Que viva el soul

Posted Mar 18 2006

A preview of "The Third Root: Africans in Mexico" an exhibition at Detroit's Museum of African-American History. This review was featured in a 1999 edition of the Detroit Metro Times.

Que viva el soul

Through January 2000

Quick, what pops in mind when you think of Mexico? Nachos? Bullfights? Little talking dogs? Hopefully, your view is a little more sophisticated, but how many of us are aware of los Afro-Mestizos in Mexico? A glimpse at celebrities such as Sammy Sosa and rapper Noreaga highlights the undeniable African influence among Latinos from the Caribbean, but the African presence in Mexico is hardly known by many Mexicans themselves. Racism, geographical isolation and a national tendency to focus on the country’s Native American roots have all played a role in this relative invisibility factor. Dating back to Hernán Cortés in 1519, Africans were brought to Mexico as slaves and actually outnumbered Spaniards until the early 1800s. Approximately 200,000 Africans were brought over before President Vicente Guerrero, who was of African ancestry, abolished slavery in the 1820s. The descendents of the Mandigo, Yoruba, Wolof, Zulu and others were not just slaves, however, and among other things helped lead the revolt against Spain and co-founded settlements as far north as present-day Los Angeles.

Over the course of time, this rich history has been submerged as various European, indigenous, Asian and African cultures melted together, forming the respective roots of Mexican society. But whether it be culture — including the dance form la bamba — or history, a distinct African presence remains, as is shown in "The Third Root: Africans in Mexico" the exhibit at the Museum of African American History. Through paintings and photography, artists Josefina Pelayo Mendoza, Elder Avial Palacios and Martine blend various cultural styles with obvious African influences, while others are clearly Afrocentric, including an Islamic presence. Beautifully colored, hand-painted masks hang near paintings by Afro-Mestizo children and photographs of farm workers, while "La Artesa," a large ceremonial drum, is the centerpiece of the exhibit. As Mexican music plays softly in the background, your view of our southern brethren might just take on another color.


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