GLOBAL AFRICAN DIASPORA
Unearthing the 'Third Root'
By JARRETTE FELLOWS, JR.
BLACK MEXICO: UNEARTHING THE "THIRD ROOT," unravels the little-known history of how Mexico’s 15th-century assimilation of Spaniards, Indigenous natives, and African slaves gave rise to the unique ethnic infusion known as “Black Mexico" that eventually led to the founding of Los Angeles by Black-Mexicans and Mestizos in the 18th century when the Golden State, then known as Alta California, was under the rule of Mexico. Even though the Black imprint in Mexico is unraveling more and more as time moves on, the reality of the truth still is largely mired in a Shadow History, as the truth never has been taught as historic text in Mex- ico, much less as a history lesson in America, home to tens of thousands of Black-Mexicans with African roots.
Until now, this historical truth largely has been available as scholarly works in college and university ethnic studies, but never as part of the history curriculum of grades 1-12 in either the U.S. or Mexico. This multi-part series and soon-coming book was spawned to tell the hidden story that binds African Americans and Mexicans in a shared history that few knew about. This series seeks—as numerous other works have—to expose the
shrouded history of Black Mexico’s link to the African continent. For some elders in the Mexican-American community, this little-known truth was something to keep hidden as the reality of Mexicans with "Black blood" has been considered a point of shame for hundreds of years. Now, for many whose eyes are being opened to the truth, the long-held shame is gradually giving way to ethnic pride as growing numbers of Black-Mexicans on both sides of the border are learning their uniqueness as a people and special place in Mexican and American society.
Part I: First, Second, Third Root
THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of ancient Mexico were the Mayans, Olmecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, and the Mixtecs. They inhabited a geographical area encompassing present-day Florida and much of what is now the Western United States, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean. These ancient peoples comprised the pre-Columbian Indigenous civilizations before the arrival of all-conquering Spain as a colonizer of the region prior to the 16th century. These Indigenous natives constituted modern-day Mexico’s ethnic "First Root."
Years following Spain’s conquest and colonization of the region—which included Central America, and the northern rim of South America, according to scholar/historians, the Indigenous population was all but decima- ted by previously unknown diseases from Europe, brought there by Spaniards from Spain—the "Second Root."
Over time, the Spaniards assimilated with the Indigenous culture, producing a mixed race called mestizos, which eventually evolved as the most influential culture in the nation, dominating every facet of Mexican society in business and government to the present day. Mexico’s race mixing did not end there with the Spanish and Indigenous infusion.
Though scant historical records exist about the acculturation of Africans in Mexico, the introduction of hundreds of thousands of African slaves—the ethnic "Third Root" into Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries cannot be denied. This process of interracial mixing in Mexico became known as mestizaje.
Shadow History. A homogenous race of any significant Indigenous stock, which began to disappear as Mexico’s majority between the 17th and 21st centuries morphed into a cross-section of the three roots— Indigenous, Spaniard, and African. But due to the suppressive efforts of the mestizo-dominant government through an inexact census, little is known of Mexico’s Third Root or African ancestry as scholar/historians have come to identify Mexico’s African slave imprint, hence, Black Mexico. The inter-marriage of Spaniards and African slaves yielded the mulattos in Mexican culture, better known as Black-Mexicans, who have faced discrimination and largely been ignored by the ruling mestizos—a display of both classism and racism. Mulattos represent Mexico’s "Shadow History," which is only now being exposed by scholarly curiosity.
Enter Vicente Ramón Guerrero. Though Vicente Ramón Guerrero was a Mexican citizen without ties to the United States, he made an indelible imprint in the nation, dispatching a group of explorers or pobladores (more on them later) from Sinaloa, Mexico to plant a Catholic mission in what was then a Mexican territory called Alta California. Guerrero was of Afro-Mestizo descent and thus, Mexico’s first Black/Indigenous president, when he sent the pobladores on their quest. Vicente Ramón Guerrero rose to the highest office in post-colonial Mexico— a seminal achievement, but prior to that Guerrero attained many triumphs. He was one of Mexico's leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence—one of the first impactful figures to emerge from Mexico’s shadow history. Guerrero fought against Spain for independence in the early 19th century, and was the grandfather of the Mexican politician and intellectual Vicente Riva Palacio.
To a lesser degree, Black-Mexicans also include zambos, a mix of Africans and Indigenous natives—more acculturation with scant documentation by the Mexican government due to the lack of investigative intrusion, analysis, and archiving. Like America where White colonialists from England spearheaded the direction of the nation, the European colonial influence of Spain dictated the political and economic direction of the country with African and Indigenous inroads minimal at best. The major difference is White settlers from England did not infuse with America’s Indigenous natives and African slaves who would come later, whereas the opposite was true in colonial Mexico.
Pictorial glimpse. The aforementioned history came painstakingly through the efforts of researchers and historians who traveled to the inner reaches of Mexico to locate the regions there bearing indelible imprints originating from across the Atlantic in West Africa. The late photographer Tony Gleaton photographed visual evidence in a stunning photo essay of Black-Mexicans titled, "Africa’s Legacy in Mexico." Images of the present day descendants of the African slaves brought to New Spain between 1500 and 1700—are on display in the Smithsonian Museum as part of an exhibit titled, "Migrations In History," which explores the nature and com- plexity of the movement of peoples, cultures, ideas, and objects. From 1982 through 1988, Gleaton traveled extensively in Mexico, eventually befriending the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico where he came and went for nearly two years before traveling to Guerrero and Oaxaca, photographing the people there, whose darkened faces, Gleaton said "quietly testified of their African past."
"The photographs are as much an effort to define my own life, with its heritage encompassing Africa and Europe," Gleaton wrote in an essay, "as it is an endeavor to throw open the discourse on the broader aspects of 'mestizaje,'—the assimilation of Africans and Europeans with Indigenous [Mexicans]. I came to photograph this area just south of Acapulco, a place I have come to view simply as a present-day reminder of Black Africa’s legacy in Mexico."
Anthropology professor Bobby Vaughn of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif., has amassed a photo collection as part of his studies of Black-Mexicans of the Costa Chica regions of Mexico—Guerrero and Oaxaca. Both areas have significant populations of Black-Mexicans who originally settled in the area as escaped slaves. Vaughn’s website and photo galleries report his extensive studies on the culture, history, and unique experience of Mexicans of African descent. He writes on his website: "One of the research questions that most interests me is, ‘How do Black people in Mexico understand and live their Black identity—assuming they have a Black identity at all?'"
Delving Deeper Into History. The history of Black Mexico is both illuminating and mysterious. Scholars have long been acquainted with the history of slavery in Mexico. In fact, long before the first Spanish galleons appeared on the horizon, the practice of slavery was common among several Indigenous tribes in Mexico. So while it may be said that the Spanish did not originate slavery, they nonetheless relied upon it to expand their empire and to increase their enormous wealth.
