mexico’s black history is little-known

May 6, 2008 at 3:16 am (anti-racism, mexico)

Mexico’s black history is little-known

‘Mixed race’ tends to refer to indigenous and European roots, but the influence of Africa is also strong there.
By John L. Mitchell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 13, 2008
In Mexico, the story of the country’s black population has been largely ignored in favor of an ideology that declares that all Mexicans are “mixed race.” But it’s the mixture of indigenous and European heritage that most Mexicans embrace; the African legacy is overlooked.

“They are saying we are all the same and therefore there is no reason to distinguish yourself,” said Padre Glyn Jemmott, a Roman Catholic priest from Trinidad and Tobago who has had a parish of a dozen Costa Chican pueblos since 1984.

“What they are not saying is that in ordinary life in Mexico, lighter-skinned Mexicans are accepted and have first place,” he said.

Jemmott, a co-founder of Mexico Negro, an organization that seeks to promote cultural pride and political strength in the coastal pueblos, said many Costa Chicans often don’t fully understand what it means to be black in Mexico until they leave their region.

Some tell stories of being confronted in other parts of the country by police who refuse to believe they’re Mexican and sometimes accuse them of being there illegally.

“One couple was asked to prove their citizenship by singing the Mexican national anthem,” Jemmott said.

In Cuajinicuilapa, in the state of Guerrero, there’s a small museum dedicated to telling the story of the black presence in Mexico.

But Costa Chicans often say they learned little in school about how blacks came to live on the coast, little about the history of slavery — only myths passed down over generations.

“We were told that a Spanish slave ship ran aground off the coast and the survivors escaped to and hid in the mountains, and the blacks today are the descendants of those escaped slaves,” said Nino Robles, who was born in Cuajinicuilapa and now lives in Santa Ana with his wife and four daughters.

They were not taught the details of their history: that Spanish slavers took Africans to colonial Mexico (New Spain) in the 16th century, long before the first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Va.; that during the colonial period there were more Africans than Europeans in Mexico.

The Costa Chicans were also not taught that some of the blacks were not slaves; that blacks lived throughout what is now Mexico, working in mining, sugar plantations and fishing.

In some instances black Mexicans were explorers and co-founders of settlements, including Los Angeles.

Jose Maria Morelos, one of Mexico’s leaders for independence, was a mulatto, as was Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s second president, who abolished slavery in 1822.

Earlier this year, the California African American Museum in Exposition Park opened a major traveling exhibition, “The African Presence in Mexico,” detailing the contribution of Africans to Mexican history and culture.

“Some people see the exhibit and discover they are African descendants,” said Sagrario Cruz Carretero, one of the exhibition’s curators from the University of Veracruz.

“One man came up to me and told me, ‘Now I know I am part African.’ He showed me a picture of his grandmother and said, ‘Until I was a teenager, I believed she had an accident [and] that is why she was dark.’ “

Permalink Leave a Comment

happy earth day

April 22, 2008 at 9:29 pm (anti-oppression, mexico)

So Happy Earth Day folks! It is rainy here in Washington, DC. The Pennsylvania primaries are happening. And now…a little inspiration to continue envisioning and enacting global justice….

interview with majora carter here

and cynthia mckinney below:

