The Presence of Afro-Mexicans
Blacks in Mexico
Contrary to common knowledge, particularly among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, is that Mexico, like other Latin-American nations, have African blood as well as indigenous and Spanish. Mexican people of indigenous ancestry, to this day, play ancient instruments, such as African hand pianos (or marimbas) in songs and dances of African influence (corridos), which tell stories of slave revolts and ancestral tributes.
Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negroes,” and a free black town called Yanga was established.
A Mexican-American woman asked me during a discussion as to where I am getting my information. Although there are many books on this topic, I told her to check out one by Mexico’s renown, late anthropologist and professor at the University of Vera Cruz. His name is Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. The book is entitled, La Población Negra de México (The Black Population of Mexico), where he talks about more than 500,000 African slaves being brought in through Mexico’s Port of Vera Cruz between the Cortez invasion in 1519 and Mexican independence in 1810.
Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mexico enslaved more Africans than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. African slaves worked in silver mines, on sugar plantations, in textile factories, and in households. Others worked in skilled trade or on cattle ranches. In addition, Afro-Mexican people made significant contributions in folktales, religion, medicinal practices, and of course, music and dance; the most notable example is the hit song La Bamba, first popularized by rock-n-roll star Richie Valens out of Pacoima, CA. This song was sung and danced to by black Mexican slaves as early as 1683. See more about this in… La Bamba: The Soul of Black Mexican Folks.
Mexico’s first root is the native population before the Spanish invasion.
About one-tenth of Mexico’s slaves escaped to remote, armed runaway settlements called palenques and were a total menace to slave holders. In Mexico’s state of Vera Cruz, Spanish forces were unable to defeat these “uppity negros,” and a free black town called Yanga was established. See… African History in Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Slavery in Mexico was finally abolished in 1829 by Mexico’s Afro-Mexican president Vicente Guerrero. See…The Soul of Mexican Independence.
The Spanish represents Mexico’s second root, who brought in African slaves making up Mexico’s third root.
Beltrán further points out in his 1946 published work that Africans made up 71% of the non-indigenous population in Mexico during the early colonial periods, and the Spanish made up the remainder. After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable, except in Mexico’s states of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca.. Yet, Africans in Mexico left their cultural and genetic imprint everywhere they lived.
After more than 500 years of interracial marriages and offspring, the African presence is no longer noticeable.
I would be remiss not to point out that Mexican history also includes 19th century African-American slaves and Seminole people (so-called Indians) who fled what is now known as the State of Florida to the Mexican border state of Coahuila where their descendants live there to this day.
Calafia was a fictional warrior queen who ruled over a kingdom of Black women living on the mythical Island of California. The character of Queen Calafia was penned by Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo who first introduced her in his popular novel entitled Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500.
In the novel, Calafia is a pagan who is convinced to raise an army of women warriors and sail away from California with a large flock of trained griffins so that she can join a Moslem battle against Christians who are defending Constantinople. In the siege, the griffins harm enemy and friendly forces, so they are withdrawn. Calafia and her ally Radiaro fight in single combat against the Christian leaders, a king and his son the knight Esplandián. Calafia is bested and taken prisoner, and she converts to Christianity. She marries a cousin of Esplandián and returns with her army to California for further adventures.
The name of Calafia was likely formed from the Arabic word khalifa (religious state leader) which is known as caliph in English and califa in Spanish. Similarly, the name of Calafia’s monarchy, California, likely originated from the same root, fabricated by the author to remind the 16th century Spanish reader of the reconquista, a centuries-long fight between Christians and Moslems which had recently concluded in Spain. The character of Calafia is used by de Montalvo to portray the superiority of chivalry in which the attractive virgin queen is conquered, converted to Christian beliefs and married off. The book was very popular for many decades—Hernán Cortés read it—and it was selected by author Miguel de Cervantes as the first of many harmful books to be burnt by characters in his famous novel Don Quixote.
Calafia, also called Califia, has been depicted as the Spirit of California, and has been the subject of modern-day sculpture, paintings, stories and films; she often figures in the myth of California’s origin, symbolizing an untamed and bountiful land prior to European settlement.