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Afro-Mexicans have always been relegated to the last rung


Rosy Castro Salinas is an Afro-Mexican woman from the Charco Redondo community in the municipality of Tutupepec, in the state of Oaxaca. She is a doctoral candidate in law at the Benemérita Universidad de Oaxaca and a member of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination in Mexico (CONAPRED). Additionally, she is a member of the Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Women and the founder and coordinator of the Forum of Indigenous, Afro-Mexican, Mestizo, Fisherwomen, and Rural Women in Bahías de Huatulco.

José Miguel González: How do you explain the historical denial of Afro-Mexican peoples?

Rosy Castro Salinas: In general, Afro-Mexican individuals have always been minimized, belittled, and relegated to the lowest rung of the social ladder. Consequently, they were consistently erased from history. In the 19th century, after the abolition of slavery following Independence, it was expected that the reality for Black people would change. However, there were not many advancements for the African-descendant population. Then the theory of mestizaje emerged, completely erasing Afro-Mexicans from history, and we realize that these structures of invisibility and minimization have always been present. Finally, a theory was put forward that there were no Black people in Mexico until 1946 when anthropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán wrote: "Yes, yes, there are Blacks. They are in Oaxaca, they are in Guerrero, they are in Veracruz, they are in such places." And that's how the contributions made by these populations from colonial times to the present began to be valued.

JMG: When did the Black movement emerge in Mexico?

RCS: Undoubtedly, the Zapatista movement had a significant impact, triggering social struggles and activating the Black movement between 1996 and 1997 in Mexico. In this context, we also encountered structures within our communities, customs, and traditions where women did not have voices. Our voices were absent because it was a movement of men. Thus, we began to generate a movement in Oaxaca, a state which is rich in social movements, serious struggles, and resistance. Therefore, it is no coincidence that we are part of this movement.

JMG: What are the characteristics of Oaxaca that make it a cradle of social movements?

RCS: The state of Oaxaca includes a region that is rich in natural resources. However, our communities remain the poorest of the poor in the country. This was the thematic axis that our colleagues always spoke about, and suddenly it was us who stepped up to speak because there was an urgent, necessary, and pressing need. Thus was inspired our articulation of women with our own perspective and our own focus. We took up the struggle of men and strengthened it.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Mexico Noviembre2023 2The leader points out that a theory was advanced that there were no Black people in Mexico, a theory that persisted until the mid-'40s.

JMG: How did the organization of Afro-Mexican women originate?

RCS: Since their arrival, African women faced significant obstacles. Their freedom was completely restricted and total discrimination followed. One day, Black women realized that we were also being made invisible within our own organic structures. The burden of our ancestors repeated itself in all the circles were participating in. In response, we generated a movement with our own voices, that came from us, and in which we had to recognize ourselves as Black women. Thus, we rediscovered our voices. I always say: "Rediscover our ancestries, re-signify them, reclaim them, and re-appropriate them". In 2010, our work began to coincide with that of fellow activists, much more active and with more powerful voices.

JMG: What have been the demands and claims articulated by Afro-Mexican communities?

RCS: The demand has always been recognition. We asked for the recognition of our cultures and traditions. That struggle then becomes one of all women. We say: "Yes, we want to be recognized; yes, we want to stop being foreigners in our own land." I think this happens to all Black people around the world. Those were the things that motivated us, to be named, not to be erased from history, and for elementary school children to read about us in school. To know that there is a Black population, why it is called that, what their diverse customs are, and what their rights are to the territory and the enjoyment of natural resources.

JMG: How did you experience the denial of recognition by the system itself?

RCS: By not being in the Constitution, it was as if we didn't exist as peoples. And this is quite complex because México is a country that prides itself on the diversity of its peoples. We are talking about 68 culturally differentiated peoples, each with its richness, language, and tradition. However, this "us" was never mentioned. No one spoke about Black people. And the few who did, talked about how to further reduce them. These were the consequences of a narrative of contempt. The only thing that existed was the silencing we had been victims of for centuries. As a woman, I think about what it means for them to have their bodies taken over, their will, their thoughts, everything. That is something very powerful. When I think about it, it stirs up everything for me. For me, there is no greater treasure than life and freedom.

JMG: What do Afro-Mexican and Indigenous Peoples have in common to converge in alliance?