As the colonial period in Mexico unfolded, in particular during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Indigenous population, weakened and reduced in number by disease, could no longer carry the heavy load of labor. That would induce Spain to introduce African slaves to Mexico to replace them, toiling in sugar fields and in under- ground silver mines. African slaves proved to be superior to their Indigenous counterparts and they were highly prized for their physical endurance and stamina in the debilitating hot tropical sun. The Spaniards were cruel taskmasters and drove the African slaves to work under horrendous conditions on the sugar plantations of coastal Veracruz. Attempting escape from their captors was the only viable option for the enslaved Africans. Successful escapees fled to the high country where jungle and canyons could conceal them. Indigenous natives also fled to these remote areas and joined forces with the escaped African slaves, which led to inter-mixing and the seed of the zambo culture.
Part II Black Mexico: Unearthing the Third Root
Gaspar Yanga African Warrior
THE FLIGHT OF AFRICANS into the highlands of Veracruz provided the foundation for a famous rebellion led by escaped African slave, Gaspar Yanga, in Mexico in 1571. Believed to be a member of the royal house of Gabon, Africa, Yanga went on to lead the slaves in a successful revolt against their Spanish captors. Gaspar Yanga’s African warrior roots run deep in Mexico’s history; 38 years of rebellion won freedom for the African slaves in Colonial Mexico. In 1609, after nearly four decades of fighting the Spaniards and eluding capture, Yanga ultimately negotiated a treaty with his nemesis and achieved his goal of freedom from bondage for his people. Today, the town of Yanga in Veracruz is living testimony to his incredible achievement. Located in the State of Veracruz on Mexico’s Gulf coast, Yanga has received considerable attention as one of the America’s earliest “maroon” settlements founded by fugitive slaves. Originally known as San Lorenzo de Los Negros, in 1932 the town was renamed for its founder, a rebellious Muslim man from Nigeria in West Africa.
Miriam Jiménez Román is another important contemporary figure whose work to unearth the buried history of Africa’s imprint in the mestizaje has yielded invaluable findings. Her work as a writer and professor has imparted light into the “black hole” of the Black-Mexican experience and uniquely positioned her as an authority on the subject. Her scholarly work, “The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States,” has been critically acclaimed for its diverse portrait of Black Latinos in America. Román contributed mightily to the Smithsonian’s Tony Gleaton photo exhibit through her travels in Mexico, tracking and back-tracking evidence of the elusive mestizaje. In 1990, she traveled to Yanga in search of undeniable proof that Africans have a deeply shared history in Mexico. Román shared her findings in the essay, “What Is A Mexican?”
Behold Gaspar Yanga. Román recalls the first time she beheld the towering statue of Gaspar Yanga: “Today, a recently erected statue of Yanga stands on the outskirts of the town, more a testimony to the persistence of a few Mexican anthropologists who re-discovered the place, than to the historical memory of its founders’ des- cendants,” writes Román. “As I strolled through the area and talked to the residents, and saw the evidence of an African past in their faces, I discovered that they have little more than amused curiosity about the outsiders who express interest in that past. Yanga’s people have quite simply been living their lives as they always have, making the adjustments necessary in a changing world and giving little thought to an aspect of their history for which they are now being celebrated.”
The story of Gaspar Yanga and his followers is remarkable for being so typical, writes Román. “The town’s relative isolation is the reason for its founding and for its continued existence as a predominately Black enclave. Fugitive slave communities were commonly established in difficult-to-reach areas in order to secure their inhabitants from recapture.”
But as Román notes, the physical isolation of Yanga has also led to the people and the town being ignored, particularly since the Yangas of Mexico — most found dispersed throughout the states of Veracruz on the gulf coast, and Oaxaca, and Guerrero south of Acapulco — have been out of sight and out of mind.
“Generally considered unworthy of any special attention, Mexico’s African presence has been relegated to an obscured slave past, pushed aside in the interest of a national identity based on a mixture of Indigenous and European cultural mestizaje,” writes Roman. “In practice, this ideology of ‘racial democracy’ favors the European presence. Too often the nation’s glorious Indigenous past is reduced to folklore and ceremonial showcasing.
But the handling of the African ‘Third Root’ is even more dismissive. For all intents and purposes the biological, cultural, and material contributions of more than 200,000 Africans and their descendants to the formation of Mexican society do not figure in the equation at all,” she notes, “because they live as their neighbors live, carry out the same work, eat the same foods, and make the same music. It is assumed that Blacks have assimilated into ‘Mexican’ society. The truth of the matter is, they are Mexican society. The historical record offers compelling evidence that Africans and their descendants contributed enormously to the very formation of Mexican culture.”
When Gaspar Yanga and his followers founded their settlement, the population of Mexico City consisted of approximately 36,000 Africans, 116,000 persons of African ancestry, and only 14,000 Europeans,” Roman explains. “Escaped slaves added to the overwhelming numbers in the cities, establishing communities in Oaxaca as early as 1523. Beyond their physical presence, Africans and their descendants interacted with Indigenous and European peoples in forging nearly every aspect of society. Indeed, the states of Guerrero and Morelos bear the names of two men of African ancestry, heroes of the War of Independence that made possible the founding of the Republic of Mexico in 1821.”
What Is Mexico; Who Are the Mexicans? Addressing Gleaton’s images, Román notes, “The people in these images, ignored in the past, now run the risk of being exoticized, of being brought forward to applaud their ‘Africanness’ while ignoring their ‘Mexicanness.’ The faces of these children and grandmothers should remind us of the generations that preceded them.
“But we must not relegate them to history. As always, they remain active participants in their world,” she explains. “To understand the implications of the people of Yanga — and of Cuajinicuilapa, El Ciruelo, Corralero, and other like communities — we must go beyond physical appearance, cease determining the extent of Africa’s influence simply by how much one looks African, and go forward to critically examine what indeed is Mexico and who are the Mexicans. So, yes, there are Black people in Mexico,” writes Román. “We may marvel at these relatively isolated communities that can still be found along the Pacific and Gulf coasts. But of greater significance is recognizing the myriad forms that mark the African presence in Mexican culture, past and present, many of which remain to be discovered by [us] and certainly by the Mexican people.”
Part IIl Black Mexico: Unearthing the Third Root
An irrefutable ‘Africanness’ Abounds
MEXICO’S WHOLESALE acceptance of a “Black Root” may be many years into the future. Colin A. Palmer in his essay, “a Legacy of Slavery” notes that ingrained beliefs endure. Palmer writes that the Mexican govern- ment is reluctant to acknowledge the historic African imprint. The government and the Mexican population at large ignore the truth, even as the evidence of a shared African history grows.
“When I arrived in Mexico about two decades ago to begin research on the early history of Africans and their descendants there, a young student politely told me that I was embarking on a wild goose chase,” Palmer writes. “Mexico had never imported slaves from Africa, he said, fully certain that the nation’s peoples of African descent were relatively recent arrivals.”
