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Yes there ARE Black People in Mexico: An Interview with Anthropologist Bobby Vaughn

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If you google Blacks in Mexico, the first website you will see is This website was created by a brother, Bobby Vaughn, in 2006, to help people explore the history of blacks in Mexico. Vaughn earned his Ph.D in anthropology at Stanford University. His dissertation was Race and Ethnicity: A Study of Blackness in Mexico. He is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at Notre Dame de Namur University. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I decided to interview Bobby Vaughn for the website.

For years, your website has been THE place where people first know that Afro-Mexicans exist. How did you first learn that there were Afro-Mexicans in Mexico?

I first learned about Afro-Mexicans during a study abroad trip to Mexico back in 1992.  I was studying at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and I took a bus trip to the Costa Chica to see for myself whether, indeed, there were Afro-Mexican communities there.  Prior to the road trip I had stumbled across some books on the subject, but none of my Mexico City friends knew whether Mexicans of African descent existed or not!  So I had to do some investigating on my own.

Can you describe the Costa Chica region to all of us who have never been? What is the landscape? How are the beaches? Where is it!!? (For all my people who don’t know)

The Costa Chica is located along Mexico’s southern coast on the Pacific Ocean.  The nearest large cities are Acapulco in the state of Guerrero and Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca.  The landscape is fairly uneventful (sorry Costa Chicans!) and relatively flat.  It is not beautiful in a spectacular way, but sunsets over coconut palms are part of the scene in most towns.  The beaches in the Costa Chica are quite undeveloped, meaning no stores, vendor, or much of anything.  This can be very peaceful, but they are not seen as beautiful  as are the more touristy beaches that you are aware of.   The individual towns are dusty and hot and the pace is very slow.  There will be dogs, chickens, and horses around, and lots of kids playing and laughing.

How did black people get to Mexico and WHY don’t many people know about them?

Black people arrived to Mexico in much the same way that we arrived to wherever we are found in the Western Hemisphere – the slave trade.  The Spanish brought slaves from Africa to Mexico primarily in the last 1500s up through the 1600s.  After that, the slave trade to Mexico pretty much subsided, just as it was really gearing up in the rest of the Americas.  I think most people in Mexico don’t know about the black population for two basic reasons.  First, it is a very small population that lives in parts of Mexico that are relatively isolated (much more so  30 or 40 years ago) and there is very little reason for “outsiders” to be there.  Secondly, I think that in Mexico, the government and intellectual classes have down-played the existence of these Afro-Mexicans, preferring to focus attention on the indigenous roots of Mexico.  Mexican blacks, for example, are rarely mentioned in the state-run school textbooks.

Bobby Vaughn has a strong relationship with the Afro-Mexicans of the Costa Chica region in Mexico

The pictures on your site of the Afro-Mexican communities are so intimate. How were you able to gain access to these communities?

Gaining access was very easy for me.  I have learned that being friendly and being quick with a smile has always served me well in my field work.  Being able to speak Spanish was also very helpful in forging relationships with people.  More than anything, any level of trust that I have earned with people in Mexico is a product of many years of traveling to the same places and maintaining relationships over time.

Do Afro-Mexicans identify themselves as black? Or would you say they don’t see race?

Yes, most Afro-Mexicans identify themselves as black.  They most often use the word “Moreno,” which in the region translates to black (of African descent) as opposed to just a dark mestizo or something.  So, yes, they definitely make a racial distinction between themselves and indigenous or mestizos (who they refer to as blancos). There is not much of an overt “black and proud” identity, however.  Their own history with black identity is different from ours (African Americans) and we have to respect their own historical journey.  I will say, however, that their black identity is in a process of change and among some it is becoming more politicized.

People would say in America that black Americans have a distinctive culture, regardless of socioeconomic background. Did you find the culture of Afro-Mexicans particularly different than that of Mexicans in similar socioeconomic groups?

This is an interesting question.  I would say that I am struck by the great similarity of the day-to-day cultural practices that Afro-Mexicans share with their mestizo and indigenous neighbors.  They are all rural people, are mainly Catholic, perform milpa (maize) agriculture, and enjoy telenovelas and soccer!  There are some distinct cultural practices that I talk about in my work, but most of these differences are nuanced – language, family structure, etc.

You did anthropological research in the Costa Chica region, so you had incredible access to the communities. For the typical tourist, access to Afro-Mexico for the typical tourist might be rather difficult. Are there any particular Afro-Mexican communities that a tourist could visit, to see or experience Afro-Mexico?

This is also a very good question!  Traveling in rural Southern Mexico outside of touristy areas is difficult and takes lots of patience.  I would suggest that the adventurous, experienced, and Spanish-speaking traveler get on a bus, take a few weeks, and hop around from town to town.  Most of us aren’t quite that adventurous and so I would suggest perhaps a trip to Acapulco and from there, perhaps taking a bus to Cuajinicuilapa (about 4 hours), stay a night or so in one of their several hotels, and then head back to Acapulco.  A day or two in the heat of the Costa Chica might be enough to get one’s feet wet.  You can always go back with a more ambitious plan.

When you look back at your time spent in Costa Chica, what was your most memorable experience?

I can’t isolate one single experience, but a very meaningful experience I have enjoyed is having been chosen to be a padrino (godfather) for young children on three separate occasions.  Being a padrino, even for some of the lesser occasions (birthdays, graduations, etc.), is still very important in rural Mexico and it inserted me into family units in very meaningful ways.

