The myth of the Latin American racial democracy, scholars believe, began in Brazil following the abolishment of slavery in 1888, when government officials declared that high rates of racial mixing had officially absolved the nation of its racial problems. This thinking eventually transcended Brazil and spread to a host of other Latin America countries, including Mexico.
But Mexico had its own nuanced understanding of the Latin American racial democracy – one called mestizaje, that was created by government officials, intellectuals, and artists following the 1910 Mexican Revolution: the erroneous belief that Mexico’s ethnic and racial mixture was solely composed of indigenous and European ancestry. This was also a time period when Mexico’s citizenry began to believe that “Mexicanness” and blackness were mutually exclusive and could not co-exist. Mestizaje, however, did not only exclude blackness from its national patrimony, but also left out a host of other racial identities from Mexico’s conversation about race.
Today, the effects of these racial systems continue to disproportionately impact the descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to Mexico between the 16th and 18th centuries. Afro-Mexicans, in states like Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, not only continue to experience structural, economic and political neglect, but also exist in a country where they are not formally recognized as a distinct ethnic and racial group. (To that end, Mexico and Chile are the only two countries in Latin America that do no formally recognize their Afro-descendants). While Afro-Mexicans continue to receive an increase in international recognition, domestically their treatment still serves as a vivid reminder of the clear racial disparities that this population faces.
Recently, members of Mexico Negro – an Afro-Mexican advocacy organization – launched a national movement to officially recognize Mexico’s Afro-descendants on the national census. The proposed bill would create a census category for Afro-Mexicans, which would help ensure that Mexico’s African descendants receive important access to social and economic resources. “We are joining senators and deputies to be recognized in the Federal Constitution and the missing federal states, so that the Mexican state pays off its historical debt with Afro-Mexicans,” explained, Sergio Peńaloza Perez, the leader of Black-Mexico. The bill also plans to be launched later this month in Oaxaca, Mexico at the 16th annual meeting of Black peoples taking place on November 13-14th.
While this bill potentially signifies a change in the political treatment of Afro-Mexicans, it represents only one step in the fight to eradicate the Mexican state’s racist treatment of its Afro-descendants. Still, the acknowledgement of Afro-Mexicans on the national census could potentially represent the beginning of long overdue movement for political, economic, and racial equity for a group who continues to gain international recognition, but, who by not being officially recognized, continues to live in an “invisible” state in its own country.