With a history of discrimination, poverty, and neglect from the government, Afro-Mexicans have disproportionately faced hardships. Despite the government’s refusal to recognize them as their own ethnic group, Afro-Mexicans continue to fight for their own culture and customs. Some have pushed for formal recognition in Mexico’s Constitution. Others have hosted forums like Mujeres Afromexicanas de la Costa Chica: Retos y avances por el reconocimiento de sus derechos. For a group of women in Oaxaca, dance has allowed them to reclaim their roots.
The Obatala, made up of young Afro-Mexican women, are doing the same dances their ancestors performed – all of which they learned on YouTube. “All the dances are from Africa’s northwest region,” Anai Herrera, one of the group’s leader, told AJ+. “We chose this area because after researching on the internet, we realized that’s where the slaves that came to our town came from. Our dance troupe did the research and we learned those dances. We keep dancing because we want people to know our culture.”
Traveling through Oaxaca, they’re also spreading awareness about Mexico’s Afro-descendant population. At times, Mexicans have confused the dancers for Central Americans. A 2015 census identified 1.5 million Afro-Mexicans for the first time – an important step toward acknowledging all races and ethnicities that make up Mexico. Since the 1910 Mexican Revolution, mestizaje – a term that recognizes mixed racial ancestry of the New World after colonization – has defined the country’s identity. Mexico’s African presence has been considerable from the start of colonization, though often excluded from classic views of mestizaje, which focus on indigenous and European ancestries.
“I’d love recognition for black people,” Herrera added. “We want equal rights and we want to be proud of being black, and be able to share that pride. That’s how things should be for all uf to be happy.”
Check out how they spread joy and pride below: