In November 2016, I traveled to Mexico to work from the Mexico City office of my host organization. To say I was excited was to say the least. As part of my training plan, I wanted improve my Spanish proficiency by the end of my fellowship. So working from the Mexico office for 6 weeks was an opportunity to fully immerse myself into the language and culture.
In keeping with the security policy of my host organization, I went through a security briefing session and was provided with the A-Z on how to be safe while in Mexico. I had conversations about the level of harassment women faced while on the streets and on public transportation; why it was critical to take uber and not public transportation or random taxis; not drinking tap water; and, the reason to wait until two weeks before eating street food. Feeling fully prepared, I packed and set off for Mexico looking forward to the cultural experience and a little warm weather. Regarding the latter, boy was I wrong. I landed in Mexico City and NOT Cancun Mexico and so it was as cold as the Chicago fall weather I left behind. Note to self-Kim- check the weather next time. The second shocker and, the purpose of this blog, was the reaction to my existence. I was not prepared for ‘Being Black in Mexico’. People froze, stopped mid-sentence or mid-way through a meal/crossing the street, did a full 360 spin, touched the nearest person to them, pointed at me- you name it.
From the moment I stepped off the plane to my arrival at the office, I went in deductive mode analytically scanning the environment, the stares and reactions. I soon deduced that the stares were rooted in infatuation and curiosity and not hostility/xenophobia. So I eased a little into my comfort zone. Being the cultural ambassador that I am, I took pleasure in answering all questions about where I am from, facilitated request to touch my hair and my skins, took pictures with kids who stared at me in fascination. I was a celebrity and, I looked forward to walking into a bar/restaurant/anywhere, counting to 30 seconds and then waited for the stares as persons directed their attention to me. My height did not make it any easier either. Talk about standing out, not only was I black and woman, I was towering over pretty much everyone. My colleagues from the Mexico office apologized profoundly for the ‘rudeness’ of their fellow countrymen and, were astonished that I was not at all bothered by the piercing stares . I was instead amazed and, became curious about the existence of Afro-Mexicans. With the history of colonialism, I am sure there must be Mexicans of Afro descents, I thought to myself; and with that, I embarked on a little research. What I found explained a lot.
There are 1.4 million Afro Mexicans or Moreno ((1.2% of the Mexican population), living in the Costa Chica area, on the Pacific cost of Oaxaca, since their ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves during colonial times. A pocket of black also migrated to the Vera zones as a result of the American Civil War. However, beyond the southern states of Oaxaca and the Vera zones, they is little awareness of their existence among the general population. In fact, Afro-Mexicans were included in the national census for the first time in 2015. Afro-Mexicans struggle against discrimination and exclusions and have been fighting to be recognized as minority group. However, this fight has been met with resistance by the Mexican Government. There have been instances of deportation to neighboring countries in Central America and the Caribbean with police claiming that there are no black people in Mexico, despite these persons having their national identification .