Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Black Armies of the South: A Historical Reconstruction of The Mexican War of Manumission and Independence (1810-1821)

[Nagó, sent by the Oricha of war, tells Morelos] “You have been chosen to return dignity to the oppressed Indians and Blacks, to their mestizo descendants, half-breeds and Mulattoes. You will unite all with your shouts, with your horse, and your sword. Changó’s waterspout, you will open the breach through which runs the river of the insurgents against oppression.”
Manuel Zapata Olivella

Morelos’ army was formed by the [Hermenegildo] Galeana, [Mariano] Matamoros and [Nicolás] Bravo brigades [….] Most of the soldiers were Southern Blacks and Mulattoes.
Uvaldo Vargas Martínez

The disciplined Mexican rebel Armies of the South, formed and led by the Afro-Mexican Catholic priest José María Morelos y Pavón and his cadre, were mainly composed of people identified as “Negros” (Blacks) or “Castas” (African offspring) by the Spanish colonial pigmentocracy. At their peek, the Black Armies of the South were 1,000 trained infantry and a little over 4,000 cavalry. The majority of soldiers were Blacks and Mulattoes from the South….(Vargas 56). Morelos and the main columns of the Armies of the South withstood a seventy-two-day siege in Cuautla (from February 19 to May 12, 1812) by the Viceregal Central Army of New Spain: eight thousand men under the command of Spanish General Felix María Calleja del Rey. Paradoxically, Morelos’ fame as “the supreme general of the insurgency” grew because of the heroic resistance in Cuautla (Vargas 75). Well documented and recognized is, “the heroic defense of Cuautla lifted the spirits of the independence supporters […] and filled the spirits of all Mexicans, even in Mexico City” (Vargas 75). The fundamental role of the Black Armies of the South in achieving manumission, independence and the forming of the new Nation is recognized, however their color has been erased from the national memory.
The Black Armies of the South were crucial in dismantling the three-hundred-year Spanish enslaving and racist structure. The Black or African-Mexican fundamental contributions to the building and establishing of the Nation must be taught and understood to help eradicate the colonial racism that still lingers surreptitiously and openly in various regions, institutions, and social sectors of Mexico, and beyond. The Black accomplishments need to be re-injected into the Mexican national memory in full color in order to assist to end the massive Black endo-phobia that affects, and disenfranchises, a considerable number of Mexicans. Public and private school textbooks should speak louder of the African and Afrodescendant Ancestors of Mexico and their deeds. Mexican children ought to learn that a major portion of the mothers and fathers of the Mexican nation, our Ancestors, were considered “Black” and therefore inferior by the Europeans. And, that this form of violence was confronted and defeated by the Ancestors who rallied under a black flag and ribbons of sky blue and white signaling their devotion to Guadalupe/Yemayá, the Black Madonna of Mexico.
In addition to our First Nations and Asian roots, recognizing our African-ness will assist us to develop stronger global relations with the people of Africa and the African Diaspora in other places of the Americas and the planet. Moreover, the present historical reconstruction destroys the official myth that Blacks during the Colonial Period (1519-1821) were few and disappeared by integration.
This work traces the emergence of the Black Armies of the South from the moment Morelos leaves his church in the hot lands of Carácuaro, Michoacán with twenty-five “dark and humble men” to the siege of Cuautla in 1812, where he and the major portion of the Black Armies of the South were trapped by the 8,000-men Viceregal Army of the Center. The Black Armies of the South and the consequences of their struggles as an integral part of the independent Mexican national life will be discussed after a brief historical profile of the population of colonial Mexico from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century in order to contextualize the problem and to enable us to see that in nineteenth-century Mexico, just as today, there was an important Black presence.
The population of New Spain in 1779, thirty-one years before the armed phase of the Mexican independence-manumission movement started, is reported at 4,500,000 (Abad y Queipo 61). At least six-tenths, or 2,700,000 were classified as “Castas” (the progeny of African, First Nations, Asian and European relations). In the eve of the struggle, the population of New Spain had grown to over six million (Aguirre, La población 233).
Further confusion regarding the make-up of the colonial population was caused by the particular population distribution presented by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. Nevertheless, the 1810 Noriega census cited by Aguirre divides the 6,147,355 population of New Spain at the start of the war of independence from Spain thus: 1,338,706 “Castas,” and 10,000 Blacks; 3,676,282 “Indians;” 1,107,367 “Criollos;” and 15,000 Europeans (La población 232). Among the “Castas,” 500,000 are noted as “Mulattoes.” For the purpose of this work, the 500,000 mulattoes and 10,000 blacks are sufficient to document a substantial Black presence in nineteenth-century Mexico. However, being that Mulattoes were the offspring of the relations between, “español y negra” (Spanish male and Black woman), where were the offspring of Black males and First Nations women accounted for? What was their population at the time?
The Trans-Atlantic male/female ratio of the enslaved Africans taken to New Spain starting in the sixteenth century was 2:1. The 500,000 Mulattoes of the census above theoretically were the children of Spanish males and African women because at the time “Mulatto” signified this. Due to the availability of reproductive-age African males and First Nations women, it is believed that relations between African males and First Nations women prevailed. This is deduced, in part, given the incessant Royal Spanish edicts prohibiting African-First Nations relations. The children of African males and First Nations women remained with their mothers and grew up as First Nations: Nahua, Mixtec, Maya, etc. Outside of the First Nations reservations, they were labeled as “Mulatto-Pardos.” Aguirre reports,
The Mulatto-Pardo was the product of the mix between the Black male with the Indian woman. Mulatto-Pardos were the most abundant in New Spain and the color of their skin produced the most varied and curious naming. [….] In general terms, we can assert that they were called Cochos en Michoacán, Cambujos in Oaxaca, Chinos in Puebla, Jarochos in Veracruz, Loros in Chiapas and Zambos in Guerrero; just to mention the most common. (La población 169)
Blacks and their offspring were to be found all over the Colony. According to William B. Taylor, “At the end of the eighteenth century, 381,941 free Negroes and mulattoes, many of whom were descendants of slaves who had grasped freedom by deserting their masters, were identified in a wide area of the highlands as well as the coastal regions of central Mexico” (440). From the tax reports of the Mexican National Archives, he cites the following Black distribution: Mexico 46,813; Puebla 11,304; Veracruz 5,849; Oaxaca 16,767; Potosi 49,140; Arispe 10,070; Valladolid 48,768; Guanajuato 42,868; Guadalajara 63,009; Zacatecas 58,317; Merida 29,033 (440, n4.). These numbers are dramatic when considering that the reported European Spanish population of New Spain in 1810 was 15,000.
While some Africans arrived as free men from the onset of the Spanish venture, they were the exception. One such case is Juan Garrido, the “Black Conquistador” who planted the first wheat grains in Mexico City, and who had a wife and children and a job as guardian of the city’s water supply; but never held a significant position. Throughout the Colonial Period in Mexico, some African offspring were freed by being born of free wombs (First Nations mainly); their Spanish fathers buying their freedom; or their masters. Regardless of their free/slave status, Blacks were barred from administrative positions and assigned and performed the most labor-intensive occupations.
In the eve of the war of 1810-1821, most Blacks in New Spain were agriculturalists, cowboys, miners, muleteers, port-dock workers, laborers, construction workers, militias, butchers, cooks, bakers, shoe makers, carpenters, tailors, weavers, candy makers, fruit and nut-candy vendors, enchilada makers and aguas frescas vendors, fruit and vegetable merchants, tobacco traffickers, banditos, etc. They lived in ports, urban centers, villages, mining towns, plantations, or on the road. Aguirre notes that,
by 1793, the contradictions of the Spanish economy became obvious where they would “destroy harvests or let them rot in the granaries for lack of markets, while the population of shifters, continuously increasing, was kept on the brink of starvation. The Colonial government was constantly preoccupied with the behavior of numerous shifters, mainly Afro-Mexican. The government was incapable of solving its own desperate situation. On the one hand, it greatly feared the Afro-Mexicans. On the other, the government believed that increasing the oppression (that it had been exercising since a while back) would lessen the danger. (La población 232)
The Insurgents, but in particular the Black Armies of the South, drew their strength from the populations mentioned above.
Word from Josefa Ortíz de Domínguez got to Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the erudite criollo Catholic priest of Dolores, Guanajuato, that their planned conspiracy had been discovered. This forced Hidalgo to issue a call to arms during an unscheduled early mass on 16 September 1810. Thereafter, Hidalgo and six-hundred-freedom-fighters, most of the men from Dolores, poorly armed and clad, unruly and undisciplined “Castas” and “Indians,” began their march toward Mexico City. In the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as seen by the symbol of their flag (the Black Madonna mother of the Americas), these first Mexican nationals were determined to obtain freedom and equality under the law.
Hidalgo and his men marched through San Miguel and Celaya. Then on 28 September, they arrived in Guanajuato, one of the most important mining towns of New Spain (others were Zacatecas, Pachuca, Taxco, Real del Catorce, and San Luis Potosi). By that time, Hidalgo’s army had grown to 30,000. They apprehended and slaughtered four hundred Spanish and wealthy Criollos (most of the European and Euro-descendant men of the town who had barricaded themselves inside of the fortified public granary). “Word of the horrors of Guanajuato soon spread throughout Mexico. The authorities in Mexico City quickly realized that they had a major uprising on their hands and began organizing its defense, which would clash with Hidalgo again on Monte de las Cruces.”
On October 30, 1810, Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende’s forces, which had swelled to 80,000 clashed with a Spanish force led by General Torcuato Trujillo. Trujillo had one thousand foot soldiers and 400 cavalry. The rebel army overwhelmed the Spaniards and captured their two cannons. Hidalgo, against Allende’s counsel, decided to retreat and not attack Mexico City. The reasons, speculated by historians, are many. Among them, is that Hidalgo feared General Calleja’s well-armed army of four thousand veterans; or that he wanted to spare the population of Mexico City from the mob. Perhaps, Hidalgo feared for the thousands of Spanish/Criollo lives. Hidalgo was an educated man; he read French and surely knew of the fate of the European French in Haiti a few years earlier. After all, Hidalgo’s previous campaigns pointed in that direction. Historians generally agree however, that Hidalgo and Allende’s troops could have easily taken Mexico City.
General Calleja del Rey caught up with the Insurgent army in the entrance of Guadalajara, January 17, 1811. The explosion of a rebel munitions wagon sent Hidalgo’s army into disarray. Hidalgo and Allende fled toward the United States. Hidalgo traveled as Allende’s prisoner. The disputes they had had regarding how to conduct a war had climaxed (Hidalgo was a priest and Allende was a trained warrior).
In the north, they were betrayed by local insurrection leader Ignacio Elizondo and captured. In short order, they were given to Spanish authorities and sent to the city of Chihuahua to stand trial. Also captured were insurgent leaders Juan Aldama, Mariano Abasolo and Mariano Jiménez, men who had been involved in the conspiracy since the start. (Minster)
Hidalgo was executed 30 July 1811. “The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez were preserved and hung from the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato as a warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.”
Nine months earlier, on October 20, 1810, Hidalgo had met with Morelos in Indaparapeo, Michoacán. During that meeting, Hidalgo entrusted Morelos with recruiting people from the South. Two days later, Morelos left Curácuaro on October 22, 1810, with twenty-five men for the first of four campaigns. Following Hidalgo’s and his cadre’s capture and execution, Morelos rose to become the supreme Insurgent commander. As supreme commander for three years, he led 36 important battles “almost always fighting against the most distinguished Royalist commanders,” accumulating 25 victories. During his four campaigns, beyond “grave political worries,” Morelos and the Black Armies of the South caused the Spanish viceregal government loses of forty million pesos (Vargas 31).
According to one of Morelos’ top biographers, Mexican historian Uvaldo Vargas Martínez (1913-1972), fundamental to note is that Morelos was the first Insurgent chief that truly organized the units of the freedom army. He provided them with “a true military character with a group of generals […] and competent officers.” In addition, he made gradual efforts to provide the men with adequate training, uniforms and weaponry (32). The Black Armies of the South emerged in contrast to Hidalgo’s disorganized and undisciplined mob. What has been obscured, as mentioned earlier, is that the troops of the Armies of the South were mainly Blacks.
The Black Armies of the South operated primarily in four zones: Valley of the Balsas River; Oaxaca Valley; Austral Slopes of the Sierra Madre del Sur to the Pacific Coast; and the region from the Gulf of Mexico slopes to the valleys, waterfalls and buttresses of the Eastern Sierra Madre. At the time, most of New Spain’s small villages were practically defenseless. Ben Vinson, III cites that “in many of the central coastal lowlands the Black population was greater than the white at a ratio of 10:1” (“Los milicianos” 96).
