The two-day National Forum on Afro-Descendant Populations 2012 opened in Mexico City today with the aim of opening a national dialogue on the rights, recognition and social inclusion of Black Mexicans. Participants include Afro-Mexican community groups, government officials and academics.
According to Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED), there are about 500,000 people of African descent living in Mexico, concentrated primarily in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Chiapas states. Many Africans arrived in Mexico during the colonial era, and some Afro-Mexicans are descended from runaway slaves who fled slavery in the United States.
CONAPRED President Ricardo Bucio said that Mexico’s Afro-Descendant communities have long struggled with invisibility and a lack of legal, political and historical recognition in Mexico. “We have historical backwardness on this issue and we have both the possibility and the obligation to implement public policies of recognition, restitution and re-inclusion,” he said.
Mexico’s national statistics agency, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía - INEGI) does not provide data that would allow Afro-Descendant Mexicans to be counted and recognized by the government. Researchers like Nemesio Rodríguez Mitchell, coordinator of the Mexico Multicultural Nation Program (Programa México Nación Multicultural –PUMC) have launched their own surveys of Afro-Descendant communities in Mexico. Rodríguez’s research has counted 22 such communities on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca state that are classified by INEGI as “Indigenous.”
“It’s very simple – if your people don’t appear in INEGI, you don’t exist,” said Rodríguez.
The goal of the national forum, which runs today and Thursday, is to advance the recommendations made to Mexico by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In a March report, the committee reiterated its request “that Mexico provide information on persons of African descent living in the country, who were few and vulnerable.”
“Although Mexico had undertaken significant legislative reforms, the Committee noted with concern that the definition of discrimination contained in the Federal Law on the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination did not mention racial discrimination,” the report said.
A panel at today’s national forum looks at racism against Afro-Descendant communities in Mexico, and a panel tomorrow will discuss political actions that can be taken to make the Afro-Descendant population more visible.
“Afroméxico,” an exhibition by Mexican photographer Paulina García, opened on Monday at the Office of Foreign Relations (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores) in conjunction with the forum, and will be on display until October 10.
García, who is not an Afro-Descendant herself, said she spent five years living with several Afro-Mexican families throughout the country and photographing their daily lives. The photos are not only for Mexicans outside the community to gain awareness of what it is like to be an Afro-Descendant in Mexico, but also for Afro-Mexicans to “see themselves, value themselves, and respect themselves from within,” says García.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
We're not going to complain or request solutions. Welcome to Colombia, a country that in the last past 200 years has tried to align itself to your ideals of liberty and equality, with more or less mediocre results. Acclaimed historians have often said that we're a "country of the in-between," despite the fact that we've been reluctant to renounce our airs of "greatness."
Since President Santos decided to give out—in your presence—two titles to collective territories for Afro-Colombians, the issue of our country’s Afro-Colombian has been on the agenda.
You, President Obama, would most likely have a vision that's oriented to a civil, independent and critical society; it would be strange if you didn't.
Ours is one that has given a "conditioned support" to the lobby that backed the ratification of the free-trade agreement in the U.S. Congress, with our own resources.
We have shown other proof of our desire of inserting the best interests of Colombia's Afro-descendant population into those of the nation.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
Brazil’s black community faces many social and political problems, but a lack of economic opportunities is what most prevents this population from climbing the income ladder. According to Brazil’s National Association of Collective Black Entrepreneurs (Associação Nacional dos Coletivos de Empreendedores Negros, or ANCEABRA), the majority of Afro-Brazilians are in the informal workforce because of a lack of opportunities in the formal sector. Many Afro-Brazilians also face difficulty in opening legitimate, lasting businesses, with ANCEABRA reporting that only 3.8 percent of Afro-Brazilians identify professionally as entrepreneurs.
Why are Afro-Brazilians unsuccessful as entrepreneurs? Three factors are at play: a lack of societal encouragement to become entrepreneurs; family members without any history in creating their own enterprises; and, above all, the persistent difficulty of accessing capital. Brazil also has never had a public policy that sought to specifically promote black-managed enterprises.
This systemic problem presents a form of “black invisibility” in the business sector. This invisibility stands in stark contrast to Brazil’s position as one of the top-five countries in terms of entrepreneurship. Brazil’s enviable ranking puts it ahead of several enterprising European countries—yet most of these Brazilian enterprises are neither started nor managed by Afro-Brazilians.
But there’s more to this great challenge. A survey by the Ethos Institute showed that female Afro-Brazilians comprise only 0.5 percent of the top corporate executives of the 500 largest companies in Brazil. Our country, which proudly presents itself as a multicultural and multiracial nation, is ranking behind nations with similar ethnic compositions.
En los encuentros internacionales de activistas afrodescendientes parece olvidarse que el primer espacio de lucha de los ciudadanos negros son los proyectos de país a los que pertenecen. Siguen siendo los Estados nacionales los que determinan las condiciones de vida de las personas comunes y corrientes, por un lado. Ese es el espacio político fundamental.
De otro lado, en la casi totalidad de los habitantes negros de las Américas es más fuerte la identidad nacional que la identidad de la diáspora africana, de aspecto racial. Es el espacio cultural real. En realidad, la diáspora africana es una construcción intelectual de pequeños grupos educados. La mayoría vive con apego a la comarca donde nació y a su patria.
Hay una tensión entre nación y diáspora. Es necesario aumentar la legitimidad de las poblaciones negras en el ser de cada país. Esto es la base de una estrategia para reclamar y construir igualdad.
La diáspora lleva la imaginación política y social fuera de la nación, a un espacio difuso. Esta es la tensión. Al igual que el menosprecio de los ciudadanos negros en la historia nacional, el discurso de la diáspora socava el fortalecimiento de la legitimidad interna.