By Guest Contributor Lamont Lilly
Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas is the Interim Chair of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at North Carolina Central University, where his interests lie in Transatlantic and Diaspora Studies. He is the author of five books, including The Africanization of Mexico from the Sixteenth Century Onward (2010) and Africa in Mexico: A Repudiated Heritage (2007). He is the founder and director of the Mexican Institute of Africana Studies. Read along as we discuss: Colonialism, Gaspar Yanga, Ivan Van Sertima and Mexico’s Little Black Sambo.
Lamont Lilly: Dr. Cuevas, as only the second individual I know to describe themselves as Afro-Mexican can you share some insight on the cultural connections that exist within such a powerful ethic mix? And why have figures such as Gaspar Yanga and Emiliano Zapata been omitted from history’s reference of heralded freedom fighters?
Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas: Well, the reason you haven’t heard many refer to themselves as Afro-Mexican is because this is a relatively new term that was first coined by Eurocentric scholars like Melville Herskovits. It was Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán who coined it in 1945 in Mexico City, during the foundational meeting of the Institute for African American Studies. However, that doesn’t mean that a color consciousness didn’t exist in Mexico. Prior to that, we had a host of names such as “Casta,” “Chilango,” “Jarocho,” and “Boshito,” all terms that refer to the lack of blood cleanliness of non-white persons. That would explain why many people in Mexico do not identify themselves as Afro-Mexican. They refer to themselves as Casta, or any of the other names previously mentioned. Recently however, there’s been a movement in the South Pacific side of Mexico whereby Afro-Mexicans do not want to be called Afro-Mexican. They just want to be called Nĕgro — Black. It erases the science and intellectuality of such embedded complexities.