Posted on Tue 05 January 2016

Mexico’s Black Population

The 2015 population survey marked the first time since the 19th century that the Mexican government included a distinct category for people of Afro-Mexican descent. As of 2015, the INEGI found that 1,973,555 persons or 1.7% of the population self-identified as Afro-Mexican or partially Afro-Mexican (1.2% of the population excluding people who self-identified as only partially Afro-Mexican).

Afro-Mexican population in Mexico
Click to visit the interactive version

A map of the percentage of the population that self-identifies as Afro-Mexican at the municipio level shows that they tend to live in the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca, and the state of Veracruz. This is no surprise since the isolated mountainous geography of the Costa Chica served to keep Afro-Mexican communities separate from the rest of Mexico.

3D terrain of the Costa Chica de Guerrero and Oaxaca
Click to visit the interactive version

This 3D terrain map of the Costa Chica from Acapulco to Huatulco zooms in on the area with the highest percentage of Afro-Mexicans and shows how it is surrounded by mountains. The prevailing theory of how Afro-Mexicans arrived in the Costa Chica is that escaped slaves brought by Spanish galleons settled here, and found freedom and refuge thanks to the area’s isolation.

One problem with using self-identification to determine ethnic origin —as the population survey did— is that there have now been many genetic studies of Mexican populations and a robust finding is that the vast majority of Mexicans are part Black. Here’s an image of several individuals from different Mexican states taken from The genetics of Mexico recapitulates Native American substructure and affects biomedical traits

Admixture in selected Mexican states

The red bars represent European ancestry, the green bars Sub-Saharan African (Yoruba), and the blue bars indigenous ancestry. Granted, genetics is a fast changing field1, but the results shouldn’t change much, and you can clearly see how just about everyone in Mexico has some very minor SSA ancestry, with a low variance, except for the states of Guerrero, Veracruz and Oaxaca where there were individuals with high African admixture. Also, note how those individuals have a high percentage of indigenous ancestry.

Afro-Mexican and partially Afro-Mexican population by state

More than 200,000 slaves were brought to Mexico, compared to 450,000 in the US, and 4.5 million in Brazil. In the 1742 and 1793 censuses, the Black and Mulatto population of Mexico came in at about 10%, being much less numerous than the indigenous and mestizo population, and with no strictures against intermarriage, with time they were absorbed into the general Mexican population.

Census Year 1570 1646 1742 1793
Indians 3,336,860 (98.7%) 1,269,607 (74.1%) 1,540,256 (62.2%) 2,319,741 (61.1%)
Europeans 6,644 (0.2%) 13,780 (0.8%) 9,814 (0.4%) 7,904 (0.2%)
Mestizos 1,3504 (0.4%) 277,610 (16.2%) 640,880 (25.9%) 1,096,026 (28.8%)
Blacks 20,569 (0.6%) 35,089 (2%) 20,131 (0.8%) 6,100 (0.2%)
Mulattos 2,435 (0.1%) 116,529 (6.8%) 266,196 (10.7%) 369,790 (9.7%)

Source: The History of Mexico From Pre-Conquest to Present

Looking at the table, a big part of the recovery of the Indian population during the colonial period must have been due to Indian women having children with Mestizos and Mulattos, and with the forging of Mexico’s mestizo identity, the ‘afromestizos’ were simply forgotten.

The states with large populations of Afro-Mexicans are also states with large indigenous populations as the following map shows:

Indigenous population in Mexico

Some Native Mexicans also present SSA admixture. If you squint really hard at the SSA admixture for the Mayan Native Mexicans in the chart below you can see that they have some African ancestry. In the 1789 census, 12% of the population in Yucatán was Black or Mulatto. And today there are several municipios in Yucatan that have a high Afro-Mexican or part Afro-Mexican presence (wether you consider yourself Afro-Mexican or part Afro-Mexican seems to vary somewhat by state): Dzoncauich (17.5%), Mama (5.2%) and Chikindzonot (5.1%).

Admixture in Mayas and Cosmopolitan Hipsters

Source: The genetics of Mexico recapitulates Native American substructure and affects biomedical traits

I tried to find a genetic study that focused specifically on Afro-Mexicans, but I couldn’t find one. My best guess is that one would find much higher SSA ancestry among self-identified Afro-Mexicans, but with a large variance, unlike the rest of Mexico which consistently shows low variance.

Indigenous and Afro-Mexican are not exclusive categories. People who consider themselves both Afro-Mexican and indigenous outnumber those who consider themselves to be solely Afro-Mexican.

Total population by ethnic group and combinations

This tendency to belong to more than one group could bias some measurements. If you want to predict literacy in Guerrero and Veracruz it seems to be more important to be indigenous than to be Afro-Mexican.

Literacy rates by ethnic group and combinations

In fact, people who consider themselves to be only Afro-Mexican have the highest literacy rates in Veracruz and second highest in Guerrero, while in Oaxaca, for some reason, they cluster with the indigenous population. This certainly merits further research. When comparing literacy rates to the Mexican average, keep in mind that the three states with the highest proportion of Afro-Mexicans together with Chiapas have the lowest rates of literacy in Mexico.

In Brazil and the United States the Black population suffers from much higher rates of violence, but in Mexico the percentage of the population that is Black is not correlated with the homicide rate in Veracruz, is positively correlated in Oaxaca, and the correlation is actually negative in Guerrero. Though, that is mostly because drug trafficking routes don’t go through the areas Afro-Mexicans live in and there has been some spillover of violence into Oaxaca from Guerrero (Mexico’s most violent state). Even if less violent than the rest of Guerrero, the Costa Chica region is still very violent by any standard.

Homicide correlations during the drug war

Before the drug war, there was no correlation between the percentage of the population that is Afro-Mexican and the homicide rate.

Homicide correlations before the drug war

Municipios with the highest percentage of Afro-Mexicans

State Municipio Total Population Afro-Mexicans (totally or partially) Percent
Oaxaca Santiago Tapextla 3208 2756 85.9%
Oaxaca Santo Domingo Armenta 3469 2678 77.2%
Oaxaca San Juan Bautista Lo de Soto 2593 1920 74%
Guerrero Cuajinicuilapa 27266 16907 62%
Oaxaca Santa María Cortijo 1075 660 61.4%
Oaxaca Santiago Llano Grande 3284 1934 58.9%