Numerous contributions of African culture to the world

Exchanges between the Americas and the African continent include music, gastronomy, even linguistic elements. The Afro-Mexican population is concentrated in six states of the country. There must be more friendly spaces to avoid reproducing the same history of racism.

Numerous contributions of African culture to the world
A number of contributions of African culture to the world. Photo by Sylvia Szekely / Unsplash

The birth of independent Mexico took place with the construction of mestizo identity, racially concealing the presence of the African population. It took half a century for the Mexican Constitution to recognize that the country has a great cultural and ethnic richness, including Spanish, indigenous, and African roots.

The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) defines Afro-Mexican people or Afro-descendants as those who come from the African continent and arrived in Mexico during the colonial period. They are considered so because of their culture, customs, and traditions.

"The exchanges between America and the African continent are very long-standing, basically 500 years long, and include music, gastronomy, and even linguistic elements," says Marco Antonio Reyes Lugardo, a researcher at UNAM's University Program for Asian and African Studies (PUEAA). A defining moment for the recognition of this population in Mexico, according to the expert, has to do with the first years of the 21st century with the Durban Conference, South Africa, against discrimination and racism.

However, before that, there were countless initiatives in Mexico related to Afro-descendant identity on the part of indigenous peoples and communities, especially in Guerrero and Oaxaca. "This is a watershed of a whole series of movements or activism that are emerging until today," he says.

In 2019, the Congress of the Union approved an addition to the second constitutional article to recognize the existence of Afro-Mexicans as part of the pluricultural of the nation. And INEGI's 2020 census showed that two out of every 100 people consider themselves Afro-descendants, which represents two percent of the country's total population. Just over 50 percent are concentrated in six states: 303,923 live in Guerrero; 296,264 in the State of Mexico; 215,435 in Veracruz; 194,474 in Oaxaca; 186,914 in Mexico City; and 139,676 in Jalisco.

"For a long time, mestizaje was the pride of Mexico, 'the best of two worlds' said José Vasconcelos; but the struggle has been present for a long time as a function of societies and political social structures that racialize the population. The liberation of Afro-descendant activism at the Latin American level is not only for recognition but also for a greater horizon of struggle to eradicate racism", refers the specialist in Asian and African Studies.

The Mexican nation is multiethnic, but racism is a structural part of the economic system in which it lives. Pigmentocracy" occurs when someone with a certain skin tone occupies a part of the Latin American social pyramid, such as the Mexican one, forming a society of social division of labor, less paid and with limitations in education and housing.

Referring to the World Day for African Culture and People of African Descent, which is commemorated on January 24, Reyes Lugardo considers that it runs the risk of remaining just another chapter of something that "has already been achieved"; however, there is still a long way to go.

Identity and activism

Ana Hurtado Pliego, a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UNAM, says: "I come from a family with a migratory tradition. Three years ago, when I delved into Afro studies for my degree, I found an article that said that the surname 'Hurtado' came from the black peoples of Guerrero and, from there, I delved into my own life story".

In her process of self-recognition, she faced challenges in the sense of how to identify, make visible, or name Afro-descendants to break down the stigma and stereotype of those who live in Mexico City, in the countryside, or outside the country.

Something that is questioned is why all of a sudden everything is focused on talking about racism or violence, "and I think that for a long time we had not been able to name what we were experiencing. We saw this as something cultural or something so normalized, but we learned that it has a name and that several times we have been relegated from spaces because of our skin color or phenotype", she points out.

The also coordinator of the National Network of Afro-Mexican Youth emphasizes that Mexico, in the discourse, is a multicultural country, but in the tangible part, there is marked inequality. Given this situation, she considers it necessary to promote a struggle for the recognition of the Afro-Mexican identity that has a place in universities, organizations, even in the media.

"Afro-Mexican activism has struggled to talk about political representation, about how to dignify a history in which everything points to a process of whitening and invisibilization. But at the same time we are concerned about children because there must be friendlier spaces to avoid continuing to reproduce the same history of racism and to feel that we belong to a culture, to a nation," she says.

Sustainable development, dialogue, and peace

At the fortieth session of the 2019 General Conference, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization established January 24 as World Day for African Culture and People of African Descent. This commemoration alludes to the many cultures of the African continent and African diasporas in the world, promoting sustainable development, dialogue, and peace.

According to the organization's website, the purpose of this day is to promote the ratification and implementation of the 2006 Charter for the Cultural Renaissance of Africa, adopted by the heads of state and government of the African Union, to strengthen the role of culture in promoting peace on the continent.