More than 10 percent of the Mexican population once looked markedly African. Note: That time period is after the Olmecs! The nearly complete absorption of Mexico’s identifiably African people offers an intriguing contrast to the persistence of a rather distinct Black race in the United States. At least 200,000 Black slaves were imported into Mexico from Africa. By 1810, Mexicans considered at least part African members of the population numbered around a half million, or more than 10 percent of the population.
Mexican music, for example, has deep roots in West Africa. “La Bamba,” the famous Mexican folk song that was given a rock beat by Ritchie Valens and a classic interpretation by Los Lobos, has been traced back to the Bamba district of Angola. What’s especially ironic about Mexico’s “racial amnesia”—a term coined by African-American historian Ted Vincent—is that during Mexico’s first century of independence, more than a few of its most famous leaders were visibly part black.
Nevertheless, the official ideology of Mexico has been that the Mexicans are simply a “mestizo” people—a mixture of Spaniards and Indians—officially referred to as “La Raza” or “The Race.” Since 1928, Mexico has celebrated Oct. 12 as “The Day of The Race.” On Oct. 12, 1946, Mexican politician José Vasconcelos famously declared Mestizos to be “the cosmic race.”
The Mexican populace’s African “third root” is occasionally honored, but Mexican officials have generally ignored it. University of Minnesota demographer Robert McCaa wrote, “Afro-Mexicans, who numbered one-half million in 1810, more or less vanished, thoroughly intermingled and unidentifiable by 1895 if the official discourse is accepted at face value.”
There are self-consciously Afro-Mexican communities on the Gulf of Mexico near Vera Cruz, where the slave ships docked. There are heavily black villages on the Costa Chica on the Pacific, although the residents tend to see themselves as simply Mexicans with dark skins. One confusing factor is that Mexico also imported slaves from across the Pacific, including some African-looking New Guineans and also Negritos from the Philippines.