Since this is a travel site, I have to ask you about some of your favorite places to travel? Where have you been and where are you going?

My favorite place to be a “tourist” in Southern Mexico is Zipolite and nearby Mazunte.  These are small beach towns with beautiful beaches and a bohemian feel.  There are small hotels and cabanas, enough places to eat, and a great place to relax.  I also recommend Puerto Escondido as a nice place to enjoy the beach.  It is much larger and more touristy than Zipolite and Mazunte, but, this allows for more of a night life.  Also, having lived in Mexico City for nearly two years, I also recommend that people explore the biggest city you may ever experience.  There is always something to do there!

If people want to learn more about Afro-Mexicans, where should they go?

Read, read, read!  There is quite a lot of printed material on Afro-Mexicans, and much of it is now being written in English.  General audiences might try to hunt down Colin Palmer’s Slaves of the White God (1976) to start.  People who read Spanish might start with Aguirre Beltran’s Cuijla ­ (1958)­ as a place to start.  My website offers a few more suggestions and there is also to get some ideas.

Check out the video collage below about Afro-Mexicans in Mexico!!!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

  • Anjuan Simmons

    This was a great interview style post! As a Texan, I should have been aware of the presence of black people in Mexico, but I have to admit that I learned a lot through this article. Great job!

  • Kevin Tillman

    great interview! i appreciate the additional resources tambien!

  • Kiratiana

    Thanks for the comment! It was a pleasure to interview him!

  • Ibarezlinda

    YEIIIII …. finallly i'm glad people recognize us… i definitely consider myself BLACK… from Acapulco!!!! Loved it … thank you!

  • Ndewald

    moreno isn’t black, it means dark skinned. Few AfroMexicans identify as negro which means black

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  • Dayscottbull

    I was traveling by bus from puerto escondido  to acapulco back in 1979 and I was amazed when the bus stopped at a small costal town and it was filled with black people! Up to this time I had no idea that there were such areas populated with black mexicans! I really appreciate what Mr. Vaughn has  done!

  • Kiratiana

    That is sooo cool! Please tell me more about your traveling throughout
    Mexico. What took you there? How did you enjoy it?

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  • Tamyabonet2

    You are wrong, If you don’t live there then you can’t comment.

  • sweetsciencebeats


  • Anonymous

    I tell people about this all the time and they don’t beleive me

  • Retbeats

    I appreciate the studies of the anthropolist, but I am surprised that he didnt make mention the Olmec or Xi people of ancient Mexico. These were blacks who built pyramids and colosal stone heads for generations to know of there existance. The afro history of Mexico runs far deeper than those who were brought as captives. The Olmecs history is very intertwined with Africa, China, Mexico, and Native America, north and south. Its important for us to study more whether we consider ourselves educated or not. So it is for us to know the origins of of different cultures and a good place to start is to study the works of Ivan Van Sertima, and Shiek Anta Diop.

  • Antonio Arelllano

    am from Acapulco & my dad is Afro Mexican & my mom is a white skinned Mexican I’m proud to say am a Afro Mexican

  • Antonio Arelllano

    indeed am from Acapulco too & am afromexican my dads black from Mexico & my mom light skinned Mexican :)

  • Germs 2006

    Yes my moms from Acapulco and there’s alooot of morenos or as we call ourselves ‘negros’ lol..My dad family is soo traditionally Mexican and they’re all both sides (mom & dad) is different..oh and all my Acapulco family have these funny accents that’s how I can tell they not the same as mexis.

  • Kiratiana

    Thanks for this update!

  • Claudia

    Mexican history is garbage!!! But i don’t agreed with your explanation that they distinguish them selfs as moreno being black. A lot of mexicans from Muchoacan. Mexico city and sinaloa have also black ancestry! !! The reason why in this areas are concentrated is because they didn’t mixed them selfs with Europeans and were only blacks and indians. As you can see their features they have indian and black in the rest of mexico they have being mixing therefore they are not as dark, but there is features in lighther skinned people. I my self i am from michoacan and my great grandfather was black, i have Spanish, indian and spanish and i don’t look black. But i have very curly hair, tall, big eyes like like middle eastern like and big lips. I think you are trying to say that the rest if mexicans are incriminating our own people . U can not blame many mexicans of ignorance just because our garbage history tried to hide the true about our ancestors. But again many mexicans have black, and is not their fault that they don’t about it. You should do more history on that. Other slaves were also brought from india the Rajasthan.

  • Someone Else

    Both the interview and the feed below is very interesting and informative.! I am aware that as humans it is innate for us to cross-bread, travel and love interracially but there is not much information out there about this particular topic. Born to parents who were born and raised in Liberia, Africa and someone who will be moving to Mexico city in a couple months, it is important to dive into the history of the Afro-Mexican. Very excited to learn more!

  • silence doogood

    Technically, most of us are of all three colonial races, some happen to be more black than others, some happen to be more indigena than others, and some happen to be more white than others, but make no mistake, MOST OF US ARE “AFRO – MESTIZO to some degree or another…. The reason why I say most of us, instead of all of us is that there are some Mexicans in modern day Mexico whose families arrived in Mexico after the colonial period, and they may not have mixed, like Ex President Vicente Fox . His father was a german American, and his mother was basque from spain. Fox was the first of his family to be born in Mex. Actress Salma Hyak is another. She is middle eastern born in Mex. … Looking at the boxer “canelo” I’d bet he probably can’t trace his family back to colonial Mex…