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The black people erased from history

Children at school

More than a million people in Mexico are descended from African slaves and identify as “black”, “dark” or “Afro-Mexican” even if they don’t look black. But beyond the southern state of Oaxaca they are little-known and the community’s leaders are now warning of possible radical steps to achieve official recognition.

“The police made me sing the national anthem three times, because they wouldn’t believe I was Mexican,” says Chogo el Bandeno, a black Mexican singer-songwriter.

“I had to list the governors of five states too.”

He was visiting the capital, Mexico City, hundreds of miles from his home in southern Mexico, when the police stopped him on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.

Fortunately his rendition of the anthem and his knowledge of political leaders convinced the police to leave him alone, but other Afro-Mexicans have not been so fortunate.

Image caption

Chogo el Bandeno (right) with visiting Malian musician Lassana Diabate

Clemente Jesus Lopez, who runs the government office in charge of Afro-Mexicans in Oaxaca state, recalls two separate cases, both involving women.

“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.”

With the help of the Mexican consulates they were able to return but were offered no apology or compensation, Lopez says.

Black Mexicans have been living in the Costa Chica area, on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, since their ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves in the 16th Century.

Colonial Spanish cattle ranchers often used them as foremen, in charge of indigenous Mexican workers who were not used to animals the size of cows or horses.

Image caption

Black cowboy, Antonio Prudente Lopez, says about 10% of Santiago Llano Grande share his profession

But outside the Costa Chica area there is little awareness of their existence.

An interim census in 2015 indicated a black population of 1.4 million, or 1.2% of the Mexican population. Even in Oaxaca state they only account for 5% of the total.

This article, The black people erased from history, first appeared on IGV News Online.