Re: Any theorizing on 'vanishing' races via miscegenaton?

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Tue, 16 Jan 1996 00:41:15 -0600

On Mon, 15 Jan 1996, Bobby Vaughn wrote, in part:

> I'm just tossing this out to see if anyone has any ideas. I'm interested
> the different ways an ethnic community might deal with it's eventual
> non-existence, at least with respect to race. Specifically, I'm talking
> about black communities in southern Mexico, where by all accounts, a
> generation ago, there were virtually no non-blacks in the immediate
> region. What appears to be happening is an increasing immigration of
> mestizo 'outsiders' to the area, and a subsequent increase in race
> mixing.

<< Lotsa message snipped here>>

> 3) Do you have any ideas where I might look for some theorizing on the
> subject, or any ethnographic accounts that are similar to what we're
> dealing with here?

To answer your third question first, look for the works of Magnus Morner
and a few things from the 40's and 50's by the late, and much lamented,
Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran.

But now as to "what we're dealing with here": As far as southern Mexico
is concerned, I guess I don't know what you mean by "blacks". Again with
reference to Mexico (unlike, say, much of the Atlantic Coast of Central
America), "race mixing" can hardly be said to have increased recently.

In roughly 300 years of Spanish rule of the Royal Audience of New Spain
and its technical subsidiary, the Captaincy-General of Goathemala, I seem
to recall that somewhere around 360,000 people usually regarded as "white"
emigrated from Spain to the area. During the same period, something on
the order of 300,000 black slaves were imported. Recovery from the
demographic disaster that struck the indigenous population in the 1500's
was strongly influenced by the fact that transatlantic immigration was
overwhelmingly male. Men from Spain and men from West Africa were deeply
into interbreeding with Indian women almost from the beginning, and their
descendants have been interbreeding merrily ever since.

My travels in Mexico began in the 40's, when I was a 13-year-old tourist
traveling with my family. Both then and ever since, I have seen lots of
individuals who showed phenotypic traits that fit reasonably well into US
stereotypes of what "blacks" are supposed to look like. Some areas (the
state of Veracruz comes to mind) tended to look "blacker" than others
(highland Chiapas, for example), but I saw people who looked sort of
"black" in one feature or another everywhere I went. On the other hand,
when I see the full combination of traits one would expect to see in
Africa -- skin color, hair form, lip and nose shape, etc., etc. -- I take
it as a dependable sign that I'm looking at a foreigner, not at a Mexican.

It's a pretty good bet that anybody in southern Mexico who has an Indian
social identity also has ancestors from both Spain and West Africa. I
even recall studies from the 1950's showing that the Lacandones, probably
the most isolated Indian group, carried typically "African" genes as
identified by blood group studies. (Reports in Boyd's world survey of
blood groups, I think, showed the same thing: "African" genes definitely
present, in low percentages, among the Lacandones.)

It's also a pretty good bet that anyone in Southern Mexico who has a
Ladino social identity also has Indian and African ancestors, and the
probability of that kind of mixed ancestry increases the longer a family
has been in Mexico.

What do I mean by a pretty good bet?

Let's say it's lots surer than it would be to say that the majority of the
ancestors of ordinary "blacks" in the U.S. came from Africa in the last
400 years. (My guess is that nearly everybody we call "black" has some
"white" ancestors, and that many people we call "black" have a majority of
"white" ancestors. I've also seen pretty convincing evidence that about
three out of five people in the U.S. who have African slave ancestors are
called "white". Nobody knows for sure what the actual proportions in
the population as a whole might be, and I for one don't give a damn.)

I think the odds are overwhelming that anybody you meet who comes from a
southern Mexican family has a combination of "red" Indian ancestors and
"white" Spanish ancestors and "black" African ancestors in their family
tree. So what? The African ancestors don't make that much of a
difference in the formation of social groups on the ground.

Everybody who knows southern Mexico knows that the two significant social
groups are Indians and Ladinos. The difference is one of culture, not of
biology. It is perfectly possible to be born into an Indian social group
and "become" a Ladino. Today, the Indian social identity carries with it
the cost of severe discrimination, and I don't know any Ladinos who have
tried to "become" Indians. (Every once in a while some Gringo comes
along and tries, amusing Indians and Ladinos alike.)

There is an exception: People of very high status and power at the
national level in Mexico can at least afford to acknowledge Indian
ancestry. What they mean when they say "we are all Indians" is not the
same as an assertion that they're willing to ride in the back of the bus,
so to speak. Their playing at recognizing Indian roots in themselves is
simply another way of asserting their power.

The "problem" you pose is neither real nor seen as a problem in southern

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !