Mexico in the 1600s imported tens of thousands of African slaves from various areas of Africa. At one time there were more blacks and Mulattos in Mexico City than there were Spaniards. The Catholic authorities at that time were very different in their religious views than today. Most organized religions in the Americas supported slavery in one form or another, and in the case of Mexico tried to absorb them to make them disappear. Slavery in America was much different than slavery in New Spain (Mexico was once called New Spain). In America, blacks could never be the equal of whites and were turned strictly into property that had no human value. Racism in Mexico took another form in which blacks from Angola and other African nations could be absorbed into Spanish culture, and later Mexican culture, so that they could be made to disappear. This was done if blacks accepted Catholicism and the doctrines of Baptism, Communion, matrimony, and eventually the last rites of extreme unction.
Even today, blacks in Mexico are ignored and often people in Mexico pretend that they don’t even exist when tens of thousands in Mexico identify themselves as Afro-Mexican. One might call this racial amnesia, or cultural assimilation, or the term I like to use “absorption.” Catholic authorities during the slave trade actually made arrests of people suspected of being sinners in Mexico with night time raids on the households of Mulattos and other blacks and Spaniards suspected of being “immoral” in some way. These cases would go before a judge and the punishment might include lashes, jail time, and exile. There are plenty of courts cases in the Catholic records that indicate that blacks were allowed to present cases before the Catholic courts of cruelty as a slave. This was done to finally erase their presence as a separate ethnic group.
Blacks in Mexico were treated differently, but several big differences did exist because the ultimate aim of Spanish slavery was to make the blacks disappear. Blacks in Mexico could attain freedom in court actions and the children of slaves were often freed. If black slaves identified with Catholicism and accepted the rule of Spanish law eventually their cultural existence as blacks would be washed away. In America, blacks would always be black and never completely be accepted into American life. However, in Mexico authorities sought to remove blacks from the genetic pool by encouraging interracial marriages and creating names based on the lightness or darkness of skin color. This system was called a Casta System. On birth certificates were names of black children that described a certain skin color or physical appearance. The racist term Mulatto was used in a very ugly way since Mulatto meant donkey and blacks were said to have big lips like a donkey. Hmmmm….look at who plays the donkey in the Shrek cartoon!
The Spanish Casta system used animal terms to describe blacks in what they called “broken color” (In Spanish it is color quebrada). Blacks upon birth in Mexico would be called animal names like Lobo (wolf), Coyote (dog), and other names that described various shades of skin color. Historians in Latin America have tried to pretend that blacks never existed in Mexico. The famous researcher Jorge de Alva has presented a theory that Mexico was never colonial in oppression like other countries, but I would totally disagree with this academic foolishness. What this researcher totally misunderstands is the nature of colonialism; that of the conqueror and the conquered. An integral part of colonialism is to erase the existence of othersfrom the historical development of a country. Hence, the struggle as written by the Spanish people born in Mexico against imperial Spain leaves out the Indigenous and African people that played a role in that revolution and the overall development of Mexico. Mr. Alva attempts to make Africans and their offspring simply disappear in a cultural absorption that is best described as ethnocide, which also made the native people disappear. This was also done in Mexico, in the early 1900s, by a racist educator named Jose Vasconcelos.
The global black power movements have lain to rest any such analysis and have simply messed up those racist misconceptions of the Mestizo model that attempts to remove blacks from Mexican history. Of course the Spanish passed on the idea of ethnocide to their Mexican heirs as a result of trying to erase the Arab influences in Spanish names, words, and architecture. Look at many of the Catholic Churches around town, and those with a dome roofs on the church clearly indicate Arab and North African influences. Look at the name Medina, for it is surely not Hispanic in origin, but Arabic, as well as any Hispanic name that begins with the prefix “Al,” as in Alvarez.