El Museo e Instituto de la Herencia Africana de México / The Museum and Institute of the African Heritage of Mexico©
This is a proposal by Dr. Marco Polo Hernández Cuevas to open a museum and an institute specialized in the African heritage of Mexico in San Juan de Ulúa Fortress, located on a reef in the Gulf of Mexico in front of the port of Veracruz, Mexico. San Juan de Ulúa Fortress, throughout the Spanish colonial period, was the main port of entry of enslaved Africans. Currently, there is a small museum in its vaults administered by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History). However, no mention is made there of the African heritage of Mexico. The Mexican populations, as well as others, have the right to know about this part of the Earth’s human legacy. The “Museum of our African Roots/ Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana” is a similar endeavor that exists in San Juan, Puerto Rico and may serve as a model for the present project. A call is hereby made for ideas including where to obtain financial backing.
Although research is in its early stages and much is yet to be unearthed, it is known that hundreds of thousands of enslaved children, women and men from more than one hundred nations of North, West, West Central, Central, East and South Africa were brought by enslavers to Mexico, via Veracruz, Campeche, Tuxpan on the Gulf coast of Mexico and Acapulco, Manzanillo and Tehuantepec on the Pacific side, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. An important portion of the tens of thousands of present Mexicans from the Costa Chica, Costa Grande, Tierra Caliente, Coyolillo, Tamiahua, etc. identified as Afro-Mexicans, negros, morenos, prietos, cambujos, etc. descend from those Africans. Also an important portion of the Mexican population at large, many who pass as white, Indian, Asian or mestizos, are Afrodescendants.
The African ancestors of Mexico worked throughout the land. They labored as ranchers, farmers, miners, road breakers, muleteers, stevedores, house servants, food vendors, cooks, nannies, construction workers, mill workers, textile workers, butchers, shoemakers, tailors, militias, musicians, traffickers, prostitutes, etc. The African ancestors contributed physically and culturally to the making of modern Mexico, its infrastructure and cultures. African cultural contributions form a fundamental part of the Mexican ethos, worldviews and cultural expressions. Their legacy throbs in the languages spoken in modern Mexico, its foods, music[s], dances, songs, colors, and textures, among others. These truths were obscured through a massive official persuasion program throughout a period I call “the cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution, 1920-1968.”
During the cultural phase, the notion that Africans and their legacies disappeared in Mexico through racial mixing was launched and promoted domestically and internationally. Until recently, these ideas controlled the discourse on modern nation including public education. Therefore, and understandably, the majority of present day Mexicans do not know about this major part of our history. In the1940s, due to the work of Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán and other early Eurocentric Africanists, the African heritage and the presence of Mexican Afrodescendants was temporarily re-discovered as part of the Mundonovismo flare of the epoch but was soon put in a far off backburner. Most of the work since has been sparse, heavily influenced by Aguirre and mainly underscores the mestizaje notions of the African disappearance.
The Museum of the African Heritage of Mexico would cover the period starting in the fifteenth century to the present. Domestic and international students and tourists visit San Juan de Ulúa fortress. These visitors would be the first ambassadors to disseminate said vision, a part of the restitution owed to the African abuelitas and abuelitos (Ancestors).
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.A. March 1, 2009.