Afro-Mexicans living in Costa Chica are struggling to be officially recognized by the Mexican government as a minority group, despite having lived on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca since their ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves in the 16th Century.
“When we go and ask [for recognition as a minority], they come up with excuses, or say that we don’t have an indigenous mother tongue. Language is the real criterion,” said head of Bureau for Afro-Mexican Affairs in Oaxaca Humberto Hebert Silva Silva. “We are being discriminated against.”
If classified as a minority, Afro-Mexicans would be eligible to receive funding for the promotion of their culture and public health programs. Yet, the urgency for state recognition has less to do with financial support and more with the dangers of erasure.
According to BBC, the black community in Costa Chica — virtually unknown beyond the region — is considering taking a page from the Zapatistas, who launched an indigenous uprising in the state of Chiapas circa 1994.
“So far the black communities have endured discrimination and they have stuck to legal avenues, which they have now exhausted,” explained Humberto Hebert Silva Silva. “With the Zapatistas, the indigenous rose up, and it was an armed uprising, to claim their rights. And well, our community is thinking the same. It’s thinking, in the distant future, to rise up too.”
One Clemente Jesus Lopez — director of the government office in charge of Afro-Mexicans in Oaxaca state —gave an example of the expulsion of black Mexicans by police force, recalling two separate events involving women.
“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.”