2014 - 2015
The Cimarrón and the Fandango
The Little-Known World of the Afro-Mexican
During the colonial period in the Americas, a cimarrón was a fugitive black slave who lived a free life in isolated corners of society.
The fandango is a popular dance characterized by lively, passionate movement. In Mexico it also means rumba, party, hubbub.
Until 1570, 0.60% of the population of New Spain was comprised by an African community that had arrived as a result of the slave trade between the Spanish Crown and Portugal. This marked the beginning of the continent’s long colonization process. By 1742, the black population had reached 0.80%, exceeding the number of Spanish inhabitants. One of the reasons for this growth was the Iberian reluctance to immigrate to the new territory, which was considered “unstable” and involved “great risk.” As a result, many African slaves were exported to New Spain as a workforce and divided among various industries: mining, livestock, fishing, and domestic work, among others.
One of the first Africans to reach Mexico was Juan Garrido, a free man who took part in the conquest mission led by Hernán Cortés. It is said that Garrido planted the first wheat in New Spain.
Later, during the fight for independence from 1810 to 1821, in which the armies were composed of the various castes constituting society at the time, one of this project’s greatest achievements was solidified: Mexico became the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery.
In the years that followed, the Afro-Mexican population began to concentrate largely in two parts of the Mexican territory: Veracruz and the Costa Chica region, on the border between Guerrero and Oaxaca.
In a letter addressed to his brother in the late nineteenth century, Ricardo Flores Magón, Mexican journalist and writer, asserts that Afro-Mexicans danced the huapango zapoteco on wooden platforms.
The Mexican constitution does not recognize the existence of the Afro-Mexican community. The lack of awareness surrounding the fact that a black community inhabits Mexico has led to all kinds of debates on sociopolitical and identity-related issues, coalescing in the current struggle for greater visibility and recognition.
Today, the self-defined Afro-Mexican population is building its own version of the past, beginning to recover and reconstruct their history – or, perhaps, to illuminate a history they had kept alive in seclusion.
The dance of the Black Devils is a ritual that blacks performed in colonial times: this ritual honored the Black God Ruja, whom they asked for help in freeing them from the shackles of slavery. Nowadays, the worship of this god has been replaced by veneration towards the dead, merging with pre-Columbian traditions practiced by various indigenous communities in Mexico.
The Cimarrón and the Fandango speaks allegorically about the past of a black community and its members’ journey through the fluctuations of colonial history, their integration into the Mexican territory, and their sense of identity within it. Yet that past isn’t merely a descriptive historical concept: it is, above all, a definition of the present. A present, in the case of their Afro-Mexican descendants, that remains marginal, unstable, and immemorial.
By Mara Sánchez Renero