In the hot lands, there were small groups of undisciplined Royalist militias in some villages of relative importance and small contingents in important towns, cities or ports. The Royalists militia companies in some of these towns were formed by groups that seldom met for military instruction, “weapons were stored in the captains’ houses and the majority of officers resided in the capitals or major towns. They held these jobs for prestige and had never met their soldiers” (Vargas 34).
Vinson, in his now classic work, Bearing Arms for his Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico reports of the Black presence, including that of free-Colored militias. A closer reading, for the purpose of this work, exhibits the Black presence in various villages and towns of the route taken by Morelos during his first campaign. According to Vinson, along the Pacific Coast, over one thousand Colored militia families in the province of Zacatula (Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Papanoa, and Petacalco) were petitioning for lands (101). As royal census recorder, Joseph Antonio de Villa Señor y Sánchez, in 1745 (7), informed that Acapulco had a population of “four hundred families of Chinos, Mulattoes and Blacks” (“Chinos” in this context is short for “co-chinos” “pigs”); or about sixteen hundred “casta” people. During the Colonial Period, given the deadliness of the hot lands, Spaniards and Criollos lived mainly in fortified towns in temperate climates.
During their first campaign, the Black Armies of the South began to take shape to become the fighting force whose bellicose actions were crucial for the end of slavery, gaining independence from Spain and the emergence of Mexico as a nation. By November 13, 1810, the Black Armies of the South that attacked Acapulco had grown to 2,000. The majority of said men lacked proper weaponry; but their good will and disciplined obedience to Morelos and cadre, “made up for the evident deficiencies” (Vargas 37).
With the Burbon military reforms of 1762 and 1793, the colonial Black militias’ structure and their system of privileges changed (Vinson, “Los milicianos” 106). Many units throughout New Spain were disbanded and these soldiers and their relatives were stripped of all privileges. In southern New Spain, there were disgruntled Black and Afrodescendants who possessed military training, who new the roads of New Spain, were excellent horse riders, and became convinced that the time was ripe for the Insurgent cause. The Insurgents envisioned a nation where all people, regardless of ethnic background, would be full citizens with equal rights under the law.
The first campaign lasted from October 22, 1810 until August 16, 1811, when the Armies of the South captured Chilapa and four hundred rifles and four cannons. They marched from Cuarácuaro through Zacatula, Patatlán, San Luis, Tecpan, Coyuca, Veladero, Acapulco, El Marqués, Tres palos, La Brea, Chichihualco, Chilpancingo, Tixtla, and Chilapa. In Chilapa, the Armies of the South stayed for three months to train and be better clad.
Mid-November 1811, The Black Armies of the South initiated their Second Campaign. Following the battle of Chiautla and Izúcar, instead of going to Puebla, as expected by the Royalists, they retreated to take Cuautla to ensure that all the south lands were under Insurgent control. Cuautla is located in the center of the hot lands of the current state of Morelos and its region. From the start of the Colonial period, Cuautla was the site of sugar cane plantations whose labor force included enslaved Africans and their offspring up to the time of the war of manumission and independence in the nineteenth century. According to a 1793 census, 5,215 Mulatto-Pardos; 1,539 mestizos; 462 Criollos; and 1,324 Spanish formed Cuautla’s population (Aguirre, La población 226).
Nineteen years after said census, from February 19 to May 12, 1812, in Cuautla, the Black Armies of the South of about 8,000 “Blacks, Indians and Mulattoes” (Vargas 63) withstood a heroic seventy-two day siege known as the Siege of Cuautla. Narciso Mendoza, a 12 year-old child of Los Emulantes, distinguished himself during the first battles of Cuautla and became known as the “Gunner Child” (Vargas 60). The Emulantes were a group of “Black, Mulatto and Indian” youth collaborators formed by Morelos in Cuautla. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Morelos’ son, was in charge of Los Emulantes.
The Black Armies of the South broke the siege. The Insurgents had planned to march quietly out of Cuautla during the wee hours of the morning. The plan was discovered and the Insurgents were attacked furiously. Cuautla’s inhabitants, who were trying to abandon Cuautla with the Insurgents, suffered the worst. “The town’s people received the fury of the Royal Cavalry who decapitated everyone found in their way” (Vargas 71). The Black Armies of the South were decimated and Gabriel de Yermo, owner of various sugar and cattle haciendas, captured Nicolas Bravo, a top Insurgent commander. Cuautla was “savagely ransacked” (Vargas 72) and burned to the ground by the Royalist Army. This behavior reveals, in part, the source of hatred underlying the savagery of the post siege acts of the Spanish soldiers and their lackeys; the majority of the population of Cuautla, as well as the Insurgent Armies of the South, in the eyes of the Spanish Royal Army were balking Blacks.
Paradoxically, the Black Armies of the South acquired fame from their heroic resistance. Their saga uplifted the spirit of Mexicans (Castas) throughout the land and sent major liberation and equality shock-waves throughout the Spanish realm. Jorge Gurría Lacroix recounts that Calleja expressed:
If the tenacity and activity of Cuautla’s defenders were morally directed towards a just cause, some day they would deserve a distinguished place in history. Harassed by our troops and afflicted by need, they manifest enthusiasm at all times. They bury their dead with carnavalesque dances and drunkenness. When they return from their frequent escapades, successful or not, they impose the death penalty on anyone who may speak of misfortunes or defeat.
Calleja’s statement, the Saint Inquisition’s trials and the Cadiz Constitution (1812) as explained hereafter, are windows into the history of the nineteenth-century-Catholic-Spanish-noble-male-patriarchal mentality. Among the Spanish of the time, history making was the exclusive province of European males. Calleja viewed the freedom and equality cause of the Mexicans (whom he saw as Colored) as immoral and unjust; therefore, undeserving of a place in history. Calleja, among others, could not relate to the Ancestral spirits of Chango and Huchilopostli, major symbols of resistance against the enslavers. The rumba spirit of the burial rituals that accompanied the Black Armies of the South produced scorn in Calleja. The future Viceroy of New Spain lacked the vision to perceive that Mexicans were protected by Guadalupe-Yemayá, a Black Madonna; and that at all costs, they were determined to recover from the Spanish and their institutions the right to chart their own destiny.
The black flags adopted by the Black Armies of the South signal Black rebellion against the established “white” order that was based on a make-believe pigmentocracy. The sky-blue and white colors of the ribbons which symbolized the peoples’ devotion to the Guadalupe Virgen –La Virgen Morena, interpreted with the light of the Ancestors, cited by Manuel Zapata Olivella in his novel Chango el gran putas, brings to mind Yemayá, the Ocean Mother and mother of all Orishas. As an archetype of maternity, invoked through the ribbons at the time of the birth of the new nation, this view becomes relevant. Yemayá is associated with the number seven. Mexicans recognize Seven African Powers.
From the sixteenth century onward, a number of Saint Inquisition actions throughout New Spain against Africans and their offspring for “witchcraft,” “divination,” and “superstition,” among others, is well documented (Aguirre, Medicina 333-376). Many of these trials occurred in the area currently known as the states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, Guerrero, México, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz, and is also the region where the majority of the troops of the Black Armies of the South were recruited. These persecuted practices were part of the Afro-Mexican world visions; similar practices elsewhere in the Americas are: Santería, Candombe, Candomblé, etc. Divination is at the center of such religious practices. Orula, one of the Seven African Powers recognized in Mexico, is the God of divination. The others are: Ochún, Yemayá, Obatala, Ogum, Elegua and Changó. The Spanish and their lackeys consider all of the above heresy and a thing of the Devil.
The nineteenth-century-Spanish-racism against Blacks and Pardos is also documented in the Constitution of Cadiz (1812),
Afrodescendants were excluded [i.e. the so-called “Castas,”] from the category of Spanish citizens (Article 22), so that the “base of representation” for Peninsular Spain would surpass that of American Spain [the Spanish colonies throughout the Americas]. According to the demographic knowledge of the epoch, it was calculated that [Spanish] America had a population of 15 to 16 million inhabitants while Spain had no more than 10 million. However, discounting the disloyal Indians and Castas from the electoral base, the peninsular numerical superiority in comparison to America would be manifest. The discriminatory character of this measure exposes white racism toward Blacks and Pardos. (Tateishi 11).
The Afrodescendants throughout the Spanish Americas, including New Spain, reacted in concert to the centuries-old-white-Spanish-pigmentocratic-rule. The Black Armies of the South began gathering in Curácuaro, Michoacán, October 22, 1810 (Vargas 31). There, twenty-five braves rallied with Morelos as commander. They were committed to the end, to the just cause of manumission, independence and equal rights for all, without exception. August 10, 1812, in Tehuacán, Puebla, Morelos became the de facto Supreme Commander of the Insurgents and the Black Armies of the South, the central force of the Insurgency. This would remain until 5 November 1815, when he was captured in Tezmalaca. Morelos was executed 22 December 1815, in San Cristobal Ecatepec, today State of Mexico.
To continue their fight, the Black Armies of the South adopted guerrilla-style warfare. Some of the commanders retired, but others such as Vicente “el negro” Guerrero with Black-Indian-Black contingents, kept the fight alive in the mountains of Southern Mexico and in the Spanish Colonial supply routes between Mexico City-Acapulco and Mexico City-Veracruz during the “Period of Resistance” until 1821. Guerrero became commander of the Insurgency and the leader who signed the treaty with Agustin de Iturbide that consummated the independence from Spain. The crucial role the Black Armies of the South played in the wars to: end slavery; gain independence from Spain; and enable the emergence of Mexico as a nation is hereby claimed.
Official historians have forged a narrative that “discolors” the history of the Mexican Nation. With the racial miscegenation myth-turned-ideology, Criollos whitened Mexico’s national history according to their interests. By calling the Mexican population “mestizos,”—instead of Castas-- Criollos dealt a master-hand to manipulate the national memory. Criollos and their lackeys re-invented the Mexican “casta” population as “mestizos.” In this manner, they veiled the three-hundred-years of Spanish pigmentocratic rule and Africanization of New Spain. Criollos obscured the deep-rooted torrent of African experiences and memories that created and nurtured, in a crucial way, the Mexican Spirit. Criollos obscured the deeds and zagas of the Black-Indians who constructed Mexico outside the walls of the rulers’ towns and villages.
During the colonial epoch, just as now, the majority of the population of New Spain, including Africans and African offspring inhabited the Central and Southern regions of the land. “Free” Afrodescendants (Pardos, Mulattoes, Coyotes, Lobos, etc.) heavily populated the areas where the Black Armies of the South emerged. Afrodescendants provided the colonial labor force that fueled the Colony for centuries. In the eighteenth century, they formed a major portion of the mass of vagrants that began to shake the colonial stability. As a result, during the Colonial Epoch, Black-offspring, or Afro-Mexicans, were recruited to man the militias of Pardos and Mulattoes who defended Spanish interests. Many Blacks and First Nations fought against the Insurgents; others stayed aloof.
Spanish Vasque plantation owner Gabriel de Yermo, the leader of the Spanish party against the Insurgency, led hundreds of Blacks he had “freed” from his estates against the Insurgents. These newly freed Blacks were now free to defend Yermo’s interests against fellow Afrodescendants. After all, among other estates, he owned the Hacienda de San Gabriel, the biggest sugar plantation of the time and held the monopoly of beef and aguardiente (sugarcane rum) supplies for Mexico City.
The crucial role of the Afro-Mexican Insurgents is “discolored” in the Mexican official national history. In the nineteenth century, all who were not Spanish, Criollos or First Nations, began to be called “mestizos” to supposedly dismantle the Spanish pigmentocracy, i.e. the Willy Lynch ideology was applied in reverse. Thus, Mexicans (the Pardo-Mulatto offspring of Africans, First Nations, Asians and European relations born in the Americas) began to be referred to as “mestizos” in the national discourse. Nevertheless, they were (and still are) not in the same social or ethnic footing as European Spanish. In addition, Criollos and their lackeys usurped the hard-fought name “Mexican” and with it justified themselves as the natural inheritors and rulers of the new Nation. This same European psychological technology was exported to other places of the Americas where the African pride and deeds have been blatantly denigrated, obscured, erased, etc.
Mexicans of today descend from New Spain’s colonial populations, and a few recent migrations from other lands, but few Mexicans know and proudly recognize our African heritage. This, in a crucial way, is the product of the Spanish and Criollo systematic stigmatization of all that is African in Mexico and beyond. The loss of the Mexican African memory has to do, among other issues, with an education system that eludes the proper mention of the African legacies. Such as the role the Mexican Pardos/Mulattoes, who embodied the major part of the Black Armies of the South, played to obtain Mexican freedom from enslavement, Mexican independence from Spain, and the Mexican emergence as the republic of the United Mexican States in 1821. The above history, narrated with its full colors, is mandatory to truncate the pigmentocratic colonial mentality that still rules over many Mexican minds—of people who are far from white-- against the descendants of the Black-Indians who made possible the birth of the nation nearly two hundred years ago.


