Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Miscegenation and Racism: Afro-Mexicans in Colonial New Spain

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Miscegenation and Racism: Afro-Mexicans in Colonial New Spain

Article excerpt

Nobody knows when the first enslaved Africans came to Mexico or New Spain as it was called during the colonial period, but their numbers grew in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 1501 marked the earliest recorded date of the Black enslaved arriving in the Americas from Spain; Blacks served as companions, servants, and auxiliaries to the Spanish explorers and conquistadors. Not till 1519, notwithstanding, when Hernan Cortes first began his conquest of the Aztec empire, which he accomplished by 1521, did the Black enslaved come to New Spain. He brought the Black enslaved with him, including those that played prominent roles in the conquest, such as Juan Cortes and Juan Garrido. Historical records purported Hernan Cortes to be the first Spaniard to introduce the Black enslaved to the region. Though most Blacks in New Spain came as enslaved persons, a few came as free people (other historians a la Ivan Van Sertima claimed that Blacks lived in this region before the advent of Europeans). Cortes, himself, used the Black enslaved for military reasons not only in the conquest but for labor purposes on his plantations.

The conquest of the Aztec empire caused the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations (misnomer Indians). In 1519, New Spain had estimated the indigenous populations to be 27,650,000, but by 1532, they declined to 16,800,600; in 1580, the indigenous populations had decreased rapidly to 1,900,000; and in 1595, they dwindled to 1,375,000. Epidemics destroyed major indigenous populations in 1520, 1548, 1576-1579, and 1595-1598. By 1605, the indigenous populations had reached to 1,075,000. Epidemics, diseases, enslavement, and hard work caused the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations of the region. They had no immunity against such European diseases as smallpox, measles, yellow fever, malaria, and typhus. Other reasons for the decline of the indigenous populations included poor living conditions, low birth rates, destructive wars, harsh labor, and mass suicides. The average indigenous family declined to only four people: mother, father and two children.

As a result of the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations, clerics pressured the Spanish Crown to enact the New Laws in 1542-1543 to protect them from exploitation, hence Spanish intellectuals and clerics, most notably Bartholome de Las Casas, attacked Spanish abuse of the indigenous population. The New Laws, a series of decrees, banned their use in dangerous labor. In 1601, Philip IV barred the use of the indigenous populations in textiles and sugar mills because they suffered high mortality rates. The New Laws also sought to prevent the genocide of the indigenous populations that occurred throughout the West Indian islands through diseases, slaughters, wars and enslavement among other reasons. From those earliest experiences and to rationalize through racist stereotypes their insatiable need for labor, the Spaniards came to regard the indigenous populations, especially in New Spain, as inferior and too weak to endure the long and arduous labor. Thus, the Spanish Crown enacted many laws to "protect" them, but in reality, they fared no better than the Black enslaved because the avaricious Spaniards always found reasons to enslave the indigenous populations to their detriment.

Ironically, the demographic collapse of the indigenous populations caused African enslavement to be introduced in New Spain in the early colonial period. Being the first advocate of African enslavement in the Americas, Las Casas wanted to stop the genocide of the indigenous populations, and at the time, he genuinely believed that the Black enslaved would serve as better sources of labor than them; thus, he called for the African enslaved to replace the dying indigenous populations who the Spaniards forced to work for them. However, before his death, Las Casas realized that "it was as unjust to enslave Negroes as Indians and for the same reasons. …

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