MEXICO'S THIRD ROOT
Wherever people gather in the poor fishing
villages of Costa Chica on Mexico's southwest coast--in their homes, on
the streets, in the town squares during festivals--someone is likely to
step forward and start singing. These impromptu performers regale their
audience with songs of romance, tragedy, comedy, and social protest, all
inspired by local events and characters. At the heart of the songs, called
"corridos," is a sense of human dignity and a desire for freedom
rooted in the lives and history of the people of Costa Chica, many of whom
are descendants of escaped slaves.
Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the African elements in Mexico's culture are not acknowledged as they are in other countries of the Americas. In fact, "el mestizaje," the official ideology that defines Mexico's culture as a blend of European and indigenous influences, completely ignores the contributions of the nation's "third root." Africans and their descendants, nearly invisible in the Spanish chronicles of the colonial period, continue to receive little attention in the official history of Mexico. So it is no surprise that blacks, who live primarily in poor, rural areas where the level of education is very low, lack a clear consciousness of their African heritage.
To an extent, geography has shaped the heritage of Mexico's black communities. The isolation of the west coast and the mountains, which offered sanctuary to escaped slaves, also preserved many elements of African tradition. On the other hand, the Gulf Coast region, especially the port of Veracruz, was a crossroads where Mexico's indigenous culture blended with myriad influences from Africa, Europe, South America, and especially the Caribbean. In this variegated mixture, it is sometimes difficult to isolate the African presence.
As in the past, blacks on the Gulf Coast are more likely to trace the
origins of their lineage to the Caribbean. The people on the west coast
and in the mountains, however, have lately begun to acknowledge their links
to Africa and to their slave past. In part, this is in response to recent
ethnographic, folkloric, and historical studies as well as to frequent visits
by scholars to these regions. It may be as well that the stress of increasing
contact with other peoples--and with immigrants who now come to exploit
their land and labor--has fostered a need among these groups for a self
identity defining them as "the blacks from the coast."