Afro-Latin And The Negro Common: An Interview With Dr. Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas

Afro-Latin And The Negro Common: An Interview With Dr. Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas


Lamont Lilly

Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas is the Interim Chair of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at North Carolina Central University, where his interests lie in Transatlantic and Diaspora Studies. He is the author of five books, including The Africanization of Mexico from the Sixteenth Century Onward (2010) and Africa in Mexico: A Repudiated Heritage (2007). He is the founder and director of the Mexican Institute of Africana Studies. Read along as we discuss: Colonialism, Gaspar Yanga, Ivan Van Sertima and Mexico’s Little Black Sambo.

Lamont Lilly: Dr. Cuevas, as only the second individual I know to describe themselves as Afro-Mexican can you share some insight on the cultural connections that exist within such a powerful ethic mix? And why have figures such as Gaspar Yanga and Emiliano Zapata been omitted from history’s reference of heralded freedom fighters?

Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas: Well, the reason you haven’t heard many refer to themselves as Afro-Mexican is because this is a relatively new term that was first coined by Eurocentric scholars like Melville Herskovits. It was Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán who coined it in 1945 in Mexico City, during the foundational meeting of the Institute for African American Studies. However, that doesn’t mean that a color consciousness didn’t exist in Mexico. Prior to that, we had a host of names such as “Casta,” “Chilango,” “Jarocho,” and “Boshito,” all terms that refer to the lack of blood cleanliness of non-white persons. That would explain why many people in Mexico do not identify themselves as Afro-Mexican. They refer to themselves as Casta, or any of the other names previously mentioned. Recently however, there’s been a movement in the South Pacific side of Mexico whereby Afro-Mexicans do not want to be called Afro-Mexican. They just want to be called Nĕgro — Black. It erases the science and intellectuality of such embedded complexities…

…LL: Whether Maroon, Zambo or so called Negro, most persons of color throughout the Western Hemisphere are all “African Hybrids” of some varying degree. Considering such, how has colonialism maintained a successful barrier of division among our similar groups?

Hernández-Cuevas: These divisions you speak of Lamont, are engrained mostly through language. With the Spanish deploying a series of words that were heavily charged, yes, divisions were created. People were classified from the get-go when so-called “miscegenation” began. We were classified by the degree of whiteness we possessed. I don’t believe in this miscegenation business. Though all human beings are really one, various social constructs were invented to perpetuate European supremacy. Within a social pyramid, “pigmentocracy” was then introduced.

In the case of Mexico’s 500 years of colonization, which began in 1521, the physical colonization may have ended, but the mental “hold” continues to a certain degree. Many Spanish Eurocentric mental prejudices linger today as healthy as ever. Just look at the Mexican public school books our children use. We should examine more critically the one or two paragraphs that refer to African ancestry and their contribution to the building of the Americas. I can assure you, you’ll find very little, especially in Mexico. These barriers are nothing but the product of ignorance and manipulation. The trick is to unravel knowledge–to create connections by exposing similarities rather than exploiting differences…

Read the entire article here.

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