In spite of having a diminishing percent of population, in absolute terms Afro-Mexicans have undergone an extraordinary demographic recuperation in recent decades. This is a result of the notable contribution of preventive medicine in rural areas, especially vaccination campaigns and eradication of endemic diseases such as malaria. Traditionally a black family would have as many children as possible, because only very few would survive infant illness. Preventive medicine has multiplied the rate of survival, but the practice of having as many children as possible tends to be maintained (Githiora 2008).
The process of making Mexico more western should be understood not as a biological process, but as a political and ideological one, in which the black population was progressively required or induced to renounce its linguistic and cultural heritage. It is assumed that cultural homogenization is a necessary condition for the configuration of a modern nation. Educational policies therefore are oriented toward requiring Spanish and abolishing native cultures, which were believed to cause black and Indian poverty (Githiora 2008).
The first black slaves entered in the early Colonial period as servants of the Spanish invaders. In the following decades, Veracruz was the port of entry for slaves from Guinea and Cape Verde, destined for the mines, plantations, and domestic service, because the native population had undergone a terrible demographic decline, despite being relatively protected by colonial ordinances that claimed to impede Indian slavery. By 1570 there already were more than 20,000 blacks in New Spain (Carrol 2000). In the years that Mexico became independent, toward 1810, there were only an estimated 10,000 Africans, but almost 625,000 mulattoes, who constituted 10 percent of the total population. That is to say, they were a defined and demographically significant presence. However, this important component of society has, up to now, been diluted and has not achieved a clear social visibility.
Currently, the population of African descent is especially visible in various zones in the state of Veracruz and in part of the coasts of the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, in the region known as Costa Chica. But in almost all the rest of the nation, one can find regions and communities whose inhabitants show Afro-Mexican racial characteristics (Carrol 2000). An investigation designed to do so would appreciate the existence of a multitude of characteristics and cultural practices in which it is possible to trace an African origin. Nonetheless, in many cases African affiliation has disappeared from the group memory, skin color being attributed to God’s will. Thus there is, for example, a Veracruz community where racial origin reappears only at Carnaval in the dance of the “disguised Afro-Mexicans,” by which the community briefly reencounters its history (Carrol 2000).
Perhaps one could propose that only the Costa Chica has developed a social characterization or reconfiguration that can be described in ethnic terms. In this area, the descendants of cotton plantation slaves married to descendants of cimarrones represent tens of thousands of people who have constructed a vast organizational fabric that connects numerous communities of both groups (Githiora 2008). Here Afro-Mexican ethnicity is based not on possession of a language and an alternate culture, but on its unique organization, in the endogamous tendency, and in the persistence of ancient interactive boundaries with the surrounding population. This does not exclude the presence of some African cultural characteristics, such as round houses, masks, and dances. But local black identity encounters greater support in belonging to a social group articulated in itself, than in the racial phenotype. It must be stressed that the government has no specific policy for the Afro-Mexican population.