Five Afro-Mexicans You Should Know

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African-American history isn’t just a part of the United States. It is also a part of the various countries in the Americas and deeply woven into the culture of various countries—even if this isn’t always recognized. Afro-Mexicans were able to claim a victory on December 2015, when the Mexican Census finally recognized them as part of the population.

Part of the lack of recognition was Mexico’s slave trade history, which has existed since the beginning of colonization. Spaniards would bring mostly male slaves into Mexico, and many of them intermarried with the indigenous population. In some cases, women who were slaves also intermarried with the Spaniards. A strict racial caste system was put into place until Mexican Independence, when the country embraced mestizaje, the idea that the country’s population was mixed. Despite the lack of recognition for many years, Afro-Mexicans have made many contributions to Mexico and beyond. 

1. Vicente Guerrero

Image Source: Radio Calculapan

The first black president in the Americas wasn’t President Barack Obama. Vicente Guerrero was elected to the Mexican presidency in 1829. He was of Afro-Mexican and indigenous heritage and was one of the key military survivors of the war of Independence. After this, he served in the government after Mexico’s independence until he became the country’s second democratically elected president. The Mexican state of Guerrero is named after him, and one of his famous quotes, “Mi patria es primero,” (My country is first) is now the state’s slogan.

2. Gaspar Yanga
Image Source: Wikipedia

Gaspar Yanga was born in 1545, he is said to have been a member of the Royal Family of Gabon. He was sold into slavery in Mexico by the ruling Spanish. He and other ex-slaves escaped and moved to an isolated part of what is now Veracruz in 1570. They remained in Veracruz for over 30 years.

The Colonist Spanish army tried to regain control over the territory, Yanga and his men, underdogs in terms of men, weapons and experience had one upper-hand, knowledge of the terrain. At first Yanga tried for peace, hoping that the Spanish would allow self rule, if they agreed to fight for the Spanish in the event of an attack. The agreement was rebuffed.

The Spanish and Yanga fought to a stalemate for many years, until the Spanish agreed to parley, leaving Yanga to rule over the region.

For an impoverished group of self freed slaves, standing up to the might of the Spanish empire was an extremely noteworth achievement. The town in Veracruz is now named Yanga. Five decades after Mexican independence, Yanga was named a “National Hero Of Mexico”

3. Julia Lopez

Image Source:  Bicentenario Magazine

When people think of Mexico’s muralism movement they remember Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among many others, but Julia López was and is also a part of that artistic movement as well. López was born in Ometepec, Costa Chica, Guerrero in 1936. Her parents were humble farmers and she was one of eight children. She taught herself to do math and read, and began her career by working in hotels and modeling bridal dresses. She met Frida Kahlo in 1952 and slowly became a part of Mexico City’s arts community. López’s first art exhibit was in 1958 and has now been displayed in galleries all over the world. She currently lives and works in Mexico City.

4. Lupita Nyong’o

Image Source: Macey Foronda

Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico City to Kenyan parents who went to Mexico after political unrest in their home country. They moved back to Kenya when Nyong’o was less than a year old. Her parents, however, sent her back to Mexico to learn Spanish when she was 16. She lived in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico at this time. In 2013 Nyong’o won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years As a Slave. She became the first African and Mexican to win this honor.

5. Giovanni Dos Santos

Mexico's Giovani dos Santos celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Netherlands' goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Image Source: Eduardo Verdugo

Giovani Dos Santos was born in Monterrey, Mexico to Brazilian parents. He began his career as a football player while at a young age and was eventually recruited to play for Barcelona’s B team. He has represented Mexico in their national football team in the Under 17, Under 20, and Under 23 team. Dos Santos played as a right winger in the 2010 World Cup on behalf of Mexico, and also competed in 2014. He now has a chance to influence American culture; however, since he currently plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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