Mexico’s Afro-Descendant community has exploded into public consciousness over the last year, with a historic census tallying over one million self-identified Afro-Mexicans. But many from the gulf state of Veracruz have been aware of their own Afro-inflected history for generations, especially if they happen to live in the vicinity of Yanga, the first free African settlement in the Americas.
Yes, you read correctly: the first free African settlement in the Americas wasn’t in Colombia or the Dominican Republic. It was a small town in the foothills of Mexico’s gulf coast, where the importation of slave labor drove the production of sugar cane throughout the colonial period. Thankfully, in case you were unaware of this fascinating historical tidbit, animator David Heredia has dedicated that latest episode of his Heroes of Color web series to the town’s glorious past.
As Heredia informs us in the video’s voiceover, Yanga was named after Gaspar Yanga: a West African prince sold into slavery who lead a community of cimarrones to freedom in the steamy mountains of Veracruz. Far from the centers of Spanish colonial power, they lived off of small-scale agriculture and livestock as their community absorbed a constant influx of new arrivals from plantations across the region. But the community also directly challenged colonial power by carrying out raids on caravans that transported goods from the port of Veracruz to the capital.
Naturally, this earned them the ire of the Spanish crown and in 1609 an army was sent to put down the rebellious former slaves. But Yanga and his followers had other ideas and the community successfully staved off Spanish intervention before brokering a treaty that allowed their community to thrive in peace.
In episode two of Heroes of Color, Heredia breaks down these events in a clear and engaging timeline that he accompanies with attractive animations that dramatize the most emblematic events in Yanga’s history. While the series is currently only two episodes in, we can hopefully expect more exciting historical anecdotes from Heredia and co., animated for our viewing pleasure.
Keep on eye on Heredia Designs’ Vimeo page for upcoming episodes.