‘Finding Afro-Mexico’ Explores An Overlooked Part Of Mexican National Identity

The sounds of Texas.

By Joy Diaz & Caroline CovingtonNovember 13, 2020 1:26 pm, , ,

Ted Cohen is an associate professor of history at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, and author of “Finding Afro-Mexico: Race and Nation After the Revolution.” His interest in Mexico’s ties with Africa started when he was an undergraduate, taking a class on modern Mexican history that almost never mentioned people of African descent in that country.

He then read José Vasconcelos’ 1925 essay “La Raza Cósmica,” which talks about how all of the different races of the world, including people of African descent, come together in Mexico. He wondered why so few besides Vasconcelos, were talking about Mexicans with African heritage.

“For Vasconcelos to talk about African heritage was really a radical act pushing the boundaries of Mexican nationalism, and also the boundaries of the African diaspora. And so in 2015, for the first time, [Mexico] asked who considers themselves to be Afro-Mexican or [of] African cultural heritage and 1.3 million people said, ‘I do.’ … For the first time in Mexican history, they’re counting that on the official census.”

“There’s a vibrant history of colonial Mexican slavery … and what I’m hoping that’s going to happen, more and more people are going to want to know about that little period, that very few people are talking about.”

“There happened to be in the St. Louis area … the archives for the African-American choreographer and ethnographer Katherine Dunham. And I realized that she, as an African American, was very interested in resuscitating African-descended cultures throughout the Atlantic world. In 1946, she was asked to go to Mexico. She was starting to think about how to perform ‘La Bamba,’ the famous song that we all know from Ritchie Valens … as part of her Afro-diasporic dance troupe, and [it reflected] this really interesting cross-pollination of African-American and Mexican histories that I think really … intersected when African Americans fled segregation and went to Mexico or went to Paris or went to Brazil.”

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