Afromestizos is the name for the descendants of African slaves brought to Mexico.
When the Spanish first arrived in Mesoamerica, they brought African slaves with them. After infectious diseases brought by the Spaniards and the Africans decimated the native population, slaves from Africa became the main labor force in Mesoamerica. Although their existence is not commonly known, the descendants of these African slaves, the Afromestizos, still live in the coastal Mexican states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Veracruz (Vaughn, 2004). African slaves acted as partners with their Iberian masters in the conquest of New Spain, but they did not share in the spoils of victory with the Europeans because of their slave status (Carroll, 2001). African presence in the New World was strictly for labor. The decline of the Indian population caused the Spanish to import large numbers of slaves from Ghana, the Senegal, Nigeria, the Congo, and Angola. Africans soon outnumbered Europeans, and the Spanish implemented many tactics to ensure that they remained the dominant racial group in Mesoamerica.
During the colonial period in Veracruz, Spaniards placed restrictions on contact between African and Indians to discourage the formation of alliances (Carroll, 2001). Intermarriage between the races was heavily discouraged by the Catholic clergy. Blacks also encountered resistance from the indigenous people who did not want their communities to be permeated by those they considered outsiders. This opposition from both Europeans and Indians made it very difficult for Africans to achieve social recognition during the colonial period.
To escape the oppressiveness of slavery, some Africans escaped to the mountains and formed their own settlements. These settlements, called palenques, were comprised of mostly African males. The men in these settlements would periodically raid Indian villages and plantations for women and bring them back to their settlements (Carroll, 2001). One of these palenques is Cuajinicuilapa in the state of Guerrero, home to a small enclave of Black Mexicans whose ancestors were slaves who escaped from the sugar and coffee plantations along the coast and settled into the mountainous regions of Guerrero (Hamilton, 2002). Today the black residents of this town have a museum that displays the history and culture of their ancestors. They honor their African heritage through traditional dance and music.
Many Afromestizos make their homes along the Costa Chica, a 200-mile long coastal region beginning just southeast of United States, have chosen to assimilate completely into Mexican society. There is also outside pressure from other Mexicans that cause them to assimilate. Because their existence is not widely known throughout Mexico and the rest of the world, they are often assumed to be illegal immigrants from elsewhere in Latin America (Sailer, 2002). There have been many accounts of Afromestizos being pulled over by the police and being forced to sing the Mexican national anthem to prove they are Mexican (Graves, 2004). This discrimination causes many Black Mexicans, if they are able, to conceal their African lineage.
Despite being faced with discrimination and poverty, there are some Afromestizos who openly embrace their African heritage and want it to be recognized. In Coyolillo, located in Veracruz, the Afromestizos celebrate Carnival, which has its roots in African culture. In the village of El Ciruelo, there is a small group of Blacks who have formed the small group Mexico Negro, and they are fighting to have a racial breakdown added to the census before the 2010 count (Graves, 2004). More than 200,000 Africans were brought to Mexico during the time of Spanish imperialism (Sailer, 2002). Although it is not common knowledge, and they make up less than one percent of the population, the descendants of these slaves do exist and still live in Mexico today.
- Carroll, P.J. (2001). Blacks in Colonial Veracruz. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Graves, Rachel. (2004, July 3). Ignored by society, black Mexicans deny their history. Houston Chronicle.
- Hamilton, K. (2002, May). The Afro-Mestizo connection: Scholars team up to study Southern *Mexico’s African roots. Black Issues in Higher Education, 19, pp. 44.
- Howells, C.H. (2004). Todos somos primos. Callaloo, 27, 11-14.
- Sailer, S. (2002, May), Analysis: Mexico’s missing Blacks- Part 3. United Press International.
- Vaughn, B. (2004), Black Mexico. (Available:  (http://www.afromexico.com/brief.htm))