a theme, African soldiers were key in Mexico as well, see my Black President post).
When Chile won the War of the Pacific and expanded their territory to the north in 1883, they annexed the city of Arica. Many Africans, both enslaved and free had worked there in mining and agriculture when it was part of Peru. A Black neighborhood called Lumbanga existed then in Arica. The census in 1907 recorded the population of the barrio as 1900 people. According to interviews of children whose parents had lived there, many Black women were domestic workers and Black men ran small businesses. That part of Arica no longer has the same ethnic composition. Many Chilenos doubted the story of a Black neighborhood until researchers found supporting documents and oral history that proved it existed. That struggle is small window on the racism that Black Chileans experience every day.
Slavery was abolished in 1823 in Chile. However, after that point there was no census category that allowed for Chilean and African race. Groups like the Afro-Chilean Alliance dismiss that practice as whitewashing the nation. For at least 8 years, Afro-Chilean groups have requested the government add a census category to represent their heritage. So far, their petition has been denied. They want to be counted and they do not want to be invisible any longer. How many Chileans of African descent are there today? One estimate is 3-6% of the population; 576,000-1,151,200 people. The numbers are only guesses, however, until the advent of a representational census or universal DNA testing.
What are your thoughts? Gracias , Rebecca