Born and reared in Jamaica, Palmer earned a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and has taught at Oakland University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The university professor and prolific author writes, “This lack of knowledge about Mexico’s African peoples has not changed much over time. A short while ago a Mexican engineer, himself of African descent, told me adamantly that the country’s Blacks were the descendants of escaped slaves from North America and Cuba. These fugitives, he proudly proclaimed, had sought and found sanctuary in free Mexico.”
Palmer is the author of numerous books and articles, including Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650; Human Cargoes: The British Slave Trade to Spanish America, 1700-1739; and Passageways: An Interpretive History of Black America. He is also editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History.
Mixed Blood Emerges. Palmer notes in his essay, “African labor was vital to the Spanish colonists. As Indigenous peoples were killed or died from European diseases, Blacks assumed a disproportionate share of the burden of work, particularly in the early colonial period. African slaves labored in the silver mines of Zacate- cas, Taxco, Guanajuato, and Pachuca in the northern and central regions; on the sugar plantations of the Valle de Orizaba and Morelos in the south; in the textile factories of Puebla and Oaxaca on the west coast and in Mexico City; and in households everywhere. Others worked in a skilled trade or on cattle ranches.
“Although Black slaves were never more than two percent of the total population,” writes Palmer, “their contributions to colonial Mexico were enormous, especially during acute labor shortages.”
Palmer continues, “Wherever their numbers permitted, slaves created networks that allowed them to cope with their situation, give expression to their humanity, and maintain a sense of self. These networks flourished in Mexico City, the port city of Veracruz, the major mining centers, and the sugar plantations, allowing Africans to preserve some of their cultural heritage even as they forged new and dynamic relationships. Although males outnumbered females, many slaves found spouses from their own or other African ethnic groups. Other slaves married or had amorous liaisons with the Indigenous peoples and to a lesser extent the Spaniards. In time, a population of mixed blood emerged, gaining demographic ascendancy by the mid-eighteenth century. Known as ‘mulattos,’ ‘pardos,’ or ‘zambos,’ many of them were either born free or in time acquired their liberty.
“As in the rest of the Americas, slavery in Mexico exacted a severe physical and psychological price from its victims. Abuse was a constant part of a slave’s existence; resisting oppression often meant torture, mutilation, whipping, or being put in confinement. Death rates were high, especially for slaves in the silver mines and on the sugar plantations,” Palmer notes. “Yet, for the most part, their spirits were never broken and many fled to establish settlements in remote areas of the country. Other slaves rebelled or conspired to. The first conspiracy on record took place in 1537, and these assaults on the system grew more frequent as the Black population increased. Regardless of the form it took — escape or rebellion — resistance demonstrated an angry defiance of the status quo and the slaves’ desire to reclaim their own lives. As such, Black resistance occupies a special place in Mexico’s revolutionary tradition, a tradition that is a source of pride for many Mexicans.”
Beyond that, Palmer notes Africans in Mexico left their cultural and genetic imprint everywhere they lived. In states such as Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, the descendants of Africa’s children still bear the evidence of their ancestry.
African Traditions Survive. “No longer do they see themselves as Mandinga, Wolof, Ibo, Bakongo or members of other African ethnic groups,” Palmer notes in his prose, “their self-identity is Mexican and they share much with other members of their nation-state. Yet their cultural heritage has not entirely disappeared. Some African traditions survive in song, music, dance, and other ways. But much has changed since slavery ended, and it is difficult for a small minority to maintain its traditions in a constantly changing society.” As their ancestors did, the few remaining persons who are visibly of African descent continue to be productive members of society. But history has not been kind to the achievements of African peoples in Mexico. Palmer and Miriam Jimenez Roman agree that only in recent times have Black or Afro-Mexicans been studied and their contributions to Mex- ican society illuminated. Black Mexicans can claim this proud legacy and draw strength from it, even as the full strength of their African origins become a shrinking part of their country, blending into the legacy of mestizaje.
Author and scholar on Mexican culture, María Martínez Montiel, writes in her essay — “Mexico’s Third Root,” that, “Wherever people gather in the poor fishing villages of Costa Chica on Mexico’s southwest coast — in their homes, on the streets, in the town squares during festivals — someone is likely to step forward and start singing. These impromptu performers regale their audience with songs of romance, tragedy, comedy, and social protest, all inspired by local events and characters. At the heart of the songs, called ‘corridos,’ is a sense of human dignity and a desire for freedom rooted in the lives and history of the people of Costa Chica, many of whom are descendants of escaped slaves.”
“The corridos reflect oral traditions inherited from Africa. The words are improvised, and a corrido that brings applause is apt to be committed to memory, to be sung again and again as an oral chronicle of local life,” notes Montiel, author of “Afroamérica II. Africanos y Afrodescendientes,” and scholarly papers — “Our Third Root On African Presence in American Populations, and Integration Patterns and the Assimilation Process of Negro Slaves in Mexico.”
Montiel also writes, “The lyrics are also rich in symbols, a tradition that may have started when singers among the first slaves invented ‘code words’ to protest the cruelty of their masters. The African imprint in Costa Chica is not confined to music. For the ‘Dance of the Devil,’ performed during Holy Week in the streets of Collantes, Oaxaca, dancers wear masks that show the clear influence of Africa. And down on the docks, fishermen employ methods of work that may have been brought centuries ago from the coast of West Africa. [The Spanish colonists took full advantage of technology that Africans had developed for work in the tropics and adapted and improved in the New World.] Yet today, many African contributions to advancing the technologies of fishing, agriculture, ranching, and textile-making in Mexico remain unappreciated.”
In Black enclaves like Costa Chica, the African presence pervades Mexican culture, Montiel writes, and “in story and legend, music and dance, proverb and song, the legacy of Africa touches the life of every Mexican. Today, after five hundred years of blending with the traditions of Indians and Europeans, it has become nearly impossi- ble to trace the specific contributions of any of these groups. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the African elements in Mexico’s culture are not acknowledged as they are in other countries of the Americas. In fact, [the] mestizaje, the official ideology that defines Mexico’s culture as a blend of European and indigen- ous influences, completely ignores the contributions of the nation’s 'Third Root.' Africans and their descend- ants, nearly invisible in the Spanish chronicles of the colonial period, continue to receive little attention in the official history of Mexico. So it is no surprise that Blacks, who live primarily in poor, rural areas where the level of education is very low, lack a clear consciousness of their African heritage.”
Geography helped preserve African heritage. “To an extent, geography has shaped the heritage of Mexico’s Black communities. The isolation of the west coast and the mountains, which offered sanctuary to escaped slaves, also preserved many elements of African tradition, Montiel continues. “On the other hand, the Gulf Coast region, especially the port of Veracruz, was a crossroads where Mexico’s indigenous culture blended with myriad influences from Africa, Europe, South America, and especially the Caribbean. In this variegated mixture, it is sometimes difficult to isolate the African presence.
As in the past, Blacks on the Gulf Coast are more likely to trace the origins of their lineage to the Caribbean. The people on the west coast and in the mountains, how- ever, have lately begun to acknowledge their links to Africa and to their slave past. In part, this is in response to recent ethnographic, folkloric, and historical studies as well as to frequent visits by scholars to these regions. It may be as well that the stress of increasing contact with other peoples — and with immigrants who now come to exploit their land and labor — has fostered a need among these groups for a self-identity defining them as the Blacks from the coast.”
