Colonial Mexico had the highest numbers of African slaves. Of the over one million casualties during the Mexican war of independence, most of them were Afro-Mexicans. Mexico’s commitment to harbor Black fugitive slaves triggered the Mexican-American war; she lost nearly 50 percent of her territory. After the war, Mexico undeterred, included in her constitution and continued her commitment to harbor fugitive slaves.
Not long ago, Mexican-American TV host and comedian George Lopez was handed his DNA ancestry results by Mariah Carey – after the question was posed as to whether he would fall under the proverbial one-drop (African) racial classifi cation. Lopez’s results showed a 4 percent African blood.
“Texican” actress Eva Longoria’s 3 percent African ancestry surfaced in DNA taken by PBS series Faces of America (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.). And National Geographic’s Genographic Mexican-American reference population attributes a 4 percent African contribution to the “La Raza” pool. The “Mestizo” – the proverbial “La Raza” Mexicano – customarily extols his Indian roots, and laments and or praises his Spanish roots – but rarely is the African part acknowledged.
The period of African slavery in Mexico began following devastation brought about by the inherent diseases of the Europeans, which infected and almost completely wiped out indigenous Mexicans. Having no natural immunity against smallpox, measles, typhoid, venereal diseases and other infectious maladies, natives were victims of ferocious epidemics in 1520, 1548, 1576-1579, and 1595-1596.
It is estimated that when Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519, the indigenous population was about 27.6 million inhabitants. By 1605 only 1.7 million indigenous people had survived, a population decrease mulattoes; 15,000 Spaniards, and 80,000 Indians. Gemelli Careri, in his 1698 visit, concluded, “Mexico City contains about 100,00 inhabitants, but the greatest part of them are Blacks and Mulattoes by reason of the vast number of slaves that has been cessation of the slave trade the enslaved population steadily declined. However, the numbers of free Blacks grew and by 1810 comprised 10 percent of the population or roughly 624,000 people.
The African population had a 3 male to 1 female ratio and since children born from Indigenous mothers carried their “free” status, African men married Native women to ensure that their descendants would be born free. According to the Mexican caste system imposed by Spain, the Indigenous population was considered citizens and could not be made slaves. At the bottom of the caste system were the Black slaves. Escaped slaves resorted to establishing settlements or palenques in Mexico’s inaccessible mountains to preserve their freedom.
In 1591 Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco reported the existence of a group of cimarrones (Maroons) who had resided for the previous 30 years on a mountain called Coyula who “live as if they were actually in Guinea.” He referred to the famous case of Yanga, the Muslim maroon leader, who after fi ghting 30 years against the Spanish crown signed a peace accord and founded San Lorenzo de Los Negros, establishing the fi rst “freedom enclave” in Mexico.
Mule driving, one of the lowest and frowned upon occupations, was almost completely carried out by Blacks and Afro-Indians. Mule drivers were plentiful in Mexico, thanks in part to the lack of roads for carts and carriages. Although considered unpleasant rowdies by the rich, Muleteers were welcomed in rural villages for bringing the latest news, songs and the hottest jokes about authority fi gures; moreover, mule trains traditionally carried contraband. From this occupation came many a fi ghter for Mexico in the war with Spain, including Vicente Guerrero, the Afro-Indian who became the second President of Mexico. Guerrero was a descendant of enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during colonial times. He was raised in the mountain town of Tixtla and spoke many indigenous languages.
It is estimated that by the end of the Spanish domination, the Mestizo population was 40 percent, which included a large number of Afro-Mestizos.
Who is the Mestizo?
One scholar declared the Mestizos were the “revolutionary class.” McLaughlin and Rodriguez in “Forging of the Cosmic Race” identifi ed the mestizo as the “arch-typical Mexican.” These statements, however, really fail to defi ne the Mestizo. The word Mestizo is applied to mixed races, people who are darker than White.
During the war of independence 1810- 1821, about 30 to 40 percent of mixed race Mexicans had African in their mix and were more likely to be militant. The Afro-Mestizo was placed between a rock and a hard place—and his inclination toward militancy came from the racist laws limiting jobs, places of residence, and marriage that set Blacks apart. Moreover, slavery was reserved for Africans only, be they mixed or pure. Census data reveal that “from Southern Talisco to Southern Michoacán and through the sugar plantations near Cuautla in Morelos 37% of the population was Afro-Mexican in 1810. The Huasteca uphill region behind the port of Tampico, census data shows the Tampico coast as much as 78 percent Afro Mexican, and in the highlands only 17 percent, the other 83 percent was comprised of Huasteca Indians. West of the Cuautla Valley, 50 percent of the population was Afro Mexican” and it was there that the longest battle of the independence war was fought.
