Negros-Afromexicanos: Recognition and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Mexico

Article excerpt

Llegaremos en America, antes que en parte alguna del globo, a la creacion de una raza hecha con el tesoro de todas las anteriores, a la raza final, la raza cosmica (We in America shall arrive, before any other part of the world, at the creation of a new race fashioned out of the treasures of all the previous ones: The final race, the cosmic race)

--Jose Vasconcelos

?Cual es mi cultura, mi raza, mi destino?" (What is my culture, my race, my destiny?)

--Manuel Zapata Olivella

Introduction

The relationship between mestizaje and mexicanidad (Mexican-ness) illustrates the role of identity politics in the formation of imagined community. Mestizaje has been utilized as a strategic identity construct in order to forge an inseparable nexus between the geo-political and the bio-political construction of mexicanidad. In particular, the mestizo identity has been framed as a spiritual tool with which to blur racialized color lines into a homogeneous imagined community and reconcile the cultural and social divisions within the nation. However, the bond between Mexican-ness, mestizaje, and blackness has reflected a different trajectory, one of "uneasy tension" and disidentification (Vaughn, 49). It is a route in which blackness has been socially and culturally delinked from the modern imagination of mexicanidad. Whether engaged via the signifiers of negro, moreno, or afromexicano, Black identity has been made invisible, residing beyond the borders of the mestizo nation, blurred into brown through the process of mestizaje, and disassociated from significant cultural contributions to the country. Yet, the pueblos negros (Black communities) in the Costa Chica region of southern Mexico have been organizing in order to combat this racial amnesia, and more importantly, to articulate a pluriversal construction of being and of blackness, which catapults forward the extensive cultural, social, historical, and political activity of Afro-Mexicans within the nation today.

Within this framework, this paper presents a communication of current projects that are being implemented by these Black communities in order to be counted, to be recognized, and to be agents of their own consciousness. In addition, this article also examines how these community-based projects contribute to a reification of afromexicanidad or Afro-Mexican-ness as an interconnected and dynamic dialogue of knowledge and being between the different Afro-descendent communities within Mexico and the Americas, thus acknowledging similarities and differences, while maintaining a collective network of identity in constant evolution.

As such, we suggest that this alternative configuration of afromexicanidad, and in turn of mexicanidad as well, reflects an examination of the contemporary politics of identity, and not identity politics in Mexico, where "the former is open to whoever wants to join, while the latter tends to be bounded by the definition of a given identity" (Mignolo, 14). This distinction is well-illustrated in the opening quotations by the Mexican Jose Vasconcelos and the Afro-Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella. While Vasconcelos follows the narrative of identity politics that envisions mexicanidad as a single, fixed construct and as a final end point to which all the "treasures" of the previous races shall arrive, Zapata Olivella turns this vision inside out via questioning the politics of identity itself. His interrogations challenge the notion of a static identity and present a permeable formation of consciousness, existence, and being that are in constant motion.

The Silencing of Blackness in Mexico

In order to understand the contemporary invisibility of Afro-descendent populations in Mexico, it is critical to examine the politics of identity within this nation's history and, in particular, to examine the racialization and silencing of blackness as a strategic and hegemonic tool in the construction of mexicanidad. …