Race is a fiction. As a human race, we've enjoyed so many thousands of years of mixing that qualifying a person or tribe as "pure" is nearly impossible. But how we perceive race, how we look at ourselves, remains a powerful force that impacts our society top to bottom. We can start getting over it by heading to Galeria Mijares at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights for the show "African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth." This is the top chunk to my piece about it in the LA Weekly, "Relatives in the Mirror":
By the looks of history, the absence of Africa and African-ness in the concept of what it means to be Mexican is especially troublesome. Spain imported African slaves to the New World as liberally as the British did, but the first community of free blacks was established in what is now the Mexican state of Veracruz in the early 1600s — more than 200 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States. Mexico was briefly ruled by an Afromestizo president in 1829, Vicente Guerrero, who made it a point to abolish slavery. In his book African Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation, historian Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas discusses the inadequacy of assumptions on Mexican racial heritage: “It should be clear, particularly in the light of new readings of history, that a considerable part of Mexican mestizos [the majority of the population], even many whose appearance would make one believe otherwise, possess black African genes.”
And yet look at today: U.S. blacks marching against illegal immigration, Mexican gangs killing blacks on the streets of L.A., and African-Americans and Mexican-Americans in petty battles over small-time politics and social-service scraps. The situation is no better in Mexico, where black Mexicans consistently occupy the bottom rung of Mexican society, and are nearly invisible in pop media — except, of course, as crude caricature.
Read more here. The afromestizo population of Mexico is miniscule compared to that of Cuba or other nations in the Caribbean, yet it is still heartening to see new research and documentary work shedding light on the topic in Mexico, where it is badly needed. The show by Ayana Vellissia Jackson and Marco Villalobos in Boyle Heights is only up till Aug. 10, and it is small. The videos, probably its strongest component, would be well served by a large screen and better presentation, as apparently the show had in previous cities it went, including New York. Check out the artists' site, maschulo.com, for more.
* Above, "La Puerta de Doña Bertina," by Ayana Vellissia Jackson. And previously, "But you don't look Mexican ..." and "Africa on Mexico's cultural radar." I'm beginning to see a trend here: A series of posts on semi-related subjects usually precedes the publication of something that ties it all together.
** WEDDING NOTE: Blogging may be light over the weekend as I head home to San Diego/Tijuana for my lovely younger sister Erika Michelle's binational wedding to Juan Cerda Wong, a true Tijuana galán. The ceremony is in San Diego and the reception is in TJ ... Then again there's so much I want to link to it may be difficult to keep away.