Emiliano Zapata, the Afro-Indian revolutionary hails from the Cuautla Valley. Rarely seen or acknowledged today, the current estimated Afro-Mexican population in Mexico is 450,000.
Another indication of the importance of the Afro-Mexican during the war of independence is the decree abolishing slavery by priest Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico’s Founding Father, as enticement to attract Afro-Mexicans to the fighting ranks. Likewise, the vital importance of the Afro-Mexican soldier was evident in an incident that took place when Blacks were disgruntled because Jose Maria Morelos, a mestizo himself and Founding Father of Mexico, refused to recognize General Rayon’s appointment on their behalf. “Disappointed and despondent, they retired to El Veladero and made plans to incite the Negroes in Morelos’s army to slaughter the Whites. When Morelos heard about this activity, he struck hard and fast. Taking a small escort with him, he rushed southward to ‘remove the cancer,’ crushed the revolt before it could be launched, and caught and shot the leaders.”
The Afro-Mestizo was predominant in Morelos’ independence army, which was another reason for targeting, otherwise Morelos would not have viewed this threat as a cancer.
The Mexican war of independence claimed as many as one million lives, many of them Afro-Mexicans. The tragic massacre that took place during Mexico’s war of independence is vividly recounted by one scholar: “The Creole officers, faithful to their gachipin (Spaniard) generals, were willing to massacre the insurgents, and the mestizos and mulattos who formed the rank and file of the army were blindly obedient … when they met the Spaniards in battle, some of them tried to put the Spanish cannon out of action by throwing sombreros over their mouths.”
Where is the Afro-Mexican? Hundreds of thousands died in the war of independence fertilizing Mexican soil, the rest has been absorbed in the genetic pool of the Mexican mestizo.
By 1827 hardly any “Negro” slaves were left in Mexico. The whole slavery issue would have been history were it not for the fact that Texas, in the Northern part of Mexico, was being encroached upon by slave holding Anglos who brought slaves with them to settle unoccupied areas of Texas.
Mexico’s effort to end slavery throughout her territory met with opposition and by the fall of 1825 almost one out of five persons in Texas was a “Negro” slave.
Emiliano Zapata appears in this undated photo. Zapata is widely renowned as the voice of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 because peasants were angry with the government for stealing their land. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
Since Mexico was hospitable to any fugitive slave, and hundreds had fled to Mexican territories, the U.S. proposed a Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between Mexico and the United States to stop the trend. Both parties signed the treaty on July 10, 1826 – however it had to be ratified by the Mexican Congress and was met with staunch opposition. The Committee of Foreign Relations of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, had a major problem with Article 33 of the proposed treaty, which dealt with fugitive slaves. The Committee ultimately recommended its rejection.
After the Mexican American War wherein Mexico lost nearly 50 percent of its territory, fugitive slaves still crossed the border seeking refuge from the merciless oppression of their masters. Mexico once more reaffirmed her protection of fugitive slaves recommitting in the Constitution of 1857 to freedom for all fugitive slaves who set foot on Mexican soil.
Mexico also constitutionally banned any intentional extradition treaty-covering individuals who had been slaves.
When in 1857 James Frisby, a “Negro” seaman jumped ship in Veracruz and claimed to have been a slave in New Orleans “whose master had signed him on board the Metacomet as crew;” the port captain refused to turn him over. U.S. Representative in Mexico John Forsyth resorted to arm-twisting Mexico even to the point of declaring that Mexico extended a privilege to the seaman because of the “ebony color of his skin.” Forsyth berated Mexico for letting a Black get away with what those of “pure white blood … the master blood of the earth … blood which has conquered and civilized and Christianized the world.” Forsyth in his rage declared, “If Mexico is so deeply imbued with the mania of negrophilism [love of “Negroes”] … imprisoning our White Citizens and making free our Slaves, as fast as they put foot on Mexican soil, cannot long endure consistently with peace and harmony between the two countries.” Forsyth failed to intimidate Mexico, and she remained adamant in her defense and protection of fugitive Black slaves.
Despite all threats and the loss of 50 percent of its territory, Mexicans continued to extend a helping hand to escaping Black slaves from the United States, the imperialist power to the North.
Continuing that tradition, this new millennium shall witness the Unity and Oneness of Blacks and Mexicans in order to strengthen our common goal towards freedom, justice and equality under the Creator of the heavens and the earth, our true and common origin.