Afro-Mexico: Negotiating a Cultural Identity through Dance

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Joana A. Guzman
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This research looks at the cultural performances and popular celebrations practiced by Afro-Mexicans from the colonial period to the 20th century in the regions of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Guerrero. The goal is to demonstrate how the use of performance and popular traditions has impacted Afro-Mexicans in the shaping of an imagined community, giving space for agency in the formation of their cultural identity. The scholarship of the African diaspora in Mexico is a relatively fresh area of study. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran (1945) pioneered the documentation of their economic history including slavery and origins. Other themes of study rely on sociopolitical aspects, geographic studies, gender, magic and spirituality. The work of Humberto Aguirre Tinoco (1983) and Anita Gonzales (2004) have explored dances and colonial folksongs to evaluate the contributions of Afro-descendants in the formation of what is considered today's Mexican culture. This research uses a multidisciplinary approach of various fields including cultural anthropology, history and cultural studies. Primary sources such as Inquisition documents obtained from the national archives of Mexico City describe the restrictions placed to restrain the active participations of Afro-Mexicans in street singing and dancing. Written and visual ethnographies trace the popular dances performed in the Black communities of aforementioned regions. The dances witnessed involved the jarocho, zapateado, Toro de Petate and other popular dances of the areas. Overall, it is not accurate to say that Mexico denies its black presence and history, but it would be more assertive to say it neglects it. Mexico's constitution does not recognize afro descendants as an ethnic group. Mexicans in general are unaware of the contributions that Afro-descendants have given to enrich Mexican culture. It is common to find people outside these regions who do not even know their presence exists and that Mexico once had a large population of enslaved Africans. All these factors have a general repercussion in their cultural identity and their history remains subjugated knowledge. Therefore the study on Afro-Mexican use of dance and folk song to manifest, express, and/or negotiate their identity is a contribution to the emerging field in history.