At the time Gregoria López, a 16-year-old Afro-Mexican girl, sent her father to jail for raping her, most women of African descent in Mexico did not have the courage to seek justice in criminal court for sexual assault. Others were also prohibited from doing so.
So when Gregoria, a teen, challenged the status quo in seventeenth-century Mexico, it shocked almost everyone. Gregoria lived with her father called Mateo López and her stepmother, Bernarda de San Joseph, in the city of Pátzcuaro, Mexico in 1685. Her father Mateo assaulted her one night and warned her not to tell anyone about the incestuous act.
Gregoria ignored her father’s warning and told a neighbor about the incident. That neighbor asked her to file charges against her father for the crime. Mateo learned that Gregoria had told someone about the assault. As punishment, he beat Gregoria and raped her again.
Gregoria then took the case to a criminal tribunal despite people asking her not to charge her father with a crime. A courageous Gregoria publicly testified about the crime to also prove to everyone including the all-male criminal tribunal that she was not to be blamed for the incest and assault. Women of African descent were at the time often described as sexually promiscuous by elites in Mexico and were therefore blamed for any sexual assault they endured, according to a report by slaveryandremembrance.org. Gregoria wanted to prove the elites wrong and she did just that.
The report by slaveryandremembrance.org says that when Gregoria’s testimony demanded extensive details about the crime, “she framed her argument in religious terms, describing how her honor, her virginity, had been brutally violated by her father.”
The Afro-Mexican girl defended herself against her dad without the help of any counsel. Her father Mateo denied committing incest and tried to justify his actions by claiming that it was his duty to investigate the virginity of his daughter.
In the end, Gregoria’s stepmother, Bernarda, made a complaint against Mateo for assaulting Gregoria. Mateo was sentenced to jail by the criminal tribunal. Mateo’s imprisonment became a pivotal moment in Mexico in the 1600s considering many women of African descent never got justice for the sexual abuse they endured.
The existing Afro-Mexicans are descendants of Africans who were brought to Mexico by Spanish authorities to work as slaves in their farms and factories in 1519. The slaves worked in harsh conditions and the only way they could avoid the hardships was to escape. After many years of captivity, the slaves, led by a group of escapees, successfully put up resistance against their monarchs, which compelled the Spanish Crown to grant them land and freedom.
Led by Gasper Yanga – a slave elder and lead organizer of the uprising – the freed African slaves established the first free African township in San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Veracruz. The town was later renamed Yanga in honor of the beloved leader, who is believed to be a descendant of the royal house of Gabon.
The official recognition of Afro-Mexicans happened in 2015, even though they have been in the country since the 16th century.