Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Miscegenation and Racism: Afro-Mexicans in Colonial New Spain

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Miscegenation and Racism: Afro-Mexicans in Colonial New Spain

Article excerpt


Most students of Mexican history would be surprised to know that an extensive Black population, which will be referred to as Afro-Mexicans, existed during the colonial period. Though only a small percentage of Blacks went to Mexico in comparison to other parts of the Americas, Afro-Mexicans, both enslaved and free, at one time outnumbered the current dominant so-called mestizo population in Mexico. In addition, scholars have neglected studying Afro-Mexicans despite the fact that they made a great deal of contributions to the birth, growth, and development of Mexico. Thus, they should be examined for the important roles they played in Mexican history.

Mexico had an extensive Black population which eventually assimilated into the dominant so-called mestizo majority by the late eighteenth century. Although the Afro-Mexicans were a large population during the colonial period, by the late eighteenth century, they became a negligible group supplanted by Indians, Whites, and mixed groups known as castas, later called mestizos. What accounted for the Afro-Mexican demographic decline by late colonial Mexican society? Certainly, many reasons accounted for the demise of Blacks in Mexico. For example, many died from wars, diseases, captivity, bondage, abuses, shocks, malnutrition, as well as other causes. However, this paper will concentrate on two salient factors that caused the decline of the Afro-Mexican population in Mexico from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries: the prevalent miscegenation ethos and pernicious racism.

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. …

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