Exhibit Illuminates Afro-Mexican Heritage

During the inauguration of the exhibit, Ambassador Diego Gómez-Pickering, consul general of Mexico in New York, pointed out that the date “coincides with the celebration of the Mexican Revolution, [and] is a very symbolic acknowledgement to the thousands of Mexicans who think of themselves as Afro-descendants.” (Photo via Impacto Latino)

The inauguration of the photography exhibit “Afro-Mexicans: Pride and Sense of Belonging” was held on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Consulate General of Mexico in New York’s Octavio Paz Gallery to promote a reflection on diversity and inclusion among Mexicans.

As explained in the information panel: “The purpose of the exhibit is to grant visibility to Mexico’s Afro-descendant communities and create awareness of racist and xenophobic expressions, which lead to discriminatory behavior. It is an exercise in acknowledging Mexico’s third root – its African roots – which is essential to understanding both Mexico’s present and its history.”

Members of the panel (from left to right:) Dr. Anita González, professor at the University of Michigan; Craig Mokhiber, moderator and director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York; and CUNY Professor Herman Bennett. (Photo via Impacto Latino)

The temporary exhibit features color images captured by a number of photographers, each of them detailing the context in which it was taken. In addition, there are two educational maps, one of them depicting the trafficking of slaves from Africa to the Americas during the colonial era. The second one lists the percentage of the population of African descent for every Mexican state.

The exhibit is part of the events of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and was curated by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. The organization recorded its visits to Afro-descendant communities in the states of Coahuila, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tabasco and Morelos.

Slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1829, four decades earlier than in the United States. Today, 1.4 million Mexicans identify as Afro-descendants. (Photo via Impacto Latino)

A central point in the exhibit’s inauguration was the discussion panel with Dr. Anita González, professor of theater and drama, leader of the global theatre and ethnic studies minor at the University of Michigan and the author of a number of books on African culture, and Professor Herman Bennett of the City University of New York. It was moderated by Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. After the presentation, there was a Q&A with the audience.

One of the educational maps supplementing the photographic exhibit depicted the transatlantic slave trade between Africa and the Americas during the colonial period. (Photo via Impacto Latino)

Poverty, culture, belonging

Dr. González emphasized the importance of promoting an awareness of the way of life of Afro-Mexicans and their identity and, by doing so, recognizing and valuing the country’s ethnic diversity.

She said: “These photographs speak of the contrasts between the poverty they live in and the richness of their cultural identity. Most Afro-descendant communities in Mexico are poor. There is amnesia in Mexico regarding the roots and origins of Afro-Mexicans, the country has closed itself off to the sense of belonging, and they always say that [Afro-Mexicans] have come from somewhere else, from a different country. They believe that Blacks are outside of the indigenous or mestizo community, outside of Mexico. We must rescue that sense of belonging. Cultural visibility is not enough. It is important to value their contributions to science, education, sports, the arts, etc., create museums, cultural institutions, in the places where they live.”

Dr. Herman Bennett said: “This is an extraordinary exhibit; a sample of the great importance of other elements in the context of Mexican history. It presents individuals who have formed communities and [how] that promotes a leadership role in the country’s history, which has been a history of exclusion. It is important to learn about Afro-Mexicans in the United States – their experiences in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia – where there is controversy between Mexicans and African-Americans in school districts because of a lack of understanding, because they are unable to find a historical connection between their communities. It was necessary to have professors come to help them understand that Afro-Mexicans have a past that is linked to the experience of African-Americans in the United States. When you discover a historical identification, the reality of the past, it is also an effort to combat violence and anti-immigrant feelings.”

Moderator Craig Mokhiber concluded by saying: “Nationalism should not be an excluding definition anymore. The strongest societies are those in which diversity is celebrated, instead of having a monochromatic perspective that marginalizes a million and a half Afro-Mexicans. This is the challenge racism poses to governments, communities, businesses and the civil society: the importance of recognizing the existence of these communities and of the intolerance affecting them, and of developing specific measures to change this reality.”

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