Accordingly, writes Montiel, “It is a fact that economic stresses compel ethnic groups in sudden contact with outsiders to either reinforce their traditions or capitulate to the attractions that cultural homogenization has to offer. This is how cultural groups are depersonalized and their traditional values lost. Hopefully, the Blacks of Costa Chica and elsewhere in Mexico will come to find new meaning in the traditions that have sustained them for centuries. Mexico will be much the richer for it.”
Influenced by the increasing interest in Africans and their descendants in other parts of the world, the work of a small but significant group of Mexican intellectuals, along with the contributions of researchers in the U.S. like Gleaton, Roman, Palmer, and Montiel, have expanded the focus on Black Mexicans and the body of know- ledge and historical evidence about them. Newly documented truth abounds. It is now established fact that, like the state of Veracruz — especially the port city of the same name — is generally recognized as having Black people. In fact, there is a widespread tendency to identify all Mexicans who have distinctively Black features as originating from Veracruz.
In addition to its relatively well-known history as a major slave port, Veracruz received significant numbers of descendants of Africa from Haiti and Cuba between the 19th and early 20th centuries. As far as the precise figures on the numbers of enslaved Africans who integrated Spanish America, there is no way to quantify the total. Some scholars believe 200,000 slaves were brought to Mexico for manual labor purposes while others believe the true number totaled more than 500,000. The source of these figures is the census of 1646 of Mexico City, as reported by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran in “La Poblacion Negra de Mexico.”
The mingling of blood that occurred between the Spanish and indigenous natives of Mexico also occurred with African slaves. Historians differ on the actual number of slaves brought to Mexico during the colonial expansion. The mulattos in Mexico race are a people seldom acknowledged. Traditionally, the mestizo race is a mixture of Spanish and indigenous blood. Mulattos are a blend of African and Spanish blood, which was absorbed into the fabric of the Mexican culture over the years, as racial co-mingling occurred throughout Mexico without boun- dary. The first Africans to arrive Mexico, as well as their descendants, have greatly influenced Mexican culture.
Few people know that Juan Garrido, a Black Moor and Black Mexican was the first farmer to plant wheat in Mexico. He also traveled with the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca from Florida across the present American Southwest, between 1528 and 1536. Another Black Mexico shuddered in Mexican history is Esteban de Dorantes aka Estevanico or Mustafa Azemmouri, was the first African to explore North America. He was taken captive, enslaved and sold to a Spanish nobleman in Spain in about 1521.
Garrido's arly life and education. Garrido (1487-1550) was an African conquistador, born in the Kingdom of Kongo or "Kongo dia Ntotila." Kongolese by birth (not to be confused with Congolese from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or the Republic of the Congo aka Congo-Brazzaville), he went to Portugal as a young man. Converting to Catholicism, Garrido chose the Spanish name, Juan Garrido ("Handsome John"). He went to Seville, Spain where he joined an expedition to the New World. Garrido joined a Spanish expedition and arrived in Santo Domingo (Hispaniola) about 1502, where he engaged in the invasion of present-day Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1508.
Garrido was among the earliest Africans to reach the Americas. He was one of numerous Africans or possibly a "freedman" who had joined expeditions from Seville to the Americas. From the beginning of Spanish pre- sence in the Americas, Africans participated as voluntary expeditionaries, conquistadors, and auxiliaries. In 1513, as part of Juan Ponce de Leon entourage in search of gold, the expedition landed in Florida. Garrido is the first known African to arrive in North America.
By 1519 Garrido participated in the expedition led by Hernán Cortés to Mexico, where they lay siege to Tenochtitlan. In 1520 he built a chapel to commemorate the many Spanish killed in battle that year by the Aztecs. It now stands as the Church of San Hipólito. Garrido married and settled in Mexico City, where he and his wife had three children. Garrido and other blacks were also part of expeditions to Michoacán in the 1520s. Nuño de Guzmán swept through that region in 1529-30 with the aid of Black auxiliaries. Garrido provided testimony on his 30 years of service as a conquistador, documented by the following letter in 1538:
"I, Juan Garrido, black in color, resident of this city [Mexico], appear before Your Mercy and state that I am in need of providing evidence to the perpetuity of the king, a report on how I served Your Majesty in the conquest and pacification of this New Spain, from the time when the Marqués del Valle [Cortés] entered it; and in his company I was present at all the invasions and conquests and pacifications which were carried out, always with the said Marqués, all of which I did at my own expense without being given either salary or repartimiento de indios [allotment of natives] or anything else.
The letter continues, "As I am married and a resident of this city, where I have always lived; and also as I went with the Marqués del Valle to discover the islands which are in that part of the southern sea [the Pacific] where there was much hunger and privation; and also as I went to discover and pacify the islands of San Juan de Buriquén de Puerto Rico; and also as I went on the pacification and conquest of the island of Cuba with the adelantado Diego Velázquez; in all these ways for thirty years have I served and continue to serve Your Majesty—for these reasons stated above do I petition Your Mercy. And also because I was the first to have the inspiration to sow wheat here in New Spain and to see if it took; I did this and experimented at my own expense."
Throughout the centuries, Black Mexicans have made enormous contributions to the country and deserve recognition for their many accomplishments. Black Mexicans share a rich history and count heroes and presi- dents among their ancestors. The historical record, of course, tells another story. In the 16th century, New Spain probably had more enslaved Africans than any other colony in the Western Hemisphere. Blacks were present as slaves of the Spaniards as early as the 1520s. Over the approximately three hundred years Spanish slavery lasted, the slave trade brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to the colony. Many Blacks were born in Mex- ico and followed their parents into slavery.
The institution of slavery in Mexico was abolished in 1829 by Vicente Guerrero, the nation's second mulatto president, 34 years before President Abraham Lincoln would declare the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in America. That was a major leap by President Guerrero. Another seminal leap was a major leap to California.
Part lV continues
Part IV Black Mexico: Unearthing the Third Root
Vicente Guerrero Interlude
SECOND MULATTO PRESIDENT. Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña was a hero in Mexico’s War of Indepen- dence from Spain. The state of Guerrero was named in his honor. In addition, one of the most respected and honored generals in Mexico’s War of Independence, Jose Mar’a Teclo Morelos y Pavan, was a mulatto, as well. Guerrero’s grandson, Vicente Riva Palacio y Guerrero, was one of Mexico’s most influential politicians and novelists.
As more evidence of the Third Root is extracted from Mexico’s buried history, it is becoming more apparent all the time that Mexico’s ancient melding with Africans offers volumes of historical fact that, as a "social equalizer" must one day re-cast the truth of Mexico’s official history from the shadow of obscurity. Black-Mexicans have also contributed greatly to Mexico’s rich heritage of dance, music and song. The famous "carnival of blackness" cele- brated in Coyolillo in Veracruz has African origins. Mexico’s food, language, and spiritual practices have been influenced by the descendants of African slaves. Black immigrants to the country must be recognized and included in this equation. To add to this, many more African slaves fled from America to Mexico seeking asylum and refuge during the years of the brutal practice in America before slavery’s end.
Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, born Aug. 10, 1782, in Tixtla, Puebla, New Spain, died Feb. 14, 1831, in Cuilapan, Oaxaca, Mexico, at age 48, carved out an extraordinary life and career in nearly five decades. Born to an African mother, María de Guadalupe Saldaña, and Mestizo father, Pedro Guerrero, the ethnic fusion would cast Guerrero as Zambo. He was tall, robust, dark complexioned, often referred to as El Negro.
Guerrero made a career in the military from 1810-1821, serving in the army where he earned stellar rank as captain, lieutenant colonel, and general. During service to his country, he married María de Guadalupe Hernández. The couple produced one child named María de los Dolores Guerrero Hernández. The peculiar naming was the result of Spanish customs: the first or paternal name is Guerrero and the second or maternal family name is Saldaña. Guerrero was a member of the Liberal Party, and one of the leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence. He fought against Spain for independence in the early 19th century, and later served as the second president of Mexico, April 1, 1829 to Dec. 17, 1829, coming to power in a coup d’etat.
President Guerrero championed the cause of Mexico’s common people, and abolished slavery during his brief term as president. It remains a sad reality how both a war hero, people’s champion, and president of Mexico would in the end lose his life by firing squad. His execution in 1831 by the conservative government that ousted him in 1829 left the entire nation numb.
Guerrero was born in Tixtla, a town 60 miles inland from the port of Acapulco in Sierra Madre del Sur. The region where he grew up had a large concentration of indigenous groups, and as a young man he was more conversant in the local language than Spanish. His father's family included landlords, rich farmers and traders with broad business connections in the south, members of the Spanish militia and gun and cannon makers. In his youth, he worked for his father's freight business that used mules for transport. His travels took him to diff- erent parts of Mexico where he heard of the ideas of independence.
Guerrero's father, Pedro, supported Spanish rule, whereas his uncle, Diego Guerrero, had an important position in the Spanish militia. As an adult, Guerrero was opposed to the Spanish colonial government. When his father asked him for his sword in order to present it to the viceroy of New Spain as a sign of goodwill, Guerrero refused, saying, "The will of my father is for me sacred, but my fatherland is first [mi patria es primero] is now the motto of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, named in honor of the revolutionary. Guerrero enlisted in José María Morelos's insurgent army of the south in December 1810.
Guerrero married María de Guadalupe Hernández; their daughter María de los Dolores Guerrero Hernández married Mariano Riva Palacio, who was the defense lawyer of Maximilian I of Mexico in Querétaro, and was the mother of late 19th-century intellectual Vicente Riva Palacio.
Career as an insurgent, 1810–21.
In 1810 Guerrero joined in the early revolt against Spain, first fighting in the forces of secular priest José María Morelos. Morelos described him as "A young man with bronzed skin, tall and strong, strapping, aquiline nose, light-colored eyes and big sideburns." When the War of Independence began, Guerrero was working as a gun- smith in Tixtla. He joined the rebellion in November 1810 and enlisted in a division that independence leader Morelos had organized to fight in southern Mexico.
Guerrero distinguished himself in the battle of Izúcar, in February 1812, and had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel when Oaxaca was claimed by rebels in November 1812. Initial victories by Morelos's forces faltered and Morelos himself was captured and executed in December 1815. Guerrero joined forces with Guadalupe Victoria ria and Isidoro Montes de Oca, taking the position of "Commander in Chief" of the rebel troops. In 1816, the royal government under Viceroy Apodaca sought to end the insurgency, offering amnesty. Guerrero's father carried one appeal for his son to surrender, but Guerrero refused. He remained the only major rebel leader still at large, keeping the rebellion going through an extensive campaign of guerrilla warfare. He won victories at Ajuchitán, Santa Fe, Tetela del Río, Huetamo, Tlalchapa and Cuautlotitlán, regions of southern Mexico that were very familiar to him.
Hoping to extinguish the rebellion, the royal government sent Agustín de Iturbide against Guerrero's forces. Guerrero was victorious against Iturbide, who realized there was a military stalemate. Guerrero appealed to Iturbide to abandon his royalist loyalty and join the fight for independence. Events in Spain had changed in 1820, with Spanish liberals ousting Ferdinand VII and imposing the liberal constitution of 1812 that the king had repudiated. Conservatives in Mexico, including the Catholic hierarchy began to conclude that continued allegiance to Spain would undermine their position, and opted for independence in order to maintain their control. Guerrero's appeal to join the forces for independence was successful. Guerrero and Iturbide allied under the Plan de Iguala and their forces merged as the Army of the Three Guarantees.
The Plan of Iguala proclaimed independence, called for a constitutional monarchy and the continued place of the Roman Catholic Church, and abolished the formal casta system of racial classification. Clause 12 was incorporated into the plan. It read: All inhabitants ... without distinction of their European, African or Indian origins are citizens ... with full freedom to pursue their livelihoods according to their merits and virtues. The Army of the Three Guarantees marched triumphantly into Mexico City in Sept. 27, 1821.
Mexican Empire, 1822–23
Agustín de Iturbide was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico by Congress. In January 1823, Guerrero, along with Nicolás Bravo, rebelled against Iturbide, returning to southern Mexico to raise rebellion, according some assessments because their careers had been blocked by the emperor. Their stated objectives were to restore the Constituent Congress. Guerrero and Bravo were defeated by Iturbide's forces at Almolongo (now in the State of Guerrero) less than a month later. When Iturbide's imperial government collapsed in 1823, Guerrero was named one of Constituent Congress's ruling triumvirate.
In 1828, the four-year term of the first president of the republic, Guadalupe Victoria, came to an end. Unlike the first presidential election and the president serving his full term, the election of 1828 was highly partisan. Guerrero's supporters included federalist liberals, members of the radical wing of the York Rite Freemasons. General Gómez Pedraza won the September 1828 election to succeed Guadalupe Victoria, with Guerrero coming in second and Anastasio Bustamante, third through indirect election of Mexico's state legislatures.
Gómez Pedraza was the candidate of the "Impartials," composed of Yorkinos concerned about the radicalism of Guerrero and Scottish Rite Masons (Escocés), who sought a new political party. Among those who were Impar- tials were distinguished federalist Yorkinos Valentín Gómez Farías and Miguel Ramos Arizpe. The U.S. diplomatic representative in Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett was enthusiastic about Guerrero's candidacy, writing
"...A man who is held up as ostensible head of the party, and who will be their candidate for the next presidency, is General Guerrero, one of the most distinguished chiefs of the revolution. Guerrero is uneducated, but poss- esses excellent natural talents, combined with great decision of character and undaunted courage. His violent temper renders him difficult to control, and therefore I consider Zavala's presence here indispensably necessary, as he possesses great influence over the general."
Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, had strong opinions about the character of Vicente Guerrero, who
did not leave an abundant written record, but some of his speeches survive.
"A free state protects the arts, industry, science and trade; and the only prizes virtue and merit: if we want to acquire the latter, let's do it cultivating the fields, the sciences, and all that can facilitate the sustenance and entertainment of men: let's do this in such a way that we will not be a burden for the nation, just the opposite, in
a way that we will satisfy her needs, helping her to support her charge and giving relief to the distraught of humanity: with this we will also achieve abundant wealth for the nation, making her prosper in all aspects."
— Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña, Speech to his compatriots
Two weeks after the Sept. 1 election, Antonio López de Santa Anna rose in rebellion in support of Guerrero. As governor of the strategic state of Veracruz and former general in the war of independence, Santa Anna was a powerful figure in the early republic, but he was unable to persuade the state legislature to support Guerrero in the indirect elections. Santa Anna resigned the governorship and led 800 troops loyal to him in capturing the fortress of Perote, near Xalapa. He issued a political plan there calling for the nullification of Gómez Pedraza's election and the declaration of Guerrero as president.
El Parián market in the zócalo, lithograph, early 19th century. In November 1828 in Mexico City, Guerrero supporters took control of the Acordada, a former prison transformed into an armory, and days of fighting occurred in the capital. President-elect Gómez Pedraza had not yet taken office and at this juncture he resigned and soon went into exile in England. With the resignation of the president-elect and the ineffective rule of the sitting president, civil order dissolved.
On Dec. 4, 1828, a riot broke out in the Zócalo and the Parián market, where luxury goods were sold, was looted. Order was restored within a day, but elites in the capital were alarmed at the violence of the popular classes and the huge property losses. With the resignation of Gómez Pedraza, and Guerreros' cause backed by Santa Anna's forces and the powerful liberal politician Lorenzo de Zavala, Guerrero became president. Guerrero took office as president, with Bustamante, a conservative, becoming vice president. One scholar sums up Guerrero's situation, "Guerrero owed the presidency to a mutiny and a failure of will on the part of [President] Guadalupe Victoria...Guerrero was to rule as president with only a thin layer of support."
Liberal folk hero of the independence insurgency Guerrero became president on April 1, 1829, with conservative Anastasio Bustamante as his vice president. For some of Guerrero's supporters, a visibly mixed-race man from Mexico's periphery becoming president of Mexico was a step toward in what one 1829 pamphleteer called "the reconquest of this land by its legitimate owners" and called Guerrero "that immortal hero, favorite son of Nezahualcoyotzin," the famous ruler of pre-Hispanic Texcoco. Some creole elites (American-born Whites of Spanish heritage) were alarmed by Guerrero as president, a group that liberal Lorenzo de Zavala disparagingly called "the new Mexican aristocracy."
Guerrero set about creating a cabinet of liberals, but his government already encountered serious problems, including its very legitimacy, since president-elect Gómez Pedraza had resigned under pressure. Some tradi- tional federalists leaders, who might have supported Guerrero, did not do so because of the electoral irregular- ities. The national treasury was empty and future revenues already had liens applied against them. Spain continued to deny Mexico's independence and threatened reconquest.
Guerrero called for public schools, land title reforms, industry and trade development, and other programs of a liberal nature. As president, Guerrero championed the causes of the racially oppressed and economically oppressed. He ordered an immediate abolition of slavery on Sept. 16, 1829. In central Mexico, there were few Black slaves, so that the gesture was largely symbolic, but in the Mexican state of Texas, where White-American slave-holding southerners were colonizing, the decree went against their economic interests Initially, White-American Stephen F. Austin, colonizer in Texas, was enthusiastic about the Mexican government.
"This is the most liberal and munificent government on earth to emigrants – after being here one year you will oppose a change even to Uncle Sam" –Stephen Fuller Austin, 1829, letter to his sister describing Guerrero's Government of Mexico (and Texas)
Ouster, Capture and Execution, Dec. 1829 - Feb. 1831. During Guerrero's presidency, the Spanish tried to reconquer Mexico, but they failed, being defeated at the Battle of Tampico. Guerrero was deposed in a rebellion under Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante that began on Dec. 4, 1829. Guerrero left the capital to fight in the south, but was deposed by the Mexico City garrison in his absence on Dec. 17, 1829. Guerrero had returned to the region of southern Mexico where he had fought during the war of independence. Elites in Mexico City feared Guerrero's appeal to mixed-race Mexicans and Indians. Bustamante feared the claim that Guerrero was descended from Aztec royalty would bolster his appeal to Indians.
"It is greatly to be feared that once the Indians were aroused by Guerrero they would form a party that would lead to caste [race] war."
Open warfare between Guerrero and his opponent in the region Nicolás Bravo was fierce. Bravo had been a royalist officer and Guerrero was an insurgent hero. Bravo controlled the highlands of the region, including the town of Guerrero's birth, Tixtla. Guerrero had strength in the hot coastal regions of the Costa Grande and Tierra Caliente, with mixed race populations that had been mobilized during the insurgency for independence. Bravo's area had a mixed population, but politically was dominated by Whites. The conflict in the south occurred for all of 1830, as conservatives consolidated power in Mexico City.
The war in the south might have continued even longer, but ended in what one historian has called "the most shocking single event in the history of the first republic: the capture of Guerrero in Acapulco through an act of betrayal and his execution a month later." Guerrero controlled Mexico's principal Pacific coast port of Acapulco. An Italian merchant ship captain, Francisco Picaluga, approached the conservative government in Mexico City with a proposal to lure Guerrero onto his ship and take him prisoner for the price of 50,000 pesos, a fortune at the time.
Picaluga invited Guerrero on board for a meal on Jan. 14, 1831. Guerrero and a few aids were taken captive and Picaluga sailed to the port of Huatulco, where Guerrero was turned over to federal troops. Guerrero was taken to Oaxaca City and summarily tried by a court-martial. His capture was welcomed by conservatives and some state legislatures, but the legislatures of Zacatecas and Jalisco tried to prevent Guerrero's execution. The govern- ment's 50,000 peso payment to Picaluga was exposed in the liberal press. Despite pleas for his life, Guerrero was executed by firing squad in Cuilapam on Feb. 14, 1831. His death did mark the dissolution of the rebellion in southern Mexico, but those politicians involved in his execution paid a lasting price to their reputations.
Many Mexicans saw Guerrero as the "martyr of Cuilapam" and his execution was deemed by the liberal news- paper El Federalista Mexicano "judicial murder." The two conservative cabinet members considered most culpable for Guerrero's execution, Lucas Alamán and Secretary of War José Antonio Facio, "spent the rest of their lives defending themselves from the charge that they were responsible for the ultimate betrayal in the history of the first republic, that is, that they had arranged not just for the service of Picaluga's ship but specifically for his capture of Guerrero."
