The Afro-Mexican Struggle for Recognition

My name is Manuel Robles. I am a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the History department. My dissertation seeks to illuminate how Mexico went from largely ignoring its Afrodescendant population to officially recognizing them as a distinct ethno-racial group with full constitutional rights. In this study, I use the local, national, and international as levels of analysis to demonstrate the processes that brought on this change. Three questions guide my project: what led Mexico to adopt policy reforms that officially recognized its Black population, how did international pressures transform the nation’s dominant ideology about race and racial inequality, and how does Mexico’s shift compare to other Latin American nations who went through similar transformations? I rely on archival documents, audiovisual sources, and oral histories to answer those questions.

I am currently using the Immersive Dissertation Research Fellowship to conduct research in Mexico and collaborate with the Asociación de Mujeres de la Costa de Oaxaca (AMCO), a local Afro-Mexican women’s organization. This collaboration will help me integrate an innovative component to my dissertation as I concurrently develop transferable professional skills. AMCO and I are working to produce a short documentary film that traces the role of women in the Afro-Mexican movement. The documentary will tell the stories of Afro-Mexican women activists from different generations to examine how their role in the movement changed over time. I will use the video as an audiovisual companion to a chapter of my dissertation, and I will also present it to coastal communities in Oaxaca and Guerrero. In addition to the documentary, AMCO and I are developing educational infographics that summarize Afro-Mexican history. We will distribute those infographics to local primary and secondary schools to shine a light on a history that has been absent in textbooks for much too long.Woman in a chair being filmed by two camerapeople and one person holding a microphoneson

My collaboration with AMCO has been tremendously helpful in building relationships with people in the coastal communities of Oaxaca and Guerrero and connecting with activists in Mexico City. In spending time with people from Oaxaca’s coastal communities and learning more about their current struggles, I found an opportunity to further collaborate with AMCO. Unequal access to education has historically been an issue in those communities, where the rate of adults with a high school education remains significantly low. A combination of systemic discrimination and lack of career-based information continues to deny many young Afro-Mexicans from those communities access to a high school and college education. Unable to directly right the wrongs of structural inequality, AMCO and I found an opening to provide direction to Afro-Mexican young adults interested in furthering their education. Currently, we are planning a summit for Afro-Mexicans ages 18-22 living on the coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero. The event will offer attendees two days of presentations, panels, and workshops that will cover topics like Afro-Mexican history, Black identity and belonging, education, and career readiness. Speakers will include Mexican scholars, local Afro-Mexican activists, and young Afro-Latin American professionals from Mexico City. We expect this summit to evolve into an annual and national event.Camera crew and interviewee for documentary film

Manuel Robles
January 2022
Learn about all the projects from the Immersive Dissertation Research Fellowship