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.