Mexican patriot, b. at Valladolid (now called Morelia in his honor), Mexico, on 30 September 1765; shot at San Cristóbal Ecatepec on 22 December 1815. His father died while he was still a youth, and, being left destitute, he worked for some time as a muleteer, until he succeeded in obtaining admission, as an extern, to the College of San Nicolas at Valladolid, the rector of which institution was at that time the reverend Don Miguel Hidalgo. Having been ordained priest, he was appointed parish priest of Carácuaro and Nucupétaro in Michoacan. When Hidalgo left Valladolid for Mexico City, after uttering his Grito de Dolores, Morelos offered himself to him at Charo, and Hidalgo commissioned him to raise troops for the cause of Independence on the southern coast, and to get possession of the port of Acapulco. Returning to his parish, he collected a few ill-armed men, marched towards Zacatula, and, following the coast, reached Acapulco with some 3000 men whom he had recruited on the way and supplied with arms taken from the royalists. After defeating Paris, who had come from Oaxaca with the object of relieving Acapulco, he left part of his forces to continue the siege and made for Chilpancingo. Forming a junction there with the brothers Galiana and Bravo, he marched to Chilapa and captured that town. As the viceroy, Venegas, was keeping all the colonial troops occupied with the siege of Zitacuaro, Morelos, who had been joined at Jantetelco by his fellow-priest Mariano Matamoros-thenceforward his right hand in almost every enterprise-organized four armies, which he distributed in various parts of Mexico. But the easy surrender of Zitacuaro to Calleja, and the approach of that commander with all his forces, placed Morelos, with some 4000 men, in the situation of being besieged at Cuautla by 8000 of the best troops of the viceroyalty. With indomitable courage, fighting day after day, Morelos held out for seventy-three days, until at last he succeeded in breaking away with all that remained of his army. He then passed over to Huajuapan, from thence to Orizaba and so on to Oaxaca, capturing all those places, and defeating every body of troops that encountered him.
On 14 September, 1813, the first Independent Congress assembled at Chilpancingo and there passed the decree: "That dependence upon the Spanish Throne has ceased forever and been dissolved. That the said Congress neither professes nor recognizes any religion but the Catholic, nor will it permit or tolerate the practice, public or private, of any other; that it will protect with all its power, and will watch over, the purity of the Faith and its dogmas and the maintenance of the regular bodies". From Chilpancingo he turned towards his native Valladolid, which was then held by the royalist leaders Iturbide and Llano; driven back there he moved on Chupio. At Puruarán his brave companion Matamoros was captured, and was shot at Valladolid, 3 February, 1814. These reverses were followed by the recapture of Oaxaca by the royalist troops. The independent Congress of Chilpancingo had removed to Apatzingan, where it promulgated the Constitution of 22 October, 1814. Then it determined to remove again from Apatzingan to Tehuacán, Morelos accompanied it to protect it, and engaged in the Battle of Tesmalaca, where he was made prisoner.
Having been taken to Mexico City, on 22 November, 1815, proceedings were instituted against him by both the military and the ecclesiastical tribunal, and an advocate was appointed for him. The principal charges against him were: (1) Having committed the crime of treason, failing in his fealty to the king, by promoting independence and causing it to be proclaimed in the Congress assembled at Chilpancingo. Morelos answered to this that, as there was no king in Spain (Ferdinand VII having been taken to France, a prisoner), he could not have been false to the king; and that, as to the declaration of independence, of the said Congress, he had concurred in it by his vote because he believed that the king would not return from France and that, even if he should return, he had rendered himself unworthy of fealty by handing over Spain and its colonies to France like a flock of sheep. (2) Having ordered a number of prisoners to be shot. He declared that he had done this in obedience to orders sent first by the Junta at Zitacuaro and then by the congress at Chilpancingo, by way of reprisals, moreover, because the viceregal Government had not accepted the exchange of prisoners proposed instead of General Matamoros. (3) Having ignored excommunication fulminated against him and the Independents by the bishops and the Inquisition. He declared that he had not considered these excommunications valid, believing that they could not be imposed upon an independent nation, such as the insurgents must be considered to constitute, so long as they (the sentences) were not those of a pope or an oecumenical council. (4) Having celebrated Mass during the time of the Revolution. He denied this, since he had regarded himself as under irregularity from the time when blood began to be shed in the territory under his command.
The case having been concluded in the military tribunal that court requested of the ecclesiastical tribunal the degradation and surrender of the condemned priest, in accordance with the formalities prescribed by the canons; the ecclesiastical tribunal granted both requests, and communicated its decision to the viceroy. It was at this point that the tribunal of the Inquisition intervened, requesting the viceroy, Calleja (who had succeeded Venegas) to delay execution of the sentence four days, and citing Morelos to a public auto de fe on 27 November. On that occasion, with all the formalities proper to such proceedings, twenty-three charges were preferred against him: the Inquisitors added to the charges brought at the former trial others which they believed themselves competent to try, as implying, according to them, suspicions of heresy. These were: (1) Having received Communion in spite of the excommunications which he had incurred. Morelos answered that he had communicated because he did not believe the excommunications valid. (2) Not reciting the Divine Office while he was in prison. He declared that he could not recite it in the dungeon for want of light. (3) Having been lax in his conduct. This he granted, but denied that scandal had been given, since it was not publicly known that he had begotten children. (4) Having sent his son to the United States to be educated in Protestant principles. He declared that, so far from wishing the son whom he had sent to the United States—as he could not place him in any institution within the kingdom—to be brought up in the doctrines of the Reformation, he had directed him to be placed in a college where he would not run that risk. In spite of these arguments, the tribunal decided: "that the priest Don José Morelos was a formal negative heretic, a favourer of heretics, a persecutor and disturber of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a profaner of the holy sacraments, a traitor to God, the king, and the pope, and as such was declared forever irregular, deposed from all offices and benefices, and condemned to be present at his auto in the garb of a penitent, with collarless cassock and a green candle, to make a general confession and a spiritual retreat; and that, in the unexpected and very remote case of his life being spared, he was condemned for the remainder of it to confinement in Africa at the disposition of the inquisitor general, with the obligation of reciting every Friday in the year the penitential psalms and the rosary of the Blessed Virgin, and to have his sambenito (penitential inscription) placed in the cathedral church of Mexico as that of a reconciled formal heretic".
It was one of the decrees of the Inquisition which have done most to damage the reputation of that tribunal in New Spain. The proceedings lacked the legality and judicial correctness which should have marked them. Morelos was out of the jurisdiction of the Inquisition both as an Indian and as having been already tried and condemned by another, competent, tribunal; nor was there any reason in condemning him for charges to which he had made satisfactory replies. It may be that the tribunal, re-established in New Spain only a little more than one year before this, and carried away by an indiscreet zeal, was unwilling to miss the opportunity presented by so famous a case to ingratiate itself with the Government and call attention to its activity.
Morelos, degraded in pursuance of his sentence, according to the ritual provided by the Church in such cases, was transferred from the prison of the Inquisition to the citadel of Mexico and put in irons. On 22 December he was taken from the city to San Cristobal Ecatepec, where he was shot. As a guerilla leader, Morelos must occupy a prominent place among those who struggled and died for Mexican independence. He appeared at the moment when the first great army of the Independents had been routed at the Bridge of Calderon, and when its first leaders were being executed at Chihuahua, and he achieved his first successes in the rugged mountains of the south. He began his campaigns without materials of war of any kind, expecting to take what he needed from the enemy, and no one ever used the resources of war better than he did, for the extension of the national territory. Profoundly astute and reserved, he confided his plans not even to those of his lieutenants for whom he felt the most affectionate regard. The stamps of genius is discernible in the astonishing sagacity with which he handled the most difficult problems of government, and in multiplied instances of his rapid and unerring insight into actual conditions. When, after the ill-starred campaign of Valladolid, the hour of adversity came upon him, he faced disaster as serenely as he had previously accepted good fortune, and, in that famous retreat upon Tehuacan, deliberately gave his own life to save the lives o
his associates in the Independent Government.


Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo. Medicina y Magia: el proceso de aculturación en la estructura colonial. México, D. F.: Fondo, 1992.
_____. La población negra de México. Estudio etnohistórico. México, D.F.: Fondo, 1972 (1st ed. 1946).


Hernández Cuevas, Marco Polo. África en el Carnaval Mexicano. México, D.F.: Plaza y Valdés, 2005.

Taylor, William B. “The Foundation of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los morenos de Amapa.” The Americas. Vol. 26 No 4 (April, 1970): 439-446.

West Africa and the Origin of Mexican Rice Cultivation and Rice Gastronomy

"From the sixteenth century, African rice crossed the Middle Passage of slavery to the Americas, not merely as food in ship cargoes but also as an indigenous knowledge system known to [West Africans]."
Judith Carney (Black Rice 43)

Four reliable sources document the presence of rice in New Spain (the colonial name for Mexico) soon after the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the sixteenth century. The first, while solely concerned with the first three grains of wheat to be planted in the Continent, indirectly mentions a “sack of rice” and “a small amount of rice” (Alegría 84) from the port of Veracruz brought to Hernán Cortés in Coyoacán, Mexico City c. 1522. The second informs, “Mexico […] received its first lot of rice seed around 1522 in a cargo mixed with wheat” (Chang 139). The third states that Champotón, a Spanish sugar mill in Campeche, in the Yucatan Peninsula, exported rice among other goods in 1559 “twenty years after its establishment” (Redondo 358). The fourth, in medieval Spanish, asserts that in 1579 in Santa María de la Victoria, Tabasco, “se a senbrado el arroz e millo e se da muy bien […]” (rice and millet have been planted and have adapted well). (Colección 368).
Incompatible with the evidence above stated and gathered here are the two main widely accepted versions regarding the post-Colombian arrival of rice to Mexico. The first account states, “the cultivation of rice [was] introduced by the Arabs into Europe and by the Spaniards into America” (Humboldt 458). The other story reports that rice came into Mexico from the Philippines via the Manila-Acapulco Galleon.
The present work reveals that, among others, rice, rice cultivation, and a major part of rice gastronomy, arrived in Mexico in the sixteenth century from the Senegal-Gambia region of West Africa as cultural capital of the West African Ancestors who were brought to Mexico at the time. The reconstruction of a plausible history of the successful transplantation of rice to Mexico in the first half of the sixteenth century provides agency to Senegalese-Gambian women and men in the building of Mexican national crops, gastronomy and identity. The historical reconstruction provides a clearer view of the agricultural advancement of West Africa at the time of contact with the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. This major feat of the West African Diaspora to Mexico has been obscured given the Eurocentric aesthetics that have dominated the discourse on nation. The present work de-myth-ifies, in part, the European paternalistic readings of history that permeate Mexican official history, and beyond. It contributes to the diversification of the understanding of the African cultural capitals, among others, involved in the construction of Mexico and its so-called popular cultures from the sixteenth century onward. In addition, the historical reconstruction of this work allows the reconnection of the history of the Americas beyond European contrived borders.
To support the premise that West African millenary agricultural knowledge was crucial for the successful transplanting of rice to sixteenth century Mexico, the present multidisciplinary study offers first a historical summary of rice in Africa and Asia. Following, the European and West African histories of rice-crop systems are reconstructed. Thirdly, contesting the official history of rice in Mexico, the emergence of rice as a crop-system in the sixteenth century southeast Gulf of Mexico (Veracruz, Tabasco and Campeche) is hypothesized in light of the African Diaspora to Mexico, and particularly to the Veracruz-Tabasco-Campeche region. Finally, working retrospectively with various Mexican popular culture texts or “popular culture sites” (food, cooling beverages, etc.), the regional history of rice in Mexico is reconstructed to include its West African parentage.
Rice belongs to the grass family and the genus Oryza (tribe Oryeae): “ The genus Oryza includes 20 wild species and two cultivated species. The wild species are widely distributed in the humid tropics and subtropics of Africa, Asia, Central and South America and Australia” (Chang 133). The two cultivated species are, the African Oryza glaberrima (red rice) and Oryza sativa native to Asia. Asian rice is the most common. With the advent of successful mechanized milling toward the end of the eighteenth century, the Asian variety gained prominence due to its sturdiness. African rice has to be milled by knowledgeable hands with mortar and pestle to obtain the desired whole grains (Carney, Black 125). Until recently, it was believed that African rice did not develop beyond the Niger Delta.
Noting that there are some molecular links missing in the evolutionary pathway of glaberrima, a 2005 study of the potential benefits of trait combinations of both species proposes, “It is believed that both the cultivated species may have evolved from an unknown common ancestor following a sequence from wild perennial to wild annual to cultivated annual ancestors” (Sarla 956). N. Sarla and B.P. Mallikarjuna Swamy explain, “The hypothesis of parallel lines of evolution of the two cultivated species has been confirmed by cytological studies;” and further elucidate, “Major portions of chromosomes of O. glaberrima could not be distinguished from those of O. sativa (956). It is well established that African Oryza glaberrima was cultivated in the Niger delta by Proto-Manding people since c. 1500 B.C.” (956).
Tracking African rice history, Judith Carney, the dean of Black rice in the Americas, states, “The techniques of rice production were vested in the knowledge carried by many African peoples to the Americas, particularly those enslaved from Senegal to the Ivory Coast which is home to the indigenous West African rice, Oriza glaberrima (“From Hands…” 1). Carney reveals further:
Enslaved West Africans brought an indigenous knowledge system that would establish rice as a subsistence and plantation crop over a broad region from South Carolina to tropical South America. With them, rice arrived in the Americas in the holds of slave ships, crossing over the ocean grave of the Middle Passage as provisions for its survivors. The cultivation, processing, and preparation of rice reveal a profound knowledge system brought to the Americas by those enslaved from West African rice-growing societies. (“Out of…” 204)
According to Carney, “Rice cultivation accompanied the forced settlement of African slaves to the western Atlantic throughout the early modern period;” and regarding Mexico notices, “In another prominent wetland area of the Americas—near Tabasco along Mexico’s Gulf Coast—a Spanish land grantee noted as early as 1579 the cultivation of rice ” (“Out of…” 219). The colonial source where Carney’s information originates is a 16th century Spanish report regarding Yucatan. In the sixteenth century, the Province of Tabasco was part of Yucatan. Said colonial source notes the planting of rice and millet in the sixteenth century and refers to natives and “negros” (Blacks) who use tobacco as medicine (Colección 368).
West Africans (Wolof, Fulani, Tukulor, Baga and Mandingo) represented 29 percent of the African population in Mexico by 1549 (Diouf 47). Wolof, Mandingo, Tukolor, and Fulani, among others, entered Mexico before 1580, classified as Cape Verde Blacks (Aguirre 106-123). In 1528, Africans accompanied Francisco de Montejo in his attempts to conquer Yucatan (Aguirre 19-20). The Maya repelled him. By 1530, Montejo had made a base in Tabasco just below Campeche. Montejo sought to “pacify” Yucatan from there. Champoton, Campeche was founded five years later in 1539. By 1559, rice was being exported from Campeche (Redondo 358).
As in other places of the Americas, African rice most likely arrived in Mexico in the holds of the ships that brought the West Africans above mentioned. To feed their human cargo, the Portuguese slave ships of the sixteenth century would load rice, “Rice proved so abundant along the West African coast that by 1480 Portuguese ships were purchasing the cereal for provisions, often from female traders” (Carney, “From Hands…” 12). Probable as well is that part of the gastronomy (foodstuffs and know-how) that precedes present “Mexican” rice, mole sauce, and aguas frescas [jamaica (roselle) and tamarindo (dakar)] originated in West Africa.
According to the Consejo Mexicano del Arroz (Mexican Rice Council),
toward 800 B.C.E., Asian rice acclimatized in the Near East and southern Europe. The Moors introduced it to Spain when they conquered it around the year 700 of our era. Later on, rice was propagated in Italy in the mid 15th century, in France, and after the epoch of the Great Discoveries, was implanted in all continents. (Arroz).
From this account, one is left to deduce that rice came to Mexico via Spain. This would at first appear logical; particularly where the current Spanish national dish is “Paella,” a rice–based dish connected to the Moors, flamenco dance, and the soulful singing style cante-hondo. What has been obscured is that the Moors, who introduced rice and rice cultivation to the Iberian Peninsula in the tenth century, were Muslim and part of the immense empire of Islam. The Spanish considered rice a pagan cereal unfit for Christian consumption until the nineteenth century. In 1943, Lois Olsen and Helen L. Eddy expose:
Two hundred years ago the “Kitab al-Felahah” or “Book of Agriculture” of Ibn-al-Awam was rediscovered in the Royal Spanish Library of San Lorenzo del Escorial and hailed as the greatest of all medieval treatises on agriculture. For hundreds of years this work had been completely lost to the Spanish farmers for whom it had been written in the latter half of the twelfth century of our era. Other European countries had never heard of Ibn-al-Awam. The earlier Roman agricultural writings, including those of Spanish born Columella, had been preserved in monastery libraries, but Ibn-al-Awam was a Moor. As long as the conflict between the Moors and the Christians remained fresh in their memories, church and state alike condemned everything Moorish, even their agricultural achievements. (100)
Ibn-al-Awam’s Book of Agriculture was translated from Arabic to Castillian Spanish in 1802 by José Antonio Banqueri (Awam). Until 1802 (or the 19th century), rice and rice agriculture were unknown to most Spaniards. Janet Mendel informs:
By the time of Valencia’s Reconquest in 1238, rice plantations were fairly widespread where water was abundant. After the expulsion of the Moors, with their irrigation know-how, rice growing went into decline and at times was even banned because it was believed to be a cause of the dread[ed] disease malaria. By the end of the 19th century, after the bans were lifted, rice cultivation picked-up. (120)
The Moors introduced rice and rice agriculture, among many other food and ornamental plants, to Europe in the 10th century (Van Sertima 10). It should be mentioned: “following the Moorish conquest of several Mediterranean islands as well as Spain beginning in 711, agricultural slavery spread to the Iberian Peninsula” (Lipski 14). African “Black slaves supplied by the Saharan trade were of course to be found in Iberia many centuries before the Portuguese discoveries; but the Valencian records first record a ‘natural of Gujneua’ (native of Guinea) in 1457” (Hair 129 n.4)
The Spanish did not adopt rice consumption and rice cultivation until the early nineteenth century. Modern “Spanish” paella, the current Spanish national dish par excellence did not emerge until the middle of the nineteenth century (Paella). Interestingly, the amazing similarity of paella and Wolof rice can be explained through the presence of thousands of enslaved Wolof people in Valencia between 1482-1516 (Hair 120). Ian I. Smart noted in 1996, “The dish enjoyed throughout West Africa and known as ‘Wolof rice’ is particularly dear to natives of The Gambia, some of whom consider it a national dish […] It is however, indistinguishable from the plato típico par excellence of Spain, namely, paella” (64).
According to the “Historia de la Paella,” (History of Paella) “Paella emerges in the rural zones of Valencia between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries […,] the rice cultivation zone near the lake of the Albufera, with near certainty, may be said to be the exact place of origin of the dish.” This acquires special meaning in the light of the West African Wolof presence in Valencia in the fifteenth century; and the rice gastronomy and rice-cultivation that followed in the Americas, including Mexico, where the West African presence, among others, has been documented as influential as well.
To drive the point, one may look closer at the history of the planting of wheat in New Spain. The three grains of wheat planted by the freed African Juan Garrido were found in a sack of rice (Alegría 84); yet, wheat has received most of the attention and ink. Justo L. del Río Moreno and Lorenzo E. López y Sebastián have documented “the scant number of accredited farmers” in sixteenth century Mexico (34); and that wheat and meat were the most common food of the Spanish diet (35). The Spaniards, who arrived in Mexico in 1519, were Catholic wheat eaters; the First Nations people had maize. Rice in sixteenth century Mexico was for Africans. The history of rice, rice cultivation and gastronomy in Mexico, where Wolof, Fulani, Baga, and Tukolor, among other Africans, were present in sixteenth century Mexico will reveal, inter alia, the Mexican patterns of Africanization.
The patterns of Mexican Africanization can be delineated with the support of other African gastronomical practices and foodstuffs present such as the cooling beverages dakhar (tamarind) and bissap (roselle, grosella or jamaica) consumed today in Senegal as well as Mexico. In Mexico, the trilogy of national aguas frescas (cooling beverages) are: horchata, tamarindo and jamaica. In addition, just as in other places of the African Diaspora, Mexicans produce and enjoy candied fruits, roasted coconut cakes, peanut or other nut patties, fritters, stews thickened with nuts, meat “used sparingly and mainly for seasoning” (Harris 173).
The almost four-century-long period of the transatlantic slave trade was marked by a second trade in foodstuffs necessary for the enslaved Africans to survive their arduous and unspeakable journey. This survival was of prime importance to the traders, who were more sagacious about West African cultures and habits than many thought. James A. Rawley, in The Transatlantic Slave Trade, presents his observations, noting that captives from the Bight of Benin were accustomed to jams, while those from Windward and Gold Coasts were accustomed to rice. The newly enslave Africans were said to have ‘a good stomach for beans’” (Harris 173).
Thus, the story that the Spanish brought rice cultivation from the Iberian Peninsula is de-myth-ified. The Moors brought rice and rice cultivation to the Iberian Peninsula in the tenth century, but such a “Muslim” knowledge was not discovered by the Christian Spanish until the nineteenth century. The sixteenth century Spaniards who arrived to Mexico were interested in two European grains: wheat and barley.
The second most accepted story of the arrival of rice in Mexico and its current uses is articulated in the following quote of a 2001 thesis of the Escuela Superior de Turismo (Superior School of Tourism) of the Instituto Nacional Politécnico (National Polytechnic Institute):
Rice is a grain from Eastern Asia brought to Mexico from the Philippines at the start of the colonial period. Traditionally, in Mexico, rice is browned in oil or lard with onions, garlic and salt before boiling. There are various ways to prepare rice such as: white; red; black; yellow; Puebla style; jardinière; and tumbada (Veracruz style) rice. Rice is used also to accompany different stews, roasts, mole-sauces, and adobo-sauces. The proper cooking point, texture, and consistency is a true controversy among different families and regions. In Southeast Mexico, rice is made mainly white to accompany the main dish of the meal. In Mexico City and other parts of Central Mexico rice is usually cooked red [with tomatoes] and is served as a dry soup after the sopa aguada (broth-y soup), and before the main dish. It is common to add a fried egg to it, slices of banana and even mole sauce.
In other places of Mexico, rice is part of the main dish as rice with chicken or pork. In Oaxaca, rice flavored with chepil dry leaves is common. Rice is eaten also with minced chicken innards, oregano, chili and parsley; it is a rice dish for special occasions. Another festive rice is Party Stewed Rice: red rice with pieces of pork ribs, Serrano peppers, parsley, peas and oregano. White rice is eaten in Veracruz with slices of fried plantain; it is typical in all of the Sotavento region. (Frías 60-61)