Cynthia McKinney
> Earth Day Celebration
> California State University, Northridge
> April 15, 2008
> I would like to thank the students at Cal State University,
> Northridge for inviting me to speak on campus today. I have just
> returned from an exciting trip to Mexico City and I’d like to share
> some of my observations with you this afternoon.
> First of all, it is important to note and ask the question why is it
> that the corporate press are not even touching the events playing
> out right now in the capital city of our neighbor to the south and
> their importance to us? Had I not actually been there myself, I
> would be hard pressed to convince any audience that events of this
> magnitude were actually taking place anywhere in the world, let
> alone in a country as important and close to us as Mexico.
> A quick review of today’s press shows us that we are currently being
> titillated by news of sex tapes featuring Marilyn Monroe and another
> such tape featuring an unnamed British Royal. The top of the news
> hour greets us with information of an intemperate statement made by
> a former television executive about a current Presidential
> candidate; video is plentiful of the contorted Presidential
> theatrics around the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Beijing. We
> were treated today to the visual of the Pope descending from the
> Alitalia jet. But, while we have more television stations that feed
> us 24-hour news, we are less informed. We have more and more
> political pundits feeding us, what Fred Hampton described as
> “explanations that don’t explain, answers that don’t answer, and
> conclusions that don’t conclude.”
> CNN even tells us in a feature story who suffers as a result of a
> choice made by our policy makers to emphasize ethanol as a preferred
> method of weaning a hulking, overfed economy off its petroleum-based
> consumption habit. But they forgot the other half of that equation:
> who’s winning? And it’s the “who’s winning” part that is just about
> always the key piece of information, that could guide us, especially
> when the choices of our elected leadership diverge from the core
> values of the voters who elected them.
> And yet, as we speak, the Mexican Senate Chamber has been occupied.
> The massive rally held today has probably just ended, and some of
> the opposition Members of the Mexican Congress are inside the
> building on the dais and have announced a hunger strike. Days ago,
> one of the leading papers in Mexico City had a photo of the Chamber
> of Deputies of the Mexican Congress with an unfurled banner covering
> the Speaker’s Rostrum, proclaiming the Chamber “Closed.” The banner
> was hung by elected Members of the Mexican Congress who constitute
> the Frente Amplio Progresista that has dared to draw a line in the
> sand against U.S.-inspired legislation just introduced to allow
> foreign corporate ownership of PEMEX, Mexico’s state-owned oil
> company.
> Mexican women are energized around the idea of nation. The idea of
> patria. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on the “Idea of Nation.” And to
> see the women, in their t-shirts and kerchiefs, so committed to
> their country, their nation, their identity. To them, that’s
> Mexico’s oil, natural gas, electricity, land, and water and it ought
> to be used by the Mexican people first and foremost for their own
> national development. But sadly, it’s the public policy emanating
> from Washington, D.C. that threatens that.
> But to tell that story accurately, would also require that the U.S.
> corporate press expose why this citizen outrage exists in the first
> place. And to tell that story, they would have to expose the fact
> of a stolen Presidential election, where a private U.S., Georgia,
> corporation, possibly played a role in stripping citizens of their
> right to vote and have their votes counted. Well, while that might
> sound like what happened in the United States, centering in Florida,
> in the U.S. 2000 Presidential election, I’m really talking about the
> 2006 Mexican Presidential election in which the popular candidate
> didn’t win because all the votes weren’t counted.
> According to Greg Palast, the U.S. corporation involved in the
> Mexican move was none other than that now infamous Georgia-based
> company: Choicepoint. We know that in Florida, Choicepoint, then
> doing business as DataBase Technologies, constructed an illegal
> convicted felons list of some 94,000 names, many of whom were
> neither convicted nor felons. But if your name appeared on that
> list, you were stopped from voting. Greg Palast tells us that for
> most of the names on that list, their only crime was “Voting While
> Black.”
> Under a special “counter-terrorism” contract, the U.S. FBI obtained
> Mexican and Venezuelan voter files. Palast learned later in his
> investigation that the U.S. government had obtained, through
> Choicepont, voter files of all the countries that have progressive
> Presidents. Many Mexicans went to the polls to vote for their
> President, only to find that their names had been scrubbed from the
> voter list, and they were not allowed to vote. So now, not only in
> the United States, but in Mexico, too, one can show up to vote and
> not be sure that that vote was counted, or worse, one can show up
> duly registered to vote, and not even be allowed to vote.
> I guess this is the way we allow our country to now export democracy.
> Unlike in the United States in 2000, Mexico City was shut down for 5
> months when Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s Al Gore, refused to concede and
> instead, formed a shadow government.
> The issue in the 2006 Mexican election was privatization of Mexico’s
> oil; it is the riveting issue taking place in Mexican politics
> today. Teachers on strike at the same time as the Presidential
> elections in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico, began
> their political movement as a call for increased teacher salaries
> and against privatization of schools. Due to heavy-handed tactics
> used by the government against the teachers, tens of thousands of
> citizens joined them and took over the central city area of that
> state. Today, after Mexico has added teachers and those who support
> teachers to its growing ranks of “political prisoners,” teachers are
> still protesting their conditions, the reprisals taken against them
> for striking, and now, the teachers’ union is a committed part of
> the national mobilization against privatization of PEMEX.
> I was invited to participate in the Second Continental Workers
