If you are surprised to see Mexico in a list about slavery, not to mention resistance, you are not alone. Until attending an exhibit and book signing called The African Presence in Mexico a few years ago, I didn’t know some of our ancestors were taken there, either.
But sure enough, they were sailed mostly to Eastern Mexico and that is where in 1570, a Gabonese royal named Gaspar Yanga led runaways into the mountainous area of Veracruz. This area is also known for the enormous Olmec heads that some have taken to be evidence of African presence in the Americas before Columbus’ accidental explorations.
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Yanga and the runaways established a palenque, a Spanish word meaning “palisade or stockade,” and lived there for more than 30 years. Like many maroons, they sustained themselves through periodic raids. This led the Spanish government to attack them in 1609, but the palenqueros fought valiantly and, in 1618, the Spanish colonizers relented, accepting the right of the palenqueros to remain free and build a town. Their town was renamed Yanga in 1932 after their first leader, who was eventually acknowledged as a Mexican culture hero.
As enslavement spread with the United States’ expansion, Mexico also became a little-known destination on the Underground Railroad. Sometime between 1849 and 1852, a group of Black Seminole families who had been pushed from Florida to Texas fled into Mexico, setting up a new community first near El Moral, and later near El Nacimiento. Known as the Mascogos, the descendants of these Maroons still live in Mexico today, as do the descendants of the Africans who founded Yanga in Veracruz.