Laura A. Lewis Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of "Black" Mexico
Bristol, Joan, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Laura A. Lewis
Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of "Black" Mexico
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012, xv + 362 pp.
Chocolate and Corn Flour tackles themes central to Mexico's past and present: national identity, race and racism, and the meaning of home, community, and self-identity within the context of migration. Lewis explores these issues through an ethnography of San Nicolas Tolentino, a moreno town in the state of Guerrero, and extends her study in the final chapter to the San Nicoladense migrant community in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Unlike scholars who have focused on San Nicoladenses' African roots, she examines what she identifies as a moreno identity, translating "moreno" as "black Indian." This involves two steps: Lewis studies the current community of San Nicolas and its colonial and independence-era history. She also unearths assumptions underlying scholarship on race and blackness in Mexico and traces their impact on coastal residents as well as Mexican and US scholars.
Lewis claims that, instead of seeing themselves as "Afro-Mexicans" or "Afro-Mestizos," as scholars have identified them, San Nicoladenses see themselves as black Indians and as Mexicans. San Nicolas is located on the Costa Chica, a coastal belt straddling the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Its residents, like many on the coast, identify as morenos and are of African descent, although not exclusively. Lewis explores the interactions between morenos, Indians (including Amuzgos and Mixtecs), and whites (largely outsiders to the coast). She is particularly interested in San Nicoladenses' interactions with "culture workers." These politicians, artists, journalists, community organizers, and scholars espouse the "Africa thesis," John McDowell's term for the belief that the coastal culture is African to a large degree. Lewis reveals the Africa thesis as a US import, a set of assumptions passed by the anthropologist Melville Herskovits to his disciple Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, the influential 20th-century scholar of people of African descent in Mexico. Current groups such as Mexico Negro and the Meetings of Black Towns, organized to unite economically disadvantaged communities and claim political recognition, rest on this thesis. Lewis does not deny the importance of their efforts, yet she argues that the Africa thesis and the search for African survivals do not reflect morenos' identities as black Indians. She claims that community groups do not address moreno concerns, which are more about daily survival and the need to migrate for work and less about possible connections between coastal and African cultural practices. Moreover, Lewis notes that many elements that Aguirre Beltran and others saw as African--a style of building round houses and religious ideas about the soul and destiny--are also found in indigenous cultures. Lewis points out that the Africa thesis, meant to include morenos in the formulation of Mexican national identity and bring them into diasporic discussions, actually serves to distance morenos by implying they are outsiders to Mexico.
Lewis demonstrates how morenos have developed their identity within an understanding of mestizaje, or racial mixing, the discourse that undergirds Mexican national identity. …