> Conference. The first meeting was held in La Paz, Bolivia. And so,
> people from all over Mexico and eight different countries told of
> their struggles, their hopes, their ideals, their values, their
> patriotism, their desire for peace-no more war.
> Representatives from Chiapas, another one of Mexico’s poorest
> states, told us of the indigenous struggle for land and self-
> determination, the low-intensity warfare waged against them, and how
> now they, too, count themselves a part of the national mobilization
> against PEMEX privatization.
> While I was there, mine workers had taken over the mines, and so,
> could only send a handful of inspiring representatives. They are
> pressing for the right to unionize, denied to them by the
> Government. And the mine workers are a part of the solid front
> forming in Mexico to protect this powerful idea of nation.
> I participated in one of the many rallies organized by opponents of
> the government’s plan to offer up Mexico’s patrimony to the
> insatiable multiple U.S. addictions. One woman removed her
> brigadista t-shirt and gave it to me-proud that a citizen of the
> United States came to stand with them.
> Today’s front page of La Jornada says that the women, who marched
> 10,000 strong on the day that I was there, have renewed their
> protests and civil disobedience. The threat of violence and
> bloodshed is very real.
> Now, why should this massive social, political, and economic
> upheaval in Mexico, aside from its human rights implications, be
> important to us up here in the United States?
> Because the sad truth of the matter is that, in many respects, it is
> our military and economic policies that are causing it. Of course,
> I recognize that all the way back to the practice of Manifest
> Destiny and the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. policy
> decisions have at times sent shock waves to places outside our
> borders. You could say that the modern version of that is NAFTA.
> In 1993, the Democratic majority in the United States Congress
> supported then-President Bill Clinton’s push for passage of the
> North American Free Trade Agreement. The stated purpose of the
> legislation was to remove barriers to trade and investment that
> existed in North America. The propaganda had it that the objective
> was to lift all boats, in Canada, the United States, and Mexico
> through trade and investment. The result is the stripping away and
> transfer of Mexico’s patrimony in terms of their natural and human
> resources. And the Mexican people are taking a stand against it.
> They are taking the same stand that the little people in Haiti,
> Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Argentina
> have taken. With the power of the vote, the people of these
> countries dared to believe that they could peacefully defeat the
> colossus to the north. And they did.
> And so, in a way, now, I guess I understand why the corporate press
> can’t tell you and me the truth about the valiant stand for dignity
> that’s going on in Mexico, because to truly cover the story, they’d
> have to uncover and point out some inconvenient truths.
> One of those inconvenient truths particularly meaningful to me:
> There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
> We, the little–and yet so powerful–people in this country have
> been way too silent for way too long on all the issues that mean so
> much.
> Dr. King also said that our lives begin to end the day we become
> silent about the things that matter.
> On one of my early days in Congress, I was late for a vote. I
> looked up on the board and only saw green votes; I presumed that the
> vote was a non-controversial item on the calendar. Since I was
> among the last to vote, there was no time to inquire. I pressed my
> green button. Afterwards, I learned that the vote might have been
> what others would have called an “easy” yes vote, but for my
> conscience it was a no vote. Later that night, my heart sank as I
> watched the news. One man of 78 years was so angered by that vote
> that he threw stones. Only thing, he had a heart attack throwing
> stones, and died.
> My heart sank. I felt personally responsible for that man’s death
> and vowed that I would never cast what they call easy votes, again.
> My one vote would not have changed the outcome of the tally on the
> resolution. But my one vote would have been true to my values and
> my ideals that everyone is entitled to human rights that are to be
> respected.
> I got into trouble often after that, because I recognized my
> responsibility to read the legislation, think analytically, question
> critically, and vote independently.
> That was while I was in Congress. But now that I’m not, does that
> mean that the responsibility is gone? No.
> I happened to vote against NAFTA, and I’m glad for that. But
> imagine if the all the voters in the entire United States understood
> that something as simple as a vote in a federal election might
> determine who lives and who dies in another country. Imagine, if we
> in the United States were as certain of the possibility of peaceful
> change through the vote as were the people of Haiti, Mexico-despite
> having their election stolen from them, Venezuela, and the rest.
> Then we would vote Members of Congress out of office who support
> Plan Colombia. We would vote Members of Congress out of office who
> support Plan Mexico-which like its Colombian counterpart, is the
> military answer to the cry of the people for dignity, self-
> determination, and that idea of patria. We would not vote for any
> political party that did not have as its agenda extending the same
> respect and love of life to all others as we reserve for ourselves.
> And so I come to the additional meaning of Earth Day, today. I met
> people in Mexico City who are willing to die in this struggle-But
> they shouldn’t have to because the United States wants their oil.
> Let us express our respect for the planet that sustains us by first
> showing love to our brothers and sisters beside us. We voters in
> the United States do have as much power as the voters in all those
> other countries. All we have to do is believe in ourselves and use
> it.
> Finally, I’d like to recognize the role of student activists in
> promoting change. Of course, it was high school students who faced
> the water hoses and the dogs in the civil rights movement. It was
> the university students who faced the riot gear and the bullets in
> the anti-war movement. The current anti-globalization, pro-peace
> rallies are all organized and led by young people. Keep it up and
> don’t ever give in.