The theory of the arrival of the first rice in Mexico from the Philippines falls short where the Philippines-Acapulco original contact did not occur until 1565 where rice cultivation in Tabasco is reported a quarter of a century earlier. Because navigation charts for the route had to be made, the first ship with Asian cargo did not arrive to Acapulco until 1573 when “one of the greatest commercial exchanges of the epoch” started (Galeón 93). The Philippines-Acapulco-Philippines trade lasted 242 years until 1815:
Manila was the center of a commercial route that brought products from China, Japan, the Pacific Islands, and even India. The typical cargo of the Manila Galleon or the Nao of China was: cloves, cinnamon, pepper, silk, velvet, satins, taffetas, rope, copra, Chinese ceramic, delicate gold works and precious stones, carved wood, amber, flour, swords, etc.; in exchange the Chinese asked for silver from New Spain, which they needed urgently for their commercial activities. (Galeón 93)
Indubitably, Asian rice was present in the Philippines and was used to feed the sailors in the Manila-Acapulco trade route. Unquestionable too is that Asians and others began entering Mexico through that route in the late sixteenth century. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán has recorded, “Acapulco, a small village, located in the mountainous coasts of the [Mexican] South Seas […] regularly received the visit of the China Galleon with goods and slaves from the Philippine islands” (49). The enslaved were not natives of the Philippines as explained by Aguirre,
From the time that Fernando de Magallanes reached the Philippines archipelago for the first time in 16 March 1521, until López de Legaspi conquered it for the Spanish crown in 1565, numerous expeditions were formed to reach the Spice Islands. The Spanish, once established in Manila, followed the norms established in Mexico for the treatment of the natives; this means that the natives were exploited in encomiendas and repartimientos but not sold as slaves. There were prohibitions passed in this respect […] a few Indians from the Philippines were taken enslaved to New Spain. (49)
Manila had been the center of Eastern Trade long before the Europeans’ arrival, and people and slaves from all over Asia and Indonesia concurred in Manila yearly; “When López de Legaspi took Manila from the Zulu Moors he acquired the slave trade rights” (Aguirre 50). Toward the end of the 16th century, a Spanish galleon destined for New Spain began to leave Manila loaded with slaves and merchandise. The ship unloaded its products in Acapulco and returned to Manila with silver from the Mexican mines. Mexican silver was greatly appreciated by the sangleyes, the name given at the time to Chinese merchants.
The Spanish preferred not to live in Acapulco. Due to its inhospitable climate and environs, mainly Africans and their offspring populated colonial Acapulco from mid sixteenth century onward. Aguirre mentions that Philippine slaves were sent to New Spain by López de Legaspi. They received their freedom in the seventeenth century and founded a borough in Acapulco, “They called themselves Philippino Indians, but among them there were many mulattoes. This allows one to suppose that they were not exclusively natives of the archipelago, but from many other places of the Orient” (Aguirre 50). Most of the enslaved that arrived in Acapulco from Philippines “came under individual contracts” (Aguirre 50). An unknown number of enslaved East Africans entered Mexico via Acapulco classified as “chinos,” or people whose bloodline was nevertheless perceived as tainted by inferior (Non-European) blood, especially African.
In 1745, Spanish crown census maker Joseph Antonio de Villaseñor y Sánchez noted in his report, “There are no Indians in [Acapulco…], there are only four hundred families of chinos, mulattoes and blacks” (171). “Chinos” in this context is short for “cochinos” (pigs), people who are perceived as Afro-descendants and therefore carriers of Black “tainted” blood. In Mexico during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the name “chino” referred to the offspring of Black and Indian, “mulatto and chino were synonyms” (Aguirre 179).
Within the Mexican rice cultivation and gastronomy context, the above recounting of the history of the Asia-Mexico trade is of fundamental importance as well to help disentangle the confusion created by the misinterpretation and mistranslation of the term “chino” which did not mean “Chinese.” The “chinos” recorded in most Spanish colonial documents, as mentioned, are the offspring of people of the Original Nations and Africans. Thus, the version that rice was first brought to Mexico from Asia is not substantiated.
The Spanish lacked a cultural interest in rice; but they understood that rice was a cultural staple of West Africans. Rice agriculture and consumption in Mexico is recorded alongside Africans decades before the onset of the Acapulco-Philippines trade. Moreover, beyond rice cultivation, Mexican rice gastronomy reveals patterns of cooking and consumption similar to those found in Valencia and the Americas where West Africans, from the African Rice Coast, were present.
Logic dictates that West Africans were among the sixteenth century Africans taken (by the Spaniards) over the land from Veracruz to colonize and settle Acapulco. The likelihood that African rice came with them to Acapulco and the region must be contemplated. A call is made to academicians from all disciplines to engage in the serious and systematic study of Mexico’s kinships with the various nations of Africa. A few grains of Oryza glaberrima excavated by anthropologists from 16th century Mexican sites would provide further clues and directions toward recovering our African memory.
The cultural impact of West Africa in Mexico is yet to be officially recognized. Most of the African contributions and influences, as is the case of rice cultivation and gastronomy, have been wrongly assigned European, Asian, Hindu or when nothing else works “Arab” origins, (The Moor legacies are whitened with the name “Arab.” The Black Berbers called Moors (Van Sertima 4) were Arabic-speaking people; whereas the Arabs were a small minority of Islam). Consider this:
six basic preparation techniques that can arguably be extended to much of West Africa and are assumed to have been known to West Africans before Columbus. They are: boiling in water; steaming in leaves; frying in deep oil; toasting beside the fire (this can also be described as grilling); roasting in the fire; and baking in ashes” to this one can add “seven culinary tendencies that traveled from West Africa to the Americas and are emblematic of African-inspired cooking in the hemisphere. They are: the preparation of composed rice dishes; the creation of various types of fritters; the use of smoked ingredients for flavoring; the use of okra as a thickener; the abundant use of leafy green vegetables and the consumption of the ‘pot lickker;’ the abundant use of peppery and spicy hot sauces and condiments; and the use of nuts, beans (such as peanuts, which are beans not nuts), and seeds as thickeners. (Harris 172-3)
An important portion of the above can easily be detected in Mexican gastronomy and may be attributed, in part, to the pre-Columbian Mexican Indigenous origins. The point to underline is that current popular Mexican and West African palates possess amazing similarities in the ways that rice is prepared and enjoyed. Many West African and Mexican dishes and table sauces are red hot. This reveals cultural texts from both sides of the Atlantic with a series of incontestable affinities.
Let us compare for instance Jollof rice and Arroz a la mexicana; both are national cultural texts with characteristics that reveal deep-rooted affiliations. Jollof rice is one of the most popular dishes in West Africa; the common ingredients are: lean beef or chicken; salt and ground white pepper; vegetable oil for frying; stock or (water with crushed stock cubes); finely chopped onions; peeled and finely chopped garlic; finely chopped chilies (hot peppers); blanched, peeled and blended or mashed tomatoes; and tomato paste, assorted chopped vegetables, e.g. carrots, green beans, mushrooms and capsicums (sweet or bell peppers); long-grain rice; lettuce, parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro) and hard-boiled eggs to garnish. The cooking directions are:
Heat oil in fry pan and fry the meat or chicken pieces until brown. Remove meat from oil and add to the stock in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Simmer on low heat until meat begins to soften, and then remove from heat. Drain excess oil from fry pan leaving enough oil to fry onions, garlic and chilies (hot peppers) until golden. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, half the combined vegetables and stock from the meat mixture. Stir well, adjust seasoning and simmer on low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add this vegetable sauce to the meat mixture in the saucepan and simmer gently. Finally, stir in the uncooked, long-grain rice. Arrange the remaining vegetables on top of the rice and continue to simmer until the rice absorbs all the stock, softens and cooks, and the meat is tender. Serve hot, garnished with chopped lettuce, parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro) and hard-boiled eggs. (Hafner)
Arroz a la mexicana (or red rice) is one of the most popular ways to prepare and enjoy rice in Mexico and southwest United States that has a large “Hispanic” population. The common ingredients are: ripe tomatoes; chicken broth, olive oil; chopped onion; finely diced carrots; minced garlic; medium-grain rice; salt; bay leaf (some recipes use cumin and cilantro); serrano chile; and fresh or frozen peas. Mexican rice is served as a sopa seca (dry soup) before the main dish, or to accompany chicken, fish, beef or other stews. The cooking directions are:
Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the seeds. Add the tomatoes and 2 cups of broth to a blender and puree. Strain into a bowl and reserve the liquid. Add enough extra broth to make 4 cups of liquid. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute for 4 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Stir in the rice and cook until slightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato broth mixture, stir and bring to boil. Add the salt, bay leaf, and the serrano chile. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Scatter the peas over the top of the rice, cover, and let the rice stand 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, transfer to a serving bowl and serve. For a deeper colored rice, stir in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste when adding the salt, bay leaf and serrano chile. (Foolproof)
Arroz a la tumbada (Veracruz style rice) is another popular Mexican rice dish related to Jollof rice. The ingredients and preparation of Arroz a la tumbada follow:
vegetable oil; washed and dried medium grain rice; peeled and chopped onion; peeled and minced garlic cloves; roasted, seeded, peeled and liquefied Roma tomatoes; fish stock; 1-in. pieces of raw fish fillets; shelled and de-veined raw shrimp; octopus chopped and cooked; soft-shell crabs; scrubbed clams; and chopped parsley. Arroz a la tumbada is normally prepared as follows:
In a clay cazuela or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the […] oil. Add the rice, onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is just turning golden. Add the liquefied tomatoes and cook until they are nearly absorbed by the rice. Add the fish stock, fish fillets, shrimp, octopus, crabs and clams. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover tightly and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Remove lid, sprinkle with chopped parsley, bring the cazuela to the table and serve from it. (Arroz)
Paella a la mexicana is another foundational cultural text performed in the corridor Veracruz-Mexico City. With some variations, its main ingredients include: rice, saffron, olive oil, chicken and chicken stock, pork, bacon, chorizo sausages, clams, shrimp, crabs, fish stock, artichokes, green beans, peas, carrots, olives, pimentos, onions, and garlic. Alavarado, Tlacotalpan, Mandinga, El Conchal, Boca del Río, are a few of the Port of Veracruz meccas of Paella a la mexicana. In Mexico City, one can find the best paella performed throughout the city. If this dish was a musical piece, it would be possible to detect the African rhythms that through its appearance, consistency, aroma, flavor, and others communicate a story (just like the Son musical complex in Latin America and Rhythm Blues in USA do) as one of the most creative and beautiful responses to the African-Mexican experience, unique among its sister cultures, but yet an African offspring.
Particularly in the Bajio, Central and Southern Mexico, South Pacific and Gulf regions rice is served as part of the main meal of the day. Comidas corridas (set menu) in Mexico City include a sopa aguada (liquid soup), a dry soup (rice or pasta), a stew, beans, and agua fresca (cold drinks made of: rice, tamarind, roselle, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, etc.). Rice may be added to Caldos (broth-y beef, chicken, lamb or fish soups). In most Mexican recipes, rice is browned in vegetable or animal fat and then a sofrito (a mixture of lightly fried onions and garlic, usually with tomatoes and other vegetables, used as a base for soups and stews) is added before the animal or vegetable broth that will be absorbed to flavor the rice. Rice is also served as a dessert (arroz con leche), or as a cold drink (horchata). As a dessert, rice is cooked in milk with cinnamon, raisins and sugar (with some variations). As a drink, rice is cooked with milk, water and cinnamon. Once cooked is pureed and strained. Sugar, milk and water are added to taste.
The direct connections of rice gastronomy between Mexico and West Africa are unavoidable. As discussed earlier, rice did not become part of the Spanish diet until the nineteenth century. First Nations people did not know rice, onions, garlic, cilantro, cumin, carrots, peas and frying. The First Nations may not have known of chickens either. Rice however, was a staple in the diet of a large portion of the West Africans brought from the Senegal-Gambia-Guinea (African Rice Coast) region to New Spain in the sixteenth century. The West Africans knew onions, garlic, chicken, cilantro, carrots, peas, and the making of sofrito. West Africans have adopted from the Americas peanuts, tomatoes, corn, cacao, chilies, avocados, corn, and pineapples, among others.
During the post-Columbian exchange (a two-way avenue) other West African traditions arrived in Mexico (and other places of the Americas) during the colonial period and became part of the current Mexican national gastronomy, and gastronomies of other American nations where the African influence has been studied and accepted. The popular comidas corridas (set menu) mentioned above are traditionally accompanied by one of the national trilogy of aguas frescas (cold drinks): horchata de arroz (rice sweet drink), jamaica (roselle), or tamarindo (tamarind). The following histories of roselle and tamarind may complement and be parallel to the history of African rice in Mexico:
The Cambridge World History of Food reports that roselle is,
Probably a native of West Africa (it is a close relative of okra), roselle (Hisbiscus sabdariffa) is also called “rozelle,” “Indian sorrel,” “red sorrel,” “Jamaican sorrel,” and just plain “sorrel.” The young shoots and leaves of the plant are eaten raw or as a cooked vegetable, and the flowers {actually the calyx), which constitute the main reason for the cultivation of roselle, are used to make beverages, jellies, sauces, preserves and chutneys. Roselle was introduced in Brazil in the seventeenth century but may have reached the West Indies even earlier—both of these introductions occurring via the slave trade. (1844-5)
Regarding tamarind, the same source dubiously states:
The tamarind, a basic ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, has a Latin name (Tamrindus indica) that certainly suggests an Indian origin, but East Africa also claims the plant. Its name, which comes from the Arabic, tamar-bindi, means “Indian date.” The tamarind has been cultivated since ancient times in India, where it retains a place in formal Hindu ceremonies. It must have reached Europe sometime before the Spaniards moved into the Americas, because they carried the plant to the West Indies and Mexico. (1865)
The California Rare Fruit Growers inform, “The tamarind is a native to tropical Africa and grows wild throughout the Sudan [region]. It was introduced into India so long ago, it has been reported as indigenous there also. […] Sometime during the sixteenth century it was introduced into America and today is widely grown in Mexico.” The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts reports, “Other theories suggest tamarind originated in various locations in Africa including Madagascar and Central and East African countries” (400).
“N’dakar” in Wolof, a language of the Niger-Congo family spoken in Senegal, Mali and Gambia currently, means “tamarind tree.” The connections between the origin of the tree and fruit and its specific usage as a cooling beverage in Mexico and West Africa, and not in Spain, should not be dismissed; particularly where tamarind drink and roselle drink are two of the three national cooling drinks of Mexico. The third one is horchata de arroz (rice drink). Thus, the relationships between West Africans in Mexico in the sixteenth century and rice, roselle and tamarind gastronomical usages in Mexican national gastronomy may be viewed in conjunction with other Mexican foodstuffs and food practices as having profound West African roots.
Under the light of the foregoing, the conspicuous similarities between Mexican “Mole Poblano” and Senegalese Mafe (a type of mole served and eaten in an ample bed of rice) need to be studied. The author of the present work learned of Mafe for the first time during his visit to Dakar in December 2010. West African rice, rice cultivation and rice gastronomy arrived in the sixteenth century to Mexico along with the Wolof, Fulani, Tukolor, Baga, and other West Africans brought to New Spain at the onset of the Spanish colonial period. This is also supported by the four sources cited in the first paragraph of this study where rice cultivation is reported in 1539. Although mostly enslaved, these Africans did not come void of cultural knowledge and empty handed as has been narrated in the official histories of Mexico, and elsewhere.

(Please see after the bibliography pictures of food items referred to in this essay).

Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo. La población negra de México. Estudio etnohistórico. México, D.F.: Fondo, 1972 (1st ed. 1946).
Alegría, Ricardo E. Juan Garrido, El conquistador negro en las Antillas, Florida, México y California. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 2004 (1ª Ed. 1990).
“Arroz a la tumbada.” 11 January 2011.
Awam, Ibn-al-. Libro de Agricultura. Clásicos agrarios. Madrid: Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación, 1988 (1st translation 1802).
California Rare Fruit Growers. . 10 January 2011.
Cambridge World History of Food, The. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
Carney, Judith A. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. Cambridge: Harvard, 2001.
_____. “From Hands to Tutors: African Expertise in the South Carolina Rice Economy.” Agricultural History, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Summer 1993): 1-30.
_____. “Out of Africa: Colonial Rice History in the Black Atlantic.” Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World. Eds. Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan. Philadelphia: U of Penn P., 2005.
_____. “ ‘With grains in her hair’: rice in colonial Brazil.” Slavery & Abolition, 25: 1. (2004): 1-27.
Chang, Te-Tzu. “Economic and Biological Importance of Rice.” The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, (2000): 132-149.
Colección de documentos inéditos relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organización de las antiguas posesiones españolas de ultramar. 2nd Series; Vol. II: I “Relaciones de Yucatán.” Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1898.
del Río Moreno, Justo L. and Lorenzo E. López y Sebastián.”El trigo en la ciudad de México. Industria y cultivo de un cultivo importado (1521-1564).” Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 22. Madrid: Servicio de Publicaciones UCM, 1996.
Diouf, Sylviane A. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York: NYUP, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts, The. Eds. Jules Jenick et al. Cambridge: CUP, 2008.
Foolproof Mexican Rice (“Arroz Mexicano”). The Foodnetwork.http://www. . 11 January 2011.
Frías Valenzuela, Marta Argelia, María Elena Malcara Herrera, Edgarad Martínez Gallardo Sánchez, and Monteserrat Sánchez Orozco. “La importancia del rescate de la comida barroca como arte culinario dentro de la gastronomía del estado de Puebla.” B.A. in Thesis. México, D.F.: IPN, 2001. 2 January 2011.
“Galeón de Manila, El.” 4 January 2011.
Hair, P.E.H. “Black African Slaves at Valencia, 1482-1516: An Onomastic Inquiry.” History in Africa, Vol. 7 (1980): 119-139.
Hafner, Dorinda. “Jollof Rice” Recipe. The Global Gourmet Main Page. From A Taste of Africa.
jollofrc.html#axzz1AjtTLc2V. 11 January 2011.
Harris, Jessica. “Same Boat, Different Stops: An African Atlantic Culinary Journey.” African Roots/American Cultures: Africa in the Creation of the Americas. Ed. Sheila Walker. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield P., 2001.
“Historia del la paella.” 3 January 2011.
Humboldt, Alexander de. Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain. Vol. II. Translated from the Original French by John Black. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown; and H. Colburn, 1814.
Lipski, John. A History of Afro-Hispanic Language: Five Centuries, Five Continents. Cambridge: CUP, 2005.
Mendel, Janet. Traditional Spanish Cooking. London: Frances Lincoln Limited P,. 2006.
Official Mexican Rice History. Consejo Mexicano del Arroz. Juanuary 2011.
Olsen, Lois and Helen L. Eddy. “Ibn-al-Awam: A Soil Scientist of Moorish Spain.” Geographical Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jan. 1943): 100-109.
“Oriza glaberrima.” Jstore Plant Science. 2 January 2011.
“Paella: An Introduction to Spanish Paella.” 3 January 2011.
Redondo, Brígido. “Negritud en Campeche: de la Conquista a nuestros Días.” Presencia africana en México. Ed. Luz María Martínez Montiel. México, D.F.: CONACULTA, 1994.
Sarla, N. and B.P. Mallikarhuna Swamy. “Oryza glaberrima: A source for the improvement of Oryza sativa.” Current Science, Vol. 89, No. 6. (2005): 955-963.
Smart. Ian I. Amazing Connections: Kemet to Hispanophone Africana Literature. Washington, D.C. Original World P., 1996.
Sotavento. veracruz-mexico.htm 1-9-2011.
Van Sertima, Ivan. “”The Moor in Africa and Europe.” Golden Age of the Moor. Ed. Ivan Van Sertima. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2007.
Villaseñor y Sánchez, Joseph Antonio. Theatro americano: Descripción general de los Reynos y Provincias de la Nueva España y sus jurisdicciones. Prologue, María del Carmen Velázquez. México, D.F.: Trillas, 1992.

Senegalese Mafe with white rice.

Wolof rice with Chicken

Jollof rice with veggies

Wolof rice AKA “Benachin”

Bissap Drink (Jamaica in Mexico)

Dakhar drink (Tamarindo in Mexico)

The Mexican Colonial Term “Chino” Is a Referent of Afrodescendant

“The descendants of negroes and Indian women bear at Mexico, Lima and even at the Havannah the strange name of chino [….]”
Alexander von Humboldt

