Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of "Black" Mexico
Ozobia, Nnenna M., Americas Quarterly
Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of "Black" Mexico Laura A. Lewis Duke University Press, 2012, Softcover, 370 pages
REVIEWED BY NNENNA M. OZOBIA
Mexico is not the first country that comes to mind when the issue of Afro-descendants in the Americas is discussed. Unlike the better-known cases of Brazil and Colombia-with 91 million and 15 million Afro-descendants, respectively- Mexico's national statistics agency recognizes only an estimated 500,000 citizens as Afro-descendant, less than 0.5 percent of the total population. However, the accuracy of that number has long been questioned.
But the lack of attention to Afro- Mexicans, concentrated largely in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Chiapas states, is slowly being remedied. In September 2012, the National Forum on Afro-Descendant Populations in Mexico City explored the long-neglected heritage of the country's Afro-descendants. The forum built on the Mexican government's Nuestra Tercera Raíz program of the 1990s, though the results of both efforts have been mixed.
Laura A. Lewis, professor of anthropology at James Madison University, has made a significant effort to fill the void with Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of "Black" Mexico. Based on over a decade of fieldwork in San Nicolás Tolentino, a predominantly Afro-descendant and Indigenous agricultural village in Guerrero state, the book attempts to unravel the complexities of race, ethnicity and identity in Mexico.
San Nicolás Tolentino is located in Mexico's Costa Chica-an area recognized for its Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities-and considered part of the "cradle of Afromestizo culture" in Mexico. In Chocolate and Corn Flour, Lewis challenges this label as an oversimplification. She places "Black" in quotation marks to argue that people in San Nicolás see themselves as morenos or "Black Indians," and not solely "Black." This is why "corn flour" is used in the title of the book: as the author discovered in conversation with a local friend, residents joke they are "all mixed up" like a chocolate atole, a traditional Mexican corn-based drink.
Chocolate and Corn Flour is the latest contribution to a body of literature focused on Afro-Mexicans. Perhaps the best known work is La población negra de México, by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán in 1946, who later conducted the first ethnographic work in Cuajinicuilapa in the Costa Chica. …