Permalink Leave a Comment

back in the states

April 11, 2008 at 2:51 am (chiapas, mexico)

so we have been back in the states for almost a week.  we had a crazy journey home.  we were basically stuck in an airport for three days.  with aza.  she was incredible for those days.  very patient with us…

i have been in a slight culture shock for the past few days back in the states.  i keep translating american dollars into mexican pesos and so everything seems so expensive.  but i am loving being reimmersed in us pop culture.

on the other hand i can barely remember san cristobal chiapas right now.  it seems like it was a different world in a time far far away.  i remember how beautiful the gardens were during the day with huge green leaves framing the sky blue.  i remember us sitting on the bed laughing.  i remember walking with aza through the crooked silly streets and being asked who the father was.  i remember aza chasing after the kitty while kitty was breastfeeding and aza trying to pull the kitty off her mamas teet.  i remember nights out with empty beer bottles on the table after a couple of hours.  i remember sitting on the ground at the encuentro with aza in the rebozo-all of my clothes dusty including my hair-rocking back and faorth waiting for the evening to come.  i remember waking up with flowers and coffee and bread and butter laying on the bed.

and now i am back here. the states.  a funny homeland.  what does it mean that ones homeland is the empire?  how do you call that home?  and yet accept all of the truth of one’s land.  this is the question that come to mind time and time again as i was in mexico.  this westerness/ us citizenship is a contested privilege to carry into the world.

most of us in the states dont realize just how privileged we are as being us citizens.  and honestly the privilege is not what we think it is going to be.  we really grew up with the idea of being a us citizen as being that we are a member of the greatest country in the world.  us nationalism is drilled into us in a way that is not common in other western countries.  i grew up hearing or saying the pledge of allegiance every school day.  i still feel my chest rise when i hear the star spangled banner.

but deeper we have been indoctrinated that our country has the best resources.  the best healthcare.  the best schools.  the healthiest food.  the most access.  and it is so far from true. we are not number one.  or number two.  more like number 76.  more like number 123.

but the privilege that we have is not necessarily from having the best resources directed to our citizens…
it is because we own the world.

and everytime i travel i am amazed at what we as us citizens have sacrificed in order to own the world.  and as we interact with other cultures we are better able to see all levels of quality of life of love of community in order to have an empire.

just look at our military budget.  and then look at our minimum wage.

so that is what partially this re-entry culture shock is about.  the way so often that us citizens think that every country that isnt us (or at least isnt first world) has to be worse living conditions than the us.  and yes in some ways yes.  i do not want to downplay what we have stolen from other countries in order to increase our empire.  and how we are responsible for the lack of resources in other countries.  but  also look at what our empire-building has stolen from us citizens as well.  we arent number one.  no where near it.  we just have the empire.  and the mouthpiece.  and the borrowed cash from china (?).