Apparently unaware of the existence of at least three Spanish language homonyms of “chino” with different significations, times and places of origin, there is a considerable research corpus inaccurately translating as “Chinese” the colonial name “chino,” found in Mexican colonial documents from the late sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For the most part, those “chinos” are Afro-Mexicans. “Chino” in New Spain archival records is a referent to people of African heritage whose lineage was perceived by the Spanish as tainted by African blood and therefore they were nicknamed “chino” comparing them to “dirty pigs.” Although the animal connotation has disappeared, the Afro implication of the term has survived until present. The homonym “chino,” meaning Chinese, arose in the nineteenth century in Manila, Philippines as a synonym of Sangley, the name given to Chinese merchants up to that time.
The distortion appears to have originated with Alexander von Humboldt during his visit to New Spain in 1800. Although von Humboldt understood the meaning of the term “chino” as applied in Mexico at the time, he failed to realize that he was dealing with homonyms of “chino” when he mentioned that it was “strange” to call Afrodescendants “Chinese.” In the end, von Humboldt reported that “chino” in Mexico referred to the offspring of Blacks and “Indian women” [First Nations herein after], (184). John Black (1783-1855) translated von Humboldt’s essay from French to English for the 1811 publication. While applying the term “Chinese” to Afrodescendants made no sense, John Black overlooked the problem as he translated, “On the coasts of Caraccas, and, as appears from the laws, even in New Spain, they [meaning “chinos”] are called zambos. This last denomination is now principally limited to the descendants of a negro and a female mulatto, or a negro and a Chinese female” (von Humboldt, 184) (emphasis added). John Black mistranslated “chino” as “Chinese” and “china” as “Chinese female” which in context were referents of male and female African offspring. To avoid misinterpretations, John Black should have translated “china” as “china female” and not “Chinese female.” Magnus Morner cites von Humboldt where he states, “The offspring of Indian and Negro were called chinos in both Mexico and Peru” (59 n.22). Von Humboldt was an observer in situ as he traveled in the American Spanish colonies from 1799 to 1804.
Within context, it is clear that von Humboldt is reporting on the mixes of Blacks, First Nations and Europeans,
“The casts of Indian and African blood preserve the odour peculiar to the cutaneous transpiration of those two primitive races. The Peruvian Indians […] have formed three words to express the odour of the European, the Indian American and the negro […] Moreover, the mixtures in which the color of the children becomes deeper than that of the mother, are called salta-atrás, or back-leaps ” (184).
The Americana: A Universal Reference Library, in the section entitled “Mexico: History and Modern Development” reports in 1912,
In 1827 the British Minister to Mexico divided the population into seven classes: (1.) Old Spanish or Gachupines. (2.) Creoles or Mixed whites of pure European race, born in America and regarded as natives. (3.) Indians or indigenous copper colored races. (4) Mestizos or mixed whites and Indians gradually merging into Creoles. (5.) Mulattoes or descendants of whites and negroes. (6.) Zambos or Chinos, descendants of negroes and Indians. (7.) African negroes, either manumitted or slaves. The first and last three classes he claimed to be pure and to have “given rise, in their various combinations” to the fourth class, which in turn was subdivided many times. (Beach 12-13) (emphasis added)
The same source explains that in 1900 Mexico had a foreign born population of 57,507 of which: “2,565 were Germans; 278 Arabs; 234 Austro-Hungarians; 140 Canadians; 2,721 Cubans; 2,834 Chinese; 16,258 Spaniards; 3,976 French; 3,325 Greeks; 5,804 Guatemalans; 2,845, English; 2,564 Italians; 15,265 North Americans; 391 Turks” (Beach 12)(emphasis added).
The misguided research mentioned at the onset, disregards New Spain’s meaning of “chino” as a referent of African-First Nations offspring. Said work ignores that the Spanish tagged as “chinos” the enslaved people who arrived in Mexico through Acapulco, including Africans, given their perceived “impure” lineage. Instead, those studies have applied “chino” as meaning “Chinese” indiscriminately to all non-European people who arrived in New Spain via Manila. With this light, the suggestion that 40,000 to 100,000 Chinese arrived in New Spain during the colonial period, besides being a physical impossibility is founded on a mistranslation.
A case in point is “The Chinos in New Spain: A Corrective Lens for a Distorted Image” (herein after referred to as “The Chinos in New Spain”) published in the Journal of World History, Volume 20, Number 1 (2009): 35 to 67. “The Chinos in New Spain” seeks to obtain recognition of the “Chinese” roots of Mexico. The essay’s main thesis is that during the almost 250 years (1571-1815) of the Philippine-Acapulco trade, Spanish galleons transported the,
“first wave” of transpacific Asian migration, [composed of] travelers from Cathay, Cipango (Japan), the Philippines, various kingdoms in Southeast Asia, and India [who] were known collectively in New Spain as chinos (Chinese) or indios chinos (Chinese Indians), as the word chino/china became synonymous with Asia. (35)
“The Chinos in New Spain” and like research, if left unchallenged, would erase a major portion of African Mexican archival history from the national memory and lead to further misinterpretation of Mexican historical data. Paradoxically, “The Chinos in New Spain” cites La población negra de México (The Black Population of Mexico) by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán to support its premise. Notably, La población has a full paragraph dedicated to explaining that the name “Chino” in Colonial Puebla, Mexico was a referent to the offspring of a Black male and a First Nations woman; and that “circa the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mulatto and Chino were synonyms” in that region (Aguirre 179). La población also quotes nineteenth-century Colonial Casta documents where: “Chino” is a referent to the offspring of a “Morisco” and a “Spanish woman” (Aguirre 177); Morisco is the offspring of a Spanish male and a Mulatto woman (Aguirre 175); and that “china, lépera [foul mouthed woman] or prostitute meant the same thing” (Aguirre 179).
The present analysis exposes that Tagalogs, Japanese, South East Asians, Hindi and Africans who arrived through Acapulco were perceived as colored, non-Christians or dirty pigs therefore subject to enslavement. It is stipulated that (long before China was called China and its people Chinese) there were “Slaves from the Great China taken to Mexico” but they were “scarce; as generally were all slaves from the Portuguese India” (Aguirre, La población 148). Much higher costs of transportation seem to have been the main obstacle.
To disentangle the confusion of the linguistic problem outlined above, the present work will track the distinct etymologies of “chino” meaning curly-haired African-First Nations offspring or dirty-blooded-cochino (pig); and of “chino” as Chinese. The objective is to show that the name chino as referent of Afrodescendant, derives from “chino” a synonym of “pig” and/ or through aphaeresis from “co-chino” used often as “chino cochino” meaning “dirty pig.” The imaginary dirtiness is a referent to the African bloodline or ancestry of a non-white person.
Conversely, it will be shown that another homonym of “chino” that emerged in nineteenth-century Philippines arose as a synonym of Sangley, the Tagalog name of the merchants from Cathay (the Middle Kingdom). Based upon the foregoing, three findings will be exposed. First, that the term “chino” in Mexican colonial documents is not a referent of Chinese, but to Afro-Mexicans. Second, that the word “chino” meaning Chinese, which emerged in nineteenth-century Philippines, applies to the Sangley exclusively. Third, that the ethnically diverse people who entered Mexico via Acapulco were called “chinos” meaning that they were perceived as people with tainted blood, just as African-Mexican chinos cochinos were.
Preceding that, the history of the Spanish arrival to Mexico in 1519, the catastrophic decline of the original inhabitants, the transatlantic trade of Africans brought to Mexico up to 1570, the establishment of a “racial” classification system, and the commencement of the Manila–Acapulco–Manila commerce and slave trade in 1571 will be reviewed concisely. To conclude, “The Chinos in New Spain,” will be read critically from a multidisciplinary perspective. It is noted that, even if inadvertently, the archival research work of “The Chinos in New Spain” contributes to African Mexican studies.
The Spanish colonization of the lands occupied by Mexico and much of the United States South West and Central South started in 1519. The Spanish christened these territories as “New Spain.” As many as 50,000,000 First Nations people inhabited those lands at the time of contact. By 1570, their number was reduced to 3,336,860 and to 1, 269,607 by 1646. The Spanish, to penetrate the land, started to bring Africans across the Atlantic immediately after 1519. It is reported that by 1570, there were 20,559 Africans; and 6,464 Spanish (Aguirre 198). By 1571, the Spanish established a shipping line across the Pacific between Acapulco and Manila, in the Philippine Archipelago. For the next 244 years one to two ships sailed regularly, although not always annually: “At times [ships] got lost or were unable to go back given the storms, shipwrecks or Hollandaise harassment” (Ollé 41). Diverse Asian and African people entered that port, many enslaved (Aguirre 49-52).
In accordance to the social structure and ideology on race they had developed in Spain, the Spaniards established in Mexico, and elsewhere in their colonies, a social pyramid or pigmentocracy based upon the amount of the perceived whiteness or blackness of a person. Peninsular Spanish who saw themselves as “pure-white-blooded” positioned themselves at the top. To keep under control and in their place all people they invented as non-white, various “racial” labels were forged along the lines of the so-called miscegenation occurring in Mexico. One of such “distinctions” was the tag “Chino.” In the Spanish American colonies, including New Spain, “chino” meaning “pig” was a referent to the African-First Nations’ offspring. This “chino” voice emerged independently and earlier than its homonym “chino” for Chinese. Chino meaning Chinese developed in the Philippines in the nineteenth century as a new name for the Sangley merchants; more regarding this will follow later. Sangley was the Tagalog name applied to Middle Kingdom or Cathay merchants (“Middle Kingdom” and “Cathay” are earlier names referring to the area later called China).
According to María Luisa Herrera Casasús,
The Spanish China Ship or Galleon, —that from the end of the sixteenth century, until the beginning of the nineteenth, traveled periodically from Manila in the Philippine Islands to Acapulco in [New Spain’s] Pacific Coasts—transported slaves from West Africa, India, Malacca, China and other Asian countries. African and Asian enslaved who entered [New Spain] via the Pacific, were commonly nicked named “Chinos.” (467)
In this same historical line Aguirre elucidates,
Soon after Manila was conquered [by the Spaniards], enslaved people from the West began to arrive in New Spain. General López de Legazpi sent some, who were the property of his heirs until the early seventeenth century. These slaves obtained their freedom afterward and founded a borough in the small port [of Acapulco]. They called themselves Philippine Indians, but among them, there were many Mulattoes. This allows one to suppose that they were not only natives from the [Philippine] Archipelago, but from many other places of the West (50). They were called “Chinos, even though they were not exactly—in effect in the majority of the cases—as it will be seen of the Mongolian race (144). Almost all Philippine slaves came under individual contracts between the slave’s owner and a sailor of the ship. The sailor would take the slave to New Spain under his care, responsible to give him food and water, and upon arrival to the port to sell the slave at the best possible price, taking for himself, as commission, a third of the slave’s value (52)
The individual contracts, the size and number of ships, the number of trips made, and the Spanish archives allow one to project the number of enslaved people who entered New Spain through the Pacific. Hugh Thomas expounds,
Many captives were also obtained from Madagascar “a vast Island abounding with slaves” in the words of William Beckford, lord major of London. In the seventeenth century, these were sometimes shipped eastward, via Manila across the Pacific to Acapulco, where they were sold as “chinos.” (369)
Thomas cautions that these Madagascar “chinos” should not “be confused with the small number of Chinese and Filipinos, also known as chinos, who after the opening up of the Pacific by Miguel de Legazpi in 1564-65, were carried to Mexico in the Manila galleons” (369 note) (emphasis added). In Manila, the indigenous Tagalogs had traded long before the Spanish arrival with people from Cathay (that was China’s name at the time). As mentioned, the Tagalogs referred to those merchants they traded with as Sangleys. The Spaniards adopted the term Sangley in the sixteenth century and used it until the nineteenth century when the term Chino (translated as Chinese in English) emerged to replace Sangley.
Benedict Anderson explains, “Only very slowly the Sangley turned into ‘Chinese’—until the word disappeared in the early nineteenth century to make way for a VOC-style chino” (168). Caroline Sy Hau affirms that by Jose Rizal’s (1861-1896) time “chino replaced Sangley in bureaucratic usage” (141). Thus, the homonym “chino” connoting Chinese did not emerge until the nineteenth century. During prior centuries, the Africans, Hindi, Southeast Asians, Filipinos, Negritos, Sangley, etc. who entered New Spain via Acapulco were labeled “chinos” meaning “pigs” and had no reference to China, Cathay, Philippines or Asia.
As the above mentioned were not Christian, European, and lacked a noble lineage, Spaniards perceived them as savages, bad, despicable, treacherous, vicious, etc. They were an inferior Other (la brosa, los de abajo, la chinaca, la morenada, etc.). Sangleys lived outside the city walls of Manila. They were periodically exterminated by the Spaniards to quell revolts just as had been done to the: Jewish and Moriscos populations in Spain; and First Nations, Africans, and their offspring in the Americas.
In addition to lumping all transpacific arrivals to New Spain as Chinese, “The Chinos in New Spain” ignores Southeast Asia and Philippine diversity and diminishes to a “small number” the Africans from “Mozambique, Guinea and Cabo Verde” among them (41). The African Malagasy and “Negritos” presence throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Archipelagoes is bypassed. Much of the theory supporting “The Chinos in New Spain…” comes from Race, Class and Politics in Mexico 1610-1670 by Jonathan I. Israel. Race, Class and Politics in Mexico misinterprets that the voice chino found in colonial documents means “pig.” Roberto Gómez Ciriza the translator makes no clarifications to the Spanish language readers. Afro-Mexican chinos thus are lost in translation.
A parallel misreading is present in Africans in Colonial Mexico (120-21). Herman Bennett mentions, “The increasing presence of chinos in the archival records indicates that Mexico’s chino population experienced growth in the first half of the seventeenth century;” he notes also a Chino “proclivity for partners of African descent” (121). That Bennett does not translate the term, rather uses it in its Spanish form denotes his uneasiness. However, the last part of the sentence quoted above reveals that he does not see Mexican chinos as Afrodescendants i.e. he would not state that chinos (meaning Afrodescendants) have a “proclivity for partners of African descent.” Bennett may have assumed this because mentioned in the archival documents is: some of the people had met in Philippines during childhood or that they had arrived in Mexico via the Manila Galleon. Nevertheless, Philippine people were not Chinese then or now.
The Tagalogs from the Philippines were known as Philippine Indians and not Chinese. The term “Chino” was applied to the diverse people who entered New Spain via Acapulco (including Africans), because they were perceived as “cochinos,” or people of tainted lineage, just as the offspring of Africans and First Nations were viewed in the same place and time.
In the 1950 Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado dictionary, there are two entries for “chino.” In the first instance, chino/china means Chinese man or woman. The second chino/china is an American adjective and substantive that given the country has diverse meanings. In some countries the child of a Mulatto man and a Black woman is called “chino;” in others, “chino” is applied to the children of “Indian and Zambo; in Colombia chino means young man, ass; in Salvador chino signifies bold headed or foul mouthed; in Cost Rica, chino refers to a furious or arrogant person; in Chile a person of the lower classes is called “chino/china;” in Cuba, Mexico and Colombia “chino” is a term of endearment. These three countries have a considerable population of Afrodecendant chinos.
As mentioned, the term “Chino” in New Spain was a synonym of “pig.” It linked this casta with an animal, just as did Mulatto (Mule), Coyote, Lobo (wolf), and Cimarron (wild horse), among others. According to the Diccionario de la lengua española, Cochino derives from “cocho” which comes from “coch” (sound to call pigs) and two of its pertinent meanings are: a very dirty and untidy man; and a lewd man lacking manners. The first entry for “chino” in the Diccionario breve de mexicanismos (Brief Dictionary of Mexican Terms) presents “chino” as the masculine voice for a curl of hair; and “chino” and “china” as masculine and feminine adjectives that refer to curly hair. The Nahuatl term “cuculuste” meaning “curly hair” provides another piece of the puzzle.
Deborah E. Kanter in “Their Hair was Curly,” in addition to historicizing First Nations-African relations and the birth of Mexican Red-Black people elucidates, “Given this shared blood, physical differences between Afro-Mexicans and Indians were not always obvious. Sometimes a person’s ‘true’ race could be determined only by searching for a grand parent in a dusty old parish register or by a recollection of telltale curly hair” (165). “The native population, so devastated in the first centuries of colonial rule, had recovered and was growing after 1700 [….] As a result competition over land, even house sites, became endemic [….] Individuals who could not deny their mix heritage face dispossession, even expulsion from the pueblos” (171). Although she makes no mention, Kanter’s work allows one to see the relation between the Nahuatl term “cuculuste” and “pelo chino” meaning curly hair.
Norma Angélica Castillo Palma and Susan Kellog in “Conflict and Cohabitation Between Afro-Mexicans and Nahuas in Central Mexico” explain further, “In Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz, a chino or china was an individual of both indigenous and African descent, with the term referring to an individual of African heritage mixed with mestizo or indigenous heritage. In Guerrero such individuals were termed cambujos” (135 n. 22).
Those interpretations above and the white aesthetic mentality underlying the name “chino,” within the context of New Spain, are further illustrated by the terms “Jarocho,” and “Cocho.” Jarocho was applied in the Veracruz region of New Spain to the African-First Nations offspring and “Cocho” was applied to the same in Michoacán. Aguirre expounds,
The Mulatto-Pardo was the product of the mix between the Black male with the Indian woman. Mulatto-Pardos were the most abundant in New Spain and the color of their skin produced the most varied and curious naming. [….] In general terms, we can assert that they were called Cochos en Michoacán, Cambujos in Oaxaca, Chinos in Puebla, Jarochos in Veracruz, Loros in Chiapas and Zambos in Guerrero; just to mention the most common. (169) (emphasis added)
Thus, Cocho, Cambujo, Chino, Jarocho, and Loro were synonyms and referents to people perceived as dirty, due to their African-First Nations lineage.
