Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development

Article excerpt

Author: Patrick J. Carroll

University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas

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Unlike prevailing Latin American historiography which has examined slave revolts (Jose Reis' Slave Rebellion in Brazil) and the participation of Africans in the wars for independence (Ada Ferrer's Insurgent Cuba), Patrick Carroll's Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development (1991 and 2001 Second edition) provides a regional approach in ethnic scholarship, emphasizing the demographic and economic contributions of Afro-Mexicans in colonial Mexico. Concentrating on the district of Veracruz, Carroll focuses on Afro-Mexicans residing in the towns of Jalapa and Cordoba, identifying how these individuals played an integral part in the local economy as slaves and, eventually, wage-based laborers. Moreover, he describes how associations with indigenous peoples contributed to the cultural survival of Afro-Mexicans during colonialism.

Part of Carroll's thesis centers around demographic changes that, inadvertently, shaped a racial cohesiveness between Indians and Afro-Mexicans from 15501630. For example, communicable diseases temporarily decimated the indigenous population, thereby necessitating the demand for African slaves. In later years, political disruptions in Europe and the indigenous populations' growing immunity to such maladies halted the slave trade, resulting in the acceptance of a wage based labor system. Furthermore, white Veracruzanos realized the efficiencies of free labor in comparison to slavery's high maintenance and capital costs.

Still, whites sought to dilute African culture through forced baptisms and limits on the importation of African females, causing an imbalance in the sex ratio of males to females. Realizing the diminution of their racial status, blacks intermarried with Indians as a way to preserve some remnants of their native culture, and broaden their identification with indigenous society. This racial compromising of sorts led to integrated neighborhoods of blacks and Indians (usually located on the outskirts of town so as to not offend peninsulares) and increased socialization among both groups. Similarly, those blacks who accepted Catholicism sometimes acted as godparents ("padrinazgos") to the children of their Indian neighbors.

Carroll assesses, however, that initially this communal utopia did not have the support of Veracruzs indigenous population. Recognizing that blacks had assisted the Conquistadors in their subjugation of native peoples, and finding their dances, rituals and dialects different from their own, Indians found little commonality with Afro-Mexicans. Subsequent interactions between Indians and blacks often commenced with blacks asserting their claims to areas in the hinterland usually isolated from the Crown's jurisdiction, yet still controlled by Indians. Nevertheless, both groups saw the merit of "joining forces" as a buffer to the hegemonic control of the Iberians and their Creole stewards.

Similarly, Carroll argues that demographic changes strongly influenced a free labor ideology that transformed the region from one dependent upon slave labor into a wage based system. …