Permalink Leave a Comment

some san cristobal photos

March 31, 2008 at 4:51 am (chiapas, mexico)


Permalink Leave a Comment

permiteme que te ignore

February 12, 2008 at 10:27 pm (anti-racism, mexico, Uncategorized)

Last week I went to the ritzy coffee shop near the center of san cristobal and hung out for two days drinking coffee and using the wifi. The third day my partner and babe were with me. he ordered coffee and she smiled at him and the babe in his rebozo (babywrap). Which was a little surprising because she had been short with me before they had arrived, but I figured who can resist such a cute baby? When she came back with the coffee she asked him: is that her baby? Pointing to me. He answers : this is our baby. A couple of raised eyebrows staring at her backside as she walks away.

When she comes back she asks my partner another question about me. I say to her: I can speak. She looks at my partner giggles and says: can she speak?

Okay. It was time to get the check and get the fuck out of there.

This weekend I got a series of boys yelling ‘negra’ out of their cars at me. It was as if I was back in Palestine.

Also this weekend, a friend and I were having juice, when she pointed out that the multigenerational family behind us were staring. I hadn’t even noticed. Guess some things you get used to.

Then today, my partner comes home from the taco restaurant, telling me a delicious story of the woman who works there. She has been unusually friendly to us the past couple of times we have gone. Before she was normally surly, casting hidden evil looks. And today she asked him if the woman he normally comes in with was his wife. To which he answered: yes. And then she said that the mix had turned out well. Our daughter was very light.

And to think my Spanish teacher told me there was no racism in mexico.

Some weeks are just hard.

This week reminds me of being in the west bank. And attempting to explain to a Palestinian friend that racism and colorism wasn’t better in the states but I was more used to the stateside system and manifestations and knew how to respond better.

The first time I came to southern mexico, I met a great us journalist living in Oaxaca and writing about the indigenous resistance. She told me that once she had shown a video to a group of indigenous fishermen of how black (from the Atlantic Coast) Honduran fishermen had resisted some onslaught of economic globalization. All the oaxacan fishermen could focus on was the fact that the fishermen in the video were black. She had to stop the video after a couple of minutes and decided she couldn’t use that video anymore. She says to me: I don’t know how I would do this work if I was black.

On one level, I forget that I look African. Even though I am from the states. Northerners are quick to point out that I have passport privilege (just like them), and that is very true. An American passport and African skin. People treat me like I am a us citizen (after I tell them I am one), but not like I am white. And African skin is not very common here.

I forget that I look African. I am used to being black. I was born in washington dc and have only spent three months on the continent of Africa. Rarely in the States does anyone think I was born in Africa.

Maybe if I started saying that I was from Africa when people ask (which they do…often…I mean that’s just being a foreigner) I would not experience such a shock when they see me as such.

On another level, internalized white supremacy is hard at work here in mexico as it is nearly everywhere in the world. Doesn’t ‘internalized white supremacy’ sound so abstract? So critical cultural worker theoretical? Not to mention the white Mexicans. Like the taco stand lady. She must be so proud of her own clear white skin.

The first day we arrived in san cristobal, I was eating breakfast in a little shop and saw a television commercial for skin whitener cream. I haven’t really seen a television since.

A couple of weeks ago, while we were having drinks with the neighbors, the husband called me ‘negrita’, and the wife pulled him into the kitchen for a little talking to. And then she gifted me a shirt, that I had once complimented her on, it says: permiteme que te ignore. Allow me to ignore you.


Permalink Leave a Comment