Historian Jan Bazant speculates as why Guerrero was executed rather than sent into exile, as Iturbide had been, Antonio López de Santa Anna, and long-time late-19th century Mexican dictator, Porfirio Díaz:
"The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from Mexican landowners, military generals, clerics and [resident] Span- iards. Guerrero's execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president."
Honors were conferred on surviving members of Guerrero's family, and a pension was paid to his widow. In 1842, Vicente Guerrero's remains were exhumed and returned to Mexico City for re-interment. He is known for his political discourse promoting equal civil rights for all Mexican citizens. He is a Mexican national hero and has been described as the "greatest man of color" to ever live.
The state of Guerrero is named in his honor, as well as several towns in Mexico, including Vicente Guerrero in Baja California.
Part V continues.
Part V Black Mexico: Unearthing the Third Root
Founding Los Angeles:
Revealing a 200-Year Deception
IN 2022, IT IS ESTIMATED that more than a half-million Black-Mexicans are concentrated in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. Black-Mexican communities can also be found in the states of Michoacan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and the Yucatan. The majority of Black-Mexicans reside on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, in a region known as La Costa Chica. This stretch of coastline is a part of the Southwestern state of Guerrero and starts south of Acapulco and extends for approximately 200 miles. Fishing and agriculture are the mainstays of the economy. Africans had begun to enter the northwestern region of Colonial Mexico by the mid-1600s. Their descendants were racially mixed by the time the colonization of Alta California had begun in the second half of the 18th century.
What is more compelling, is that Indigenous natives, mulattos, mestizos, zambos, and other persons of mixed blood were actually the majority population in Mexico’s northwest region. This evidence proves that Mexico’s early origins as a sovereign nation were nothing close to being homogeneous — but, rather a blend of cultures. From the northwest region came the original settlers of Alta California who traveled north with Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza. between 1774 and 1776. Alta Loma marked the northern frontier of the Spanish empire in the New World. These settlers who accompanied Bautista de Anza were among the original settlers of Los Angeles.
Black Mexico and Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to many, the African American imprint in the history of Los Angeles is indelible. African Americans have made significant contributions to Los Angeles in all areas — from the arts and culture to science, education, architecture, and politics. Contrary to popular belief, the African American presence in the city did not originate from the waves of new settlers who came to Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — their presence and contributions to the City of the Angels stem from its founding in 1781, and the collision between U.S. and Mexican social histories. A review of the castas (race) of the 44 adult pobladores (settlers), according to the 1781 census, reveal the historic record.
The breakdown by ethnicity also reveals how race-conscious the ruling class Spaniards had been in colonial Mexico, thoroughly embedding this in the colonial mindset ensuring there would be no blurred lines along race, clearly establishing “class” privilege and secondary citizenship status. The class breakdown is Peninsular (Spaniard born in Spain); Criollo (Spaniard born in colonial Mexico); Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian); Negros (Blacks of full African ancestry); Mulattos (mixed Spanish and Black); Zambos (mixed Indian and Black).
The pobladores of Los Angeles came from the present northwest Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, were of mixed Indian, African and European descent. This mixed racial composition was not only typical of the majority of settlers of Alta California, it reflected the majority population of Sonora and Sinaloa, as well as the entire northwestern region of colonial Mexico. Under the new governor of California, Felipe de Neve, El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles was founded on Sept. 4, 1781.
The 44 pobladores arriving in Alta California in 1781 were 11 mulatto and mestizo families — including children. Only two Spaniards or Whites were numbered among the pobladores. The majority were mulatto. The original contention that indigenous Mexicans founded Los Angeles was not completely true. A shameful omission was uncovered just weeks ahead of the city 1982 Bicentennial Commemoration.
Shameful 200-Year Lie. Los Angeles is a remarkable megalopolis with a population topping 4 million in 2019
with a vibrant tapestry of cultures and ethnicities from around the globe. The city had a humble beginning with the arrival of a band of dusty travelers — the 44 Original Pobladores or settlers, from Mexico on Sept. 4, 1781, whom local historians would not accurately identify for another 200 years. It was part of the city’s Shadow His- tory. Angelinos never knew the bloodline of Africa contributed significantly to the emergence of Los Angeles.
The racial backlash against Africans — who had no say in their forced removal from Africa — persisted all the way to the seeding and germination of the “City of the Angels.” The original plaque at Olvera Street commem- orating “Los Pobladores” or settlers, for many years harbored a shameful omission — never referencing the African heritage of the original settlers. The historic “Los Pobladores Walk to Los Angeles” a tradition that commemorates the final nine miles of the great trek to California by the settlers, occurs each year over the Labor Day weekend, which coincides with the Sept. 4 anniversary of the city’s founding.
Original Mission Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles. The commemoration was organized in 1981 by the Los Pobladores 200, an association comprised of the descendants of the 44 Original Pobladores and six-soldier detail that ushered them to California, then a territory of Mexico known as Alta, California. The commemoration celebrates the pobladores’ final nine-mile trek to the city center.
Los Pobladores 200 proudly embraced their forebears until they were confronted by a cloistered secret of which a fringe minority of Mexicans never discussed beyond a whisper down through the years — that “black blood” or African DNA was infused in Mexican ancestry. The contention did not sit well with Los Pobladores 200 whose members considered themselves traditional Mexican with Indigenous roots and/or a blend of Indigenous and Spanish. For decades historians of Mexican culture had rejected the notion of African infusion. Eventually, scholars from the Los Angeles area, including professors from the University of Southern California, and California State University, Dominguez Hills—part of a sub-committee formed during a citywide effort to com- memorate L.A.’s Bicentennial anniversary in 198l—became concerned and endeavored to set the record straight. Unfortunately, divulging the true history of the original pobladores was “a political hot potato,” according to the late Dr. Doyce Nunis, Jr., professor emeritus of California history during the time at the University of Southern California.
Nunis said, “The descendants of Los Pobladores were very sensitive to the prospect of being revealed as having African roots. But history is history — you cannot change it. And the subcommittee found the evidence.”
The highly qualified team had been assembled by Nunis to establish the indisputable truth about the contribu- tions of Black-Mexicans to the seeding and nurturing of colonial Los Angeles. The multiracial ethnicity of the pobladores was considered a fallacy by the scholarly establishment and never accepted until explicit census information was found in an archive in Seville, Spain. Documents there confirmed that 11 families recruited by Felipe de Neve, the first Spanish governor of Alta California, arrived from the Mexican provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora.
Los Pobladores 200 is reticent to this day to discuss the subcommittee’s groundbreaking findings. Nunis asked a former student, Donald T. Hata, in 1978 to chair the Pobladores Subcommittee for the City of Los Angeles and to research and draft a commemorative plaque to honor the pobladores for the City’s Bicentennial cele- bration in 1981. They helped to replace the old plaque on display at Olvera Street with the current one which accurately depicts the multiracial make up of the founders, and the inclusion of the Third Root from Africa in Mexican history, and by extension, Los Angeles.
