In Mexico, a country renowned for its vast cultural diversity, the Afro-Mexican community stands as a testament to a rich history that has, unfortunately, remained invisible to many. From the Pacific’s Costa Chica to the Gulf's Veracruz, these communities are dispersed yet unified by shared traditions and beliefs.
The Historical Backdrop
Afro-Mexicans, though present in every state, are predominantly found in regions like Costa Chica and Veracruz. This is a legacy of historical processes that led to higher concentrations of Afro-Mexican communities in these areas. As Citlali Quecha Reyna, a notable researcher from the Institute of Anthropological Research of the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), suggests, there has been an interesting dispersion in modern times. For instance, the State of Mexico now houses a significant Afro-Mexican population, partly due to internal migration, notably towards the bustling Mexico City area.
Contrary to common assumptions, the Afro-Mexican community in Mexico does not predominantly follow Santeria or Afro-American religions. Instead, they've significantly integrated Iberian Catholicism into their spiritual lives, Reyna points out. This does not imply that they don't have religious diversity. From the 1980s onwards, there's been a surge in Pentecostal churches, with the addition of other denominations such as Adventists, Presbyterians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons.
One distinctive feature of the Afro-Mexican region of Costa Chica is its acceptance and tolerance of religious plurality. Here, multiple faiths coexist harmoniously, enhancing the socio-organizational support of the local populace.
Historically, the Afro-Mexican community has not been as visible as other demographics. But why? According to Reyna, historical dynamics often overshadowed their contributions. However, recent data has shed light on their significance. The 2020 Census recorded 2,276,213 people identifying as Afro-Mexican, approximately 2% of the nation’s population. Interestingly, this community began to be officially counted only in 2015, marking a significant change in the nation's perspective on its diverse demographics.
Upon gaining independence, Mexico abolished the colonial caste system, effectively making the Afro-Mexican population invisible in official statistics. This obscurity led Afro social groups to rally for statistical visibility—a fight they ultimately won.
The roots of the Afro-Mexican presence can be traced back to the 16th century, primarily in the Costa Chica region, where African slaves were forced to work in haciendas. This harsh history set the stage for the vibrant Afro-Mexican communities seen today, enriched by unique cultural practices and traditions.
The Diversity of Faith
Religious diversity is a hallmark of the Costa Chica region. Alongside established Catholic celebrations, unique worship sites unrecognized by the official Church have flourished. One such example is the pilgrimage to San Manuelito in Guerrero. Many believe that seeking his blessings helps in various endeavors, from crossing the northern border to finding love. Another venerated figure is San Gonzalito in Oaxaca, who also attracts a significant number of pilgrims.
Religious ties are more than mere practices. They form intricate networks of social, ritual, and kinship interactions. The advent of non-Catholic beliefs isn't new, but dates back to the Cárdenas period. Today, the presence of these religions provides essential support, especially in marginalized areas, offering emotional assistance and even literacy for women.
The intersection of faith and cultural belief is particularly fascinating among Afro-Mexicans. Over time, as indigenous and Afro-descendants coexisted, cultural traditions were shared, enriched, and integrated. An example of this unique fusion is the belief in “tonos,” guardian animals that accompany individuals throughout life. For Afro-Mexican children, participation in traditional practices reinforces their sense of identity and connection to their heritage.
As the next step in her insightful research, Citlali Quecha plans to explore how these religious beliefs navigate the challenges of migration and adapt to new geographical terrains.
In conclusion, the Afro-Mexican community serves as a living testament to the beauty that arises from the confluence of histories, cultures, and faiths. Their journey from obscurity to visibility offers hope and inspiration to other marginalized communities worldwide.