Friday, June 21, 2024

Afro-Mexicans: the third root on the Costa Chica

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The African people who arrived on the coasts of Guerrero and Oaxaca, the third root of Mexico, forged ties with indigenous communities in the region and began to walk together in music, in dance and also in poverty and invisibility that lead to cost for four centuries.

In the Costa Chica and Montaña de Guerrero you cannot miss Mar Azul, the most popular musical group from the Afro-descendant coast. This is followed by Los Magallones, Los cumbieros del sur, La luz roja de San Marcos, Fiesta 85, Sabroso y caliente… that make young and old alike dance regardless of the color of their skin or the language they speak.

This is how Afro people coexist with indigenous people in this region that extends from the Costa Grande of Guerrero to the Costa Chica of Oaxaca. Coastal and Chilean cumbias cannot be missing at popular festivals, and even less so at baptisms or birthdays.

To this coastal land of what is now Guerrero and Oaxaca, slave families from Western Sudan, Congo, the Gulf of Guinea and Mozambique arrived, the third root of Mexico. Since their arrival they forged ties with indigenous communities in this region. They began to walk together in music, in dance and also in the poverty that they have been carrying for 400 years.

“We are Afro-Indians, because we share music and food with indigenous peoples. In addition, with them, there is a family exchange, a black man who marries an indigenous woman or vice versa”, says the writer Eduardo Añorve Zapata.

While walking through the streets of San Nicolás Maldonado, municipality of Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, Añorve Zapata weaves the history and relationship of his culture with the ñomdaa (amuzgo) and the ñuu Savi (mixtec) of Guerrero.

They sing San Nicolás Maldonado in a chilena that is tapped to the rhythm of drums and trumpets. It is a very Afro piece but the Ñuu Savi appropriated it and it is danced at Chilean meetings or at the Santiago festival on July 25 throughout the Costa Chica. 

But getting to San Nicolás Maldonado is not just any old thing, it is a journey through palm trees, mango, banana and papaya orchards. There among the steam released by the streams is the town that now sports new constructions, the houses are Californian style. Most of the inhabitants immigrated to the United States many years ago. Migration began in San Nicolás in the 1970s, in the golden age of Acapulco.

From that migration, Chanin Ventura wrote Ya me voy para Carolina , which was a success for Mar azul.

Here the day is full of contrasts. It is filled with a succulent turkey mole or a delicious iguana broth. You cannot stop savoring a fish a la talla or a seafood soup, accompanied by a cold coconut or chilate, the refreshing drink of this land, prepared with cocoa, corn, rice and sugar. 

But, in addition, the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca are woven into verses and couplets that the locals recount in chilenas and corridos. With this they narrate the courage of these peoples who now seek to be part of the third root of Mexico. The highway that goes from Acapulco to Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca connects the Afro towns, in each town that one finds on the trip you can see women with their harvest of fish, shrimp and coconut.

When jumping to another town, the flavor of the same Chilean continues, but now in the voice of Pepe Ramos:

“Chimeco and ugly black / I grew up almost cheesy / but I have a white soul / as he does not have / who was born in clean diapers / with a different skin color / black puchunco and ugly / I grew up almost cheesy…” 

In Marquelia, a city that connects the coast with the mountains, a woman offers enchiladas, fish quesadillas, corn tamales, and coconut water. But she is not the only one offering food or water to quench thirst. 

“Which will take? We have mojarra, cuatete, shrimp and crabs”, offers the dark-haired woman with a whitish smile. Even though the sun is beating down on her, she doesn’t flinch, she yells louder to encourage the merchants. 

The image of the mobile market is the mosaic of Afro-descendants offering fruits, vegetables, food, and lemon, horchata, hibiscus, passion fruit, chia, and watermelon waters. 

“We are black because it is ours, so there is no way we can say we are from the city or white,” a banana and coconut vendor in the community of San Francisco, in the municipality of Cópala, answers with a laugh.  

In Mexico, according to the 2015 Intercensal Survey, 1.4 million people -1.2 of Mexicans- self-identified as Afro-descendants, mainly in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

“There is no discrimination when there is economic power”

The writer and journalist Eduardo Añorve Zapata delves into blackness on the Costa Chica.

“From the moment we talk about Afro communities we are incurring in classifying. And it is racism because we are not clear about what we want when there are 16 municipalities on the Costa Chica that include Xochistlahuaca, Tlacoachistlahuaca, which have a mixture of people from here below who, for economy of time, we are going to call ‘black’ with indigenous people ”. 

The latest record from the National Council to Prevent Discrimination indicates that 82% of the discriminatory cases it has registered against the Afro-descendant population were due to their skin color. More than half of those registrations (57%) come from Mexico City.

Between spooning his seafood soup, Añorve Zapata explains: “There are brown or black people who have held a position in the public administration. I don’t see discrimination when there is economic power. Constantino Cisneros (Tino) was president (municipal); René Juárez Cisneros, Governor, Federal Deputy and Senator. Those who do discriminate are those from below, those of color or indigenous people who do not have money, a political sponsor.”

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