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

Bobby Vaughn (bvaughn@LELAND.STANFORD.EDU)
Tue, 16 Jan 1996 00:55:44 -0800

On Tue, 16 Jan 1996, Mike Salovesh wrote:

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

Thanks a lot for your info, Mike. I really appreciate your comments
regarding the pervasive race-mixing inherent in mestizo populations
throughout most of Latin America. However, I am focusing specifically on
the Costa Chica, and not in southern Mexico in general. In the Costa
Chica you have populations who self-identify as 'negros' to the exclusion
of any other racial category. I'm trying hard not to impose upon
them the category of black; I'm going on what they call themselves. In
addition, they are the ones who have told me that there used to be many
more blacks in their towns years ago. So we're talking about a fairly
recent phenomenon. That's why I'm wondering about how they are reacting
to such a decline in their population--in fact, the population of the
towns is increasing steadily, as the percentage of blacks goes down).
And also, I might add that race (blackness) is certainly a concept that
they utilize quite regularly, so I'm not comfortable with the idea that
they would be indifferent to their declining numbers because of the
insignificance or race as a category. What do folks think?