RCS: I would say that the first thing is these intersections that exist in both Indigenous and Black peoples. Of course, the Afro-Mexican people have been the most battered, the most sacrificed for being considered "foreigners." That being said, Indigenous peoples were also erased from the map due to mestizaje theory. This is quite interesting given that, after the Independence in 1821 and the Revolution of 1910, liberalism argued that we were only indigenous and Europeans; and later, that we are all mestizos (the children of Indigenous people and Europeans). In both narratives, Black individuals were completely left out. Something similar happened to Indigenous peoples because they continued to be discriminated against.

JMG: How were the articulations that brought them together generated?

RCS: It’s with a lot of love and affection that I always acknowledge that something interesting happened to the Black movement in Oaxaca and Guerrero. Our teachers were Indigenous sisters because they already had a feminist struggle and community feminism. And, although many still do not define themselves as feminists but rather as activists and defenders, they were our great teachers. The alliance emerged because there was a need to learn from each other, both from those who had been there for a while and for those who were just joining. Likewise, Indigenous women understood the situation in which Black women found themselves. And so, a sisterhood, an articulation is born. What’s more is that on the coast, in Oaxaca and Guerrero, there is a mix. Now we have categories like Afro-Mixtec or Afro-Mestizo. The same colleagues say, "I am a daughter. My father is Black and my mother is Indigenous. You also speak their language and know that music." Colleagues are demanding that the next census should incorporate the category of Afro-Mixtec or Afro-Mestizo. Self-identity is a right.

JMG: What things did you take from Indigenous women?

RCS: Indigenous Peoples are very proud of their great legacy, their cultures, their traditions, and their languages. Indigenous women taught us the lessons that we learned and now, we learn together. Even in the case of women, we learn together alongside many colleagues. There is a movement that runs parallel to ours and, suddenly, we meet. Now, in Oaxaca, we have an initiative called the Observatory of Citizens from which we influence civil society to be part of political participation.

JMG: How was this process among Black women?

RCS: Women had the need to recover our identity contexts and to reclaim our Black identity. Our identity was so castrated that no one wanted to be Black, no one wanted to be a Black woman because of all the stigma they placed on us and that we had to re-signify. That's why when I introduce myself, I reclaim myself as a Black woman. We adopted the term Black women. We are proudly Black as an act of personal faith, rebellion, but also of vindication. For those who are so bothered by the fact that I am Black, well, I reclaim it.

JMG: You have participated in the Permanent Forum on Afro-Descendants of the United Nations and in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. What importance do these international mechanisms hold for Afro-Mexican communities?

RCS: RCL: Those mechanisms are fundamental, and we have seen very quick results. Being in those spaces involves thinking about how we make use of these mechanisms of conventionality control because if they exist, it's for us to use them. In the past, we didn't use them because we didn't know, we didn't have the knowledge. Fortunately, we found someone to help us, to guide us. International instruments aim to try to guarantee the rights of individuals and diverse groups, such as Afro-descendants. So, having a Permanent Forum for Afro-descendants is a significant advancement.

JMG: What cases is it used for?

RCS: Recently, Afro-Mexican twins died in the hospital due to negligence: the ventilator was not working. Since the parents and the children were black, authorities said, "We don't know if it's really necessary to take them to a private hospital in the Capital". And the children died. We documented this case and presented it to those mechanisms that guarantee people's rights. We also managed to influence the 2020 census to pay attention to the self-identification question since authorities were reluctant to use the term Afro-Mexican.

JMG: What challenges do you consider to be the most important for continuing to strengthen the rights of Afro-Mexican communities?

RCS: A primary challenge is ensuring compliance with Article 2, Section 9, of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States: the states of the Republic are obligated to enact their secondary laws to harmonize with what the Constitution states. Governors are not paying attention to this. So far, only five states have recognized the rights of Afro-Mexican communities in their local constitution. This is one of the significant challenges: the actual realization of this recognition. On a more holistic level, I would like to hear my president acknowledge the crime against humanity that occurred in Mexican territory during colonial times, similar to the acknowledgment made by the Church. This recognition would be part of the reparative justice that should also encompass our economic development, improvement of social conditions for Black individuals, and access to education, which is currently lacking for a large majority.

JMG: And in the case of women?

RCS: We must move from recognition to effective participation. That's why we are working through the Asociación de Mujeres de la Costa de Oaxaca. We want the exercise of our political and electoral rights to be a reality, and these affirmative actions to be genuinely for Black individuals (and not for others to merely use as a stepping stone). This effort aims to make it clear that obstacles to participation persist and emphasizes the importance of our presence in decision-making spaces. Our goal is to ensure that our agendas, social, cultural, and economic policies, are heard in the places where public policies are formulated.


Tags: Indigenous Debates



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