African Mexicans


As in the rest of the New World, the majority of Africans who settled in Mexico came as slaves. Mexico was the first mainland nation to receive large numbers of slaves; from 1528 to 1620 perhaps as many as a thousand slaves per year arrived from West Africa in Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast. African slaves were imported mainly because the local Indian populations were not deemed suitable by the Spanish as workers in Spanish enterprises. Thus, Africans were forced to work refining silver and on ranches in northern Mexico; as household workers, on public construction projects, and in textile factories in cities; in sugar fields and refineries near Veracruz, Morelos, and Puebla; and as gold miners on the Pacific coast. Because the Pacific-coast region was relatively lightly populated by Spanish settlers and physically isolated from central Mexico, it became a haven for runaway slaves (called cimarrones), who intermarried with Indians and mestizos there and established communities that grew in size and were eventually, with Spanish consent, incorporated as towns.

Today there are some sixteen African Mexican towns in the Pacific Costa Chica. Although the residents of these communities see themselves as Mexican, rather than as African or Indian, there has been a revival of interest in their African heritage, as indicated by public displays of African-based music, dance, and folklore. Other African Mexican communities are located near Veracruz; the towns of Mata Clara and Coyolillo are the best known. It is estimated that about 3 percent of the Mexican population is of partial African ancestry (Coniff and Davis 1994, 272).


Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo (1972). La población negra de Mexico: Estudio etnohistorico. 2nd ed. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo (1989). Cuijla: Esbozo etnográfico de un puebla negro. Mexico City: Universidad Veracruzana; Instituto Nacional Indigenista; Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz; Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Coniff, Michael, and Thomas J. Davis (1994). Africans in the Americas. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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