Olvera Street was a favorite destination for elementary school “field trips” prior to 1981 for children throughout L.A. County. Prior to 1981, Black pupils from the city’s urban core were not privileged to the truth that Black-Mexicans were not only involved in the colonizing of Los Angeles but were the dominant settlers in the city’s founding. This writer was one of those students who traveled to Olvera Street for field trips on several occasions during my years attending Clara Barton Hill Elementary in San Pedro, Calif.
It should be noted, the African connection occurred when more than 200,000 slaves from Africa were exported to colonial Mexico by Spain in the 15th century to labor in the sugar cane fields and silver mines. The region was colonized in 1519. Over time, the African slaves revolted against their Spanish enslavers, gained freedom, but never returned to Africa.
Inter-marriage with both Spaniards and indigenous resulted in mulatto and Zambo cultures, respectively. The inter-mix of indigenous people and Spaniards birth the mestizo culture. The 44 pobladores arriving in Los Angeles in 1781 were 11 mulatto and mestizo families — including children. The majority were mulatto. Serv-
ing with Hata on the subcommittee was an A-team of scholars, that included Miriam Matthews, the first African American to earn a degree in library science at USC, who went on to have an illustrious career as a librarian and archivist of African American history in Los Angeles. Matthews helped to document the city’s multiracial origins, listing all of the pobladores by name, race, sex, and age.
Matthews, who died in 2003 at age 98, also amassed a collection of approximately 4,600 black-and-white photographs documenting the African American experience in Los Angeles and California, including images depicting the founding of the city, African American stagecoach drivers and overland guides to California, and the multiracial Californio family of Pio Pico, the wealthy Black-Mexican landowner for whom the City of Pico Rivera and Pico Boulevard are named.
Hata would go on to earn a doctorate in history and stellar achievement on the way to earning the distinction as an emeritus professor of history at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
The team also included David Almada, a Los Angeles Unified School District administrator serving at a time when few Latinos served in such positions; and historian Leonard Pitt, an emeritus professor of history at California State University, Northridge and author of Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890. Pitt died in July 2015 at 85.
The truth of the city’s founding was a milestone set in stone, one of Nunis’ signature achievements. The esteemed historian died on Jan. 22, 2011 at age 86.
The voice of history resounded. While the First and Second Roots of Indigenous and Spaniard, respectively formed colonial Mexico initially, with the “Third Root” from Africa infusing into the culture later in the 15th century, the Third Root would eventually find its way to California by way of Mexico and plow historically into the fertile ground that spawned the City of Los Angeles.
That sealed the truth forever.
Black Mexicans in Los Angeles history. Francisco Reyes, for example, served as the first alcalde (mayor) from 1792 to 1795 and was the original owner of the present-day San Fernando Valley.
María Rita Valdez, a descendant of poblador Luis Quintero, was granted the Rancho Rodeo de Aguas in 1841. She later sold the property to developers. Today it comprises the City of Beverly Hills.
Pío Pico (1801-1894) is perhaps the most celebrated Black-Mexican in California history. He was the last governor of California under Mexican rule, an owner of huge rancho properties and prominent resident of Los Angeles. His parents and grandparents came with the Anza party from Sinaloa, Mexico in 1776, where two-thirds of the residents were mulattos. Pio’s younger brother, Andrés Pico was a wealthy landowner and military commander during the Mexican era. Under U.S. rule, he became a member of the State Constitutional Commit- tee, general of the State Militia and California state senator.
The grandchildren of Pío Pico, who also built the Pico House, were Luis Quintero, María Rita Valdes, and Eugene W. Biscailuz, who served as sheriff of Los Angeles County. It is in Biscailuz’ name for whom the L.A. County Sheriff’s Academy Training Facility is named.
Throughout the 19th century, the “rancho dons” and their families would intermarry with each other and with immigrant White-American merchants from New England, who arrived to trade in hides, creating strong family alliances. Many other Black-Mexicans during the Mexican and early American periods continued to make important contributions to the Pueblo of Los Angeles.
Today, the “founders’ plaque” at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument serves as a tribute to the African-American origins of Los Angeles and an enduring hope for the future. The majority of the original founding pobladores or colonists of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles (Los Angeles), approximately 300 years after African slaves arrived in colonial Mexico, were of African Ancestry. The founding families of from the original group, Nov. 19, 1781, Padrón of the Pueblo, included at least 32 settlers, including children, who were Black-Mexicans.
The following are the original 11 families of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles who made the hot dusty trek of more than 1,000 miles across the desert in Northern Mexico to Alta, California to stake their claim, plant roots and go about the task of nurturing what would eventually become America’s “Golden State,” and the richest in the Union. Of the 44 original founding pobladores of Los Angeles, 20 were mulatto, linked to the Third Root; 11 were indigenous, 6 were indigenous/mulatto, 5 were mestizo, and 2 were Spaniard (White).
The following are the original 11 families of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles:
Manuel Camero, 30, a mulatto from Nayarit, married Maria Tomasa Garcia, 24, a mulatta.
Antonio Mesa, 38, a mulatto from Sinaloa, married Maria Ana Gertrudis Lopez, 27, a mulatta. Two children accompanied them to Alta California; Marla Paula, 10; and Antonio Maria, 8.
Luis Manuel Quintero, 55, an African from Jalisco, married Maria Petra Rubio, 40, a mulatta. They arrived to Alta California with their five children — María Gertrudis, 16; María Concepcíon, 9; María Tomasa, 7; María Rafaela, 6; and José Clemente, 3.
José Cesario Moreno, a mulatto from Sinaloa, married María Guadalupe Gertrudis Pérez, 19, a mulatta.
José Antonio Basilio Rosas, 67, an indigenous native from Durango, married María Manuela Calixtra Hernández, 43, a mulatta. Six children arrived with them—José Máximo, 15; José Carlos, 12; María Josefa, 8; Antonio Rosalino, 7; José Marcelino, 4; and José Esteban, 2.
José Antonio Navarro, 42, a mestizo from Sinaloa, married María Regina Dorotea Glorea de Soto, 47, a mulatta. Three children arrived with them; José Eduardo, 10; José Clemente, 9; and Mariana, 4.
Pablo Rodríguez, 25, an indigenous native from Sinaloa, married María Rosalia Noriega, 26, an indigenous native. They were accompanied by a 1-year-old child, María Antonia.
José Alejandro Rojas (son of José Antonio Basilio Rosas), 19, an indigenous native from Sinaloa, married Juana María Rodríguez, 20, an indigenous native.
Jose María Vanegas, 28, an indigenous native from Jalisco, married María Bonifacia Máxima Aguilar, 20, an indigenous native. A 1-year-old baby boy, Cosme Damien. arrived with them.
José Fernando de Velasco y Lara, 50, a Spaniard from Cadiz, married María Antonia Campos, 23, an indigenous native. Three children arrived with them; María Juan, 6; José Julian, 4; and María Faustina, 2.
Antonio Clemente Félix Villavicencio, 30, a Spaniard from Chihuahua, married María de Los Santos Flores Serafina, 26, an indigenous native. One child arrived with them; María Antonia, 8.
Part VI continues.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC0 License.