The contributions of African culture to Mexican society have been ignored and underrepresented throughout history due to systemic racism. Adriana Franco Silva, who works for the University Program of Studies on Asia and Africa (PUEAA) at UNAM, brought this up on January 24th, which is World Day of African Culture and Afro-descendants.
According to Franco Silva, African culture is present in Mexican communities and daily life, but its relevance has been omitted by the racist structures that have existed for years. Some places don't see this culture because they don't like black people and because the capitalist system is set up in a hierarchy that has always put black bodies, knowledge, culture, and learning at the bottom.
The data from the 2020 Population and Housing Census by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) showed that there are 2,576,213 Afro-Mexicans in Mexico, representing 2% of the country's total population. Franco Silva thinks that these numbers don't show how many Afro-Mexicans there is because violence and racism have made it hard for them to come out in public as such.
Despite some advances, Franco Silva emphasizes the importance of going beyond norms and establishing a dialogue without relations of subordination to fully recognize and appreciate the African roots in Mexican society. This includes embracing musical genres like jazz and rap, dances, and the intellectual and gastronomic richness that these roots bring.
The World Day of African Culture and Afro-Descendants is celebrated worldwide to promote the many cultures of the African continent and its diasporas and to support the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights by people of African descent. The celebration is a part of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024), which UNESCO adopted in 2019.
The Ongoing Fight for Afro-Mexican Recognition and Equality
The birth of independent Mexico saw the formation of a mestizo identity, obscuring the presence of the African population. It took fifty years for the Mexican Constitution to acknowledge the country's rich cultural and ethnic diversity, including Spanish, indigenous, and African roots. Based on their culture, customs, and traditions, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) recognizes Afro-Mexicans or Afro-descendants as people who came from Africa and settled in Mexico during the colonial period.
According to Marco Antonio Reyes Lugardo, a researcher at UNAM's University Program for Asian and African Studies (PUEAA), the exchange between America and Africa has a long history, spanning 500 years and encompassing elements of music, cuisine, and language. A significant moment for Afro-descendant recognition in Mexico was the Durban Conference in South Africa in the early 21st century, against discrimination and racism. But before that, native people and communities in states like Guerrero and Oaxaca did a lot to show that they were descended from Africans.
In 2019, the Mexican Congress added a provision to the second constitutional article, recognizing the existence of Afro-Mexicans as part of the nation's pluricultural identity. INEGI's 2020 census showed that 2% of the country's population, or two out of every 100 people, identify as Afro-descendants, with over 50% concentrated in six states: Guerrero, the State of Mexico, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Jalisco.
According to Reyes Lugardo, "mestizaje" was once the pride of Mexico, but the struggle for Afro-descendant liberation and recognition has been ongoing for a long time. Racism is built into the way the Mexican economy works. It shows up as "pigmentocracy," where a person's skin color determines where they stand in the social pyramid of Latin America.
Ana Hurtado Pliego, a graduate of the UNAM Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, comes from a family with a migratory tradition. Through her studies of Afro-American studies, she discovered her connection to the Afro-descendant community. To fight against stigmas and stereotypes, she has trouble finding, naming, and making Afro-descendants visible.
Hurtado Pliego, also the coordinator of the National Network of Afro-Mexican Youth, notes that Mexico may be a multicultural country in discourse, but inequality is still evident. She wants to fight for Afro-Mexican identity to be recognized and for children to have safer places to play so that racism doesn't keep happening.
In conclusion, despite the recognition of Afro-Mexicans as part of the nation's pluricultural identity, there is still a long way to go in terms of combating racism and promoting equal representation. On January 24, we should remember this ongoing fight by celebrating World Day for African Culture and People of African Descent.