Beyond the Mexican colonial and current connotation of “chino” meaning “curly hair,” the link of the word “chino” with pig (cochino) is lodged in the history of Spanish medieval mentality. The term Morisco was forged in Spain in the late fifteenth century as a referent to the defeated Black Moors who converted to Catholicism to avoid expulsion. The Moriscos, just as the converted Jewish, who were suspected of practicing their original faiths, were called marranos, meaning dirty pigs. “Cochino” is a synonym of pig and dirty. Moriscos “were forbidden to wear their customary clothes, and were expressly prohibited from taking baths. Bathing was presumed to be prima facie evidence of apostasy. The phrase ‘the accused was known to take baths…’ is a common one in the records of the Inquisition” (Crow 149).
Antonia Ibarra Lario shows that “chino” is a synonym of pig in the speech of Lorca and its surrounding area in Andalusia. According to the Diccionario de la lengua española, the voice “china” signifies a small stone sometimes round. It is informed that the word derived from the child voice “chin,” an interjection used to call pigs. Cochino, as discussed earlier, derives from “cocho” which comes from “coch” (sound to call pigs) and two of its pertinent meanings are: a very dirty and untidy man; and a lewd man lacking manners. Thus, the voices “chin” and “coch” are both pig calls. Inverted and juxtaposed these pig calls produce the voice “coch-chin.” With the addition of a final “a” or “o” the word signals a feminine or masculine gender. The result is, coch-chin-a/ coch-chin-o. The loss of one of the two “ch” sounds is a matter of economy, the meaning is unaffected by the elimination of one, thus the terms cochina/cochino emerge.
The statutes regarding “Limpieza de sangre” (blood purity) appeared in isolated manner in Spain in the fifteenth century. Henceforth, in the sixteenth century, they were validated when all religious, military and civil congregations adopted them. It can be said that they are policies that barred Jewish who had converted to Christianity and their descendants from diverse posts in the Church, universities, military, guilds and civil institutions. Later, the statutes were extended to the Moors, Protestants and people tried by the Saint Inquisition. (Chami)
The conversos (people who converted to Christianity) were the Jewish in Spain who adopted Christianity by force in the fourteenth century; or those who had adopted it instead of being banished from Spain in the fifteenth by order of the Catholic King and Queen. Moriscos were those Moors who had converted to Christianity.“These statutes of blood purity are race statutes as they depend on the origin and heritage of a person, and not on a crime or fault. The crime is to belong to the ‘Caste of New Jewish’ or Moriscos” (Chami). Converted Jewish and Moriscos suspected of practicing Judaism and Islamism secretly were called marranos (pigs).
Those lineage statutes were transferred to the Spanish colonies including New Spain and applied with unprecedented rigor to the Castas, in particular Afrodescendants. The meaning behind the names Jarocho, Cocho and Chino in New Spain, all synonyms of “pig,” reveals a direct link to the above mentality. Spaniards forged white supremacy. They believed they were the latest product in a chain of evolution. That Spaniards saw Afro-Mexicans as inferior, comparable to animals, becomes clear in the following quote “Especially in central Mexico, peasant rebels insulted district officials in the same terms that Spaniards had heaped upon them—“dog,” “nigger,” and “pig” (Taylor 117).
As mentioned earlier, several ethnic groups tagged as “chinos” (pigs) entered New Spain via Acapulco, among them an unknown number of Sangleys, Southeast Asians, Hindi and Africans, among others. Still, “The Chinos in New Spain..,” fallaciously takes the voice chino as meaning “Chinese” and applies it to all and sundry. “The Chinos in New Spain…” bypasses the etymology of the term and completely misses its primary meaning of “chino cochino” (pig) as applied in New Spain and in various places of the Spanish empire until the nineteenth century. The term has preserved up to present its original reference to Afrodescendants in Mexico (chino) and Peru (cholo-chino). This is documented in any accredited Spanish language dictionary.
“The Chinos in New Spain…” asserts that the image of the chino is distorted in the colonial casta paintings, because there is no Chinese image recorded. La pintura de castas: representaciones raciales en el Mexico del siglo XVIII (simultaneously published as: Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico, in 2004) by Ilona Katzew reports: “Chino cambujo” is the offspring of an “Indian male and Black female” (Casta Painting 108 circa 1761); “China cambuja” is the daughter of a “Black male and an Indian female” (Casta Painting 112, circa 1763); the mix between “Barcina” and an “Indian” male produces “china” (Casta Painting 156 circa 1770-1780). Noticeably, there is no image of an Asian component. The casta paintings have guided much of the research regarding colonial Mexico. In addition to the casta paintings, von Humboldt, and the current use of the term in Mexico, various reputable dictionaries confirm the connotation of chino as a referent to African offspring.
“The Chinos in New Spain…” declares that “During the two and a half centuries of contact between the Philippines and the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a minimum of 40,000 to 60,000 Asian immigrants would set foot in the ‘City of Kings,’ while a figure double that amount (100,000) would be within the bounds of probability” (37). In footnote 3, “The Chinos in New Spain…” cites that “Jonathan Israel contends that 6,000 Asian slaves were arriving [to Acapulco from Philippines] each decade of the early 1600s.” According to such figures, 600 slaves would have entered Acapulco annually.
The Manila galleon was supposed to leave Manila and arrive in Acapulco annually, although they did not arrive every year: many were lost, others succumbed to the weather, mutiny, or to pirates. Peter Gerhard, for the 214-year period between 1566 and 1784 mentions 148 recorded sailings from Acapulco (40 n. 34). To transport 600 slaves, and the food and water required for each individual’s survival (850 kg), it would have required a displacement of around 600 tons. In the light that one to two 300-ton galleons traveled during the last decades of the sixteenth century and the first of the seventeenth, of the Manila-Acapulco route, arithmetic would expose the impossibility of transporting that number of slaves even if the ships were used exclusively as slave transports, which was not the reported case.
To transport forty thousand individuals enslaved over 244 years the following is reveled: 40,000 divided by 244 (years of trade) equals 163 slaves per year: 163 times 850 Kg of food and water per person equals 138 tons, slightly under half the 300 ton weight capacity of the first Manila Galleons. Keep in mind that slave contracts were handled on an individual basis (Aguirre 51). This would mean an additional 163 people to care for the enslaved and an additional 138 tons of food and water supplies. Even where the Manila Galleons were built to displaced up to 1200 tons of cargo by the seventeenth century, it is hard to conceive that that was the case where the Atlantic enslavers kept a watchful eye to protect a line of business they considered theirs. Precious stones, silk, cinnamon, etc. did not need water and food, could not revolt and were the declared main business of the Manila-Acapulco route.
At the beginning of the Manila-Acapulco carrera (route) small vessels of two to three hundred tons were used. Aguirre recounts,
toward the end of the sixteenth century a galleon laden with slaves and merchandise began to depart [Manila] toward New Spain; it unloaded its cargo in Acapulco and returned with Mexican silver, a metal appreciated by the Sangley. Later, 26 August 1633, the number of galleons was increased to four and then reduced again to one with larger cargo capacity of 600 to 800 tons. (50)
According to Cindy Vallar,
Spain eventually built much larger, more elaborate galleons with the combined purpose of carrying cargo and soldiers. More than two thousand trees--pine, cedar, oak, and mahogany--were required to build the largest of these, some of which became the warships that guarded the flota, or fleet, of vessels bound for Spain from the New World with holds laden with riches. A typical galleon weighed five hundred tons, but the largest were 1,200 tons. The high superstructure, which clearly identified a Spanish galleon, made the ship clumsy and slow. While larger […], life aboard the galleon was no better for mariners than previously designed ships. Wealthy or influential passengers plus their servants could put the total number of people aboard a galleon at two hundred soldiers and sailors and up to fifty civilians, which made for very cramped quarters.
Another source reports:
On September 20, 1638, the Nuestra Senora de la Concepción, a Spanish galleon plying the lucrative trade route between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco, foundered in bad weather and was hurled onto a reef. Most of the 400 people on board perished, and her precious cargo from the Orient spilled into the sea.
At the southernmost point of Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands (200 miles north of Guam), one of the grand Spanish merchant ships [foundered]-- loaded with Chinese silks/rugs, porcelain, ivory, cotton from India, ivory from Cambodia, camphor from Borneo, cinnamon and pepper and clove from the Spice Islands, band precious jewels from Burma, Ceylon, and Siam. (Spanish Galleon Trade)
Aguirre mentions that on occasion slaver ships entered Acapulco (52); and there are accounts of whole crews jumping ship in Acapulco. This is possible, but it is unlikely that this was the case with every trip and this cannot support the number of Chinese asserted as entering Mexico. Who were the crewmembers? Were all the crewmembers Tagalog or Sengley? How were the Tagalog called during the various centuries before Spanish bureaucrats adopted the name “chino,” to replace Sangley? Would the Spanish and the populations at large trust that many Sangleys in New Spain given their known rebelliousness? According to Thomas
In New Spain (Mexico) the scarcity of slaves from Africa did for a time lead colonists to use the Philippines as a source for a few workers: the Manila galloons which made their regular journeys across the Pacific from Manila to Acapulco after 1565 rarely failed to bring one or two slaves. (137)
“The Chinos in New Spain…” by mistranslating the Mexican term “Chino” as “Chinese” finds Chinese Catholic brotherhoods, Chinese militias, and Chinese generals of the Mexican Insurgent movement. Manel Ollé informs that soon after the Spanish conquest of the Archipelago, they named it “Philippines,” the Chinese merchants who came to Manila were identified in Spanish sources as “Sangleys” or “Sangleyes.” The Spanish authorities in Manila attempted to establish a quota for the accepted Sangley merchants; as the numbers swelled, the Spanish carried out a sort of “‘ethnic cleansing’ in which the Spanish of Manila executed in total many tens of thousands of [Sangleys] throughout the seventeenth century, as a response to rebellions, [and] indications of conspiracies” (43).
The first Sangley rebellions were related to their “quasi” forced recruitment for the diverse “pacifying” campaigns of the Philippine Islands. A case is cited where a crew made of 250 Sangley rebelled on board a Spanish “pacifying” ship and killed all Spaniards including “Governor Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas” (Ollé 44). “The recurring uprisings in protest and the ensuing summary repressions and exterminations with tens of thousands of dead Sangleys in each case, respond to precise historical circumstances” (Ollé 44-45). A few hundred armed Spaniards lived inside the city walls under constant fear that the Sangleys would overpower them. Henry Kamen cites, “The Spanish governor in 1768 calculated that there had been fourteen sanguinary [Sangley] insurrections since the funding of the colony, perhaps the most serious of them in 1603 when the [Sangley] killed nearly half of the Spanish population” (220).
Some 30,000 Sangley, who provided the Spaniards’ livelihood, inhabited outside the walls and in the towns surrounding the area. Thus, the question must be asked, would the few Spaniards who commanded the Manila Galleons risk navigating months with hundreds of Sangleys (who were well versed in the Spanish mentality) in the long lonely journey across the Pacific? Would the Spanish authorities in New Spain allow such a large migration of rebellious Sangley? How about the cultural endowments that such a sizable population of Sangley/Chinese would have brought along? Where is it?
Another claim of “The Chinos in New Spain…” is that in New Spain there were companies of Chinese militias (52). The essay positions these supposedly Chinese militias in the hot lands of Mexico and asserts that “Ethnically speaking they were mostly Tagal, Pampangan, or mestizos de Sangley who came over in the China ships in the eighteenth century as sailors, and included offspring from several generations of interracial unions” (52). According to the Spanish census of 1745, Acapulco has a population “of around four hundred families of chinos, mulattos and blacks” (Villaseñor 171). These Acapulco Chinos appear in the first position of importance signaling that they were the largest portion of the population. The chinos of the hot lands were acclimatized cuculustes or curly-haired people who had been there for generations. Where are the Sangley legacies of Acapulco, Atoya, or Coyuca towns? Nonetheless, the cultures of the South Pacific regions of Mexico, as in other places, reveal a rich African-First Nations heritage in the food, music, dance and world visions, among others.
Regarding religious brotherhoods or Cofradias, “The Chinos in New Spain…” cites the Italian traveler Gemelli Carreri as the source for identifying a Mexico City Cofradía de Chinos “through that which is called the procession of the Chinese, because those going out were Indians of the Philippines” (53). The zealous Catholic Church allowed this type of organization among Catholic orders who oversaw Casta Confraternities of Blacks, Mulattoes, Pardos, Zambos, Chinos, and Mestizos. Keeping in mind that the Spaniards did not exchange with other Middle Kingdom people, except the Sangley and the Sangley were systematically exterminated, when and where did the Sangley learn to trust the Spanish enough to convert to Catholicism by tens of thousands?
On the other hand, the Spanish never trusted the Moors, Jewish, First Nations, Blacks and Black offspring as true converts to Catholicism; this is lodged in the Spanish language spoken of earlier. Why would the Spanish view the Sangley differently and trust them in groups of several hundred across the Pacific ocean right into the heart of Spanish New Spain’s urban centers, mines, plantations, roads, transportation, homes, among others? Where are the Sangley Cowboys of Mexico, what do they sing and eat? Julio Cesar de Tavares in another context that applies elucidates, “there will never be a [cultural] space absolutely shielded and able to conceal the flow of the characteristics and parts of a civilization” (Tavares 85). The traveler Carreri cited in “The Chinos in New Spain…” mentions Philippine Indians and not Sangley. This begs the question, how can the confraternity be Chinese?
Although Tagalog, Malay, Javanese, Papuans, Timorous, Mozambique-ans, etc. entered Mexico, at the end of the day they were “scarce” (Aguirre 143-48) (Thomas 369 note). Otherwise, the cultures of the regions would show a Chinese influence of a sort. The lands, histories and cultures that “The Chinos in New Spain…” is usurping—even if unintentionally, belongs to the Black and their Diaspora offspring also known as Chinacos, Cochos, Jarochos, Boshitos, Chocos, Campechanos, Cambujos, Lobos, Coyotes, Loros, Mulatos, Prietos, Pintos, Pardos, Chilangos, Pelados, Costeñeos, etc. The Black female partners are known as “China Poblana,” “China Tehuana,” “China Jarocha,” “China Tapatía,” etc. During the Manumission war of 1810-1821, the Charro of today was known as Chinaco, which evolved from the term chino (pig). In Mexico, the Chinaco was the Insurgent soldier, who formed the Black Armies of the South. His female partner is known as the “China.”
The Chinacos came from all over the country as seen in the places in Map 1 of the “The Chinos in New Spain…” entitled “Chino Demographic Distribution in New Spain, 1590-1815.” The Chinacos, under the leadership of José María Morelos y Pavón, formed the Black Armies of the South who were instrumental in obtaining manumission and Independence from Spain. The Chinacos played a fundamental role in building the Mexican nation and its ethos. This is being reconstructed partially in upcoming studies and another portion has been documented in works and cultural texts previously analyzed.
“The Chinos in New Spain…” lacks the foundations necessary to demand sharing a cultural and physical space that was hard-won by the Children of Chango and Yemaya: the zamba rumberos who learned the pulse of the lands of Anahuac and its life forms. We are talking about the people who worked the land and fertilized it with their blood, sweat and tears. Those Chinos Cochinos, not Chinese but African and their descendants, produced Mexico and the rainbow of African-based identities, including those mentioned in this study.
There were Philippines, Sangleyes, Japanese, Tamils, Hindi, Malays, Cebuans, Negritos, Kefirs, Bantus, Malagasy, etc. who entered New Spain via Acapulco during the 244 years of the Acapulco-Manila trade. Upon arrival, as a whole, everybody as a unit entered as “chinos” meaning non-white. Archival documents refer to Tagalogs and others from the Philippine Archipelago as Indios Filipinos. If Filipinos Tagalogs were the majority of Asians who arrived in New Spain during the period 1571-1815 and not Sangley, then “Chino” meaning Chinese cannot apply to Indios Filipinos. It must also be understood that the homonym Chino meaning Chinese that developed in the nineteenth century Philippines applies only to the Sangley and therefore is not a referent to the Indios Filipinos, other Asians or the Mexican Chinos of African descent.
Up to the nineteenth century, “Chino” in New Spain was a Spanish-invented label to refer to those with tainted non-white lineages. Said people included a small number of diverse populations from areas today called China, the Philippines and other areas of Asia. However, it had no association specifically with the idea of being of Asian descent. Africans who entered via that route were called “chinos” as well. Starting in the nineteenth century, a new connotation or homonym of the term “Chino” began to be used to refer to Chinese people and their offspring. Thus, the term “Chino” in the Mexican colonial archives is mainly a referent to African-First Nations offspring.
The Mexico City “Chinese ghetto” of San Juan reported in “The Chinos in New Spain…” (43) is located in the area of San Juan market next to the Alameda central park. There are various Chinese restaurants and businesses sprinkled within a few blocks; whether Chinese merchants have occupied this area since colonial times or if it is a newer development connected to post-Colonial Chinese migrations needs to be documented. The Chinaca (Chinacos and Chinas as a group) however, is preponderant in San Juan and all surrounding barrios: Tepito, Lagunilla, Peralvillo, Centro, Viaducto, Doctores, Guerrero, San Simon, and Morelos, among others. Throughout various areas of the Mexico City, there are various “cafés de chinos,” Chinese cafes.
The diverse Asian, including Chinese, immigration to New Spain requires and deserves further study. During the period 1521 and 1594, 36,000 slaves arrived in Mexico (Cope 13). “The vast majority of these slaves were Africans” although “parish records reveal the existence of a few enslaved Filipinos (called chinos) and Chichimecs (Indians from Northern New Spain captured during wars)” (Cope 174 n.27). Filipinos negotiated their new environment by relating to Afrodescendants. Filipinos appear in some colonial documents as Chinos Filipinos, this refers to their less than pure lineage, just as is the case of Afromexican Chinos. “The Chinos in New Spain…,” as are others, is based on the “Chino” mistranslation in von Humboldt and various works that have followed suit. The vitiated circle of misunderstanding needs to be broken. This will open the door for renewed research in the area of Mexican Asian Studies and a robust dialogue with African Mexican Studies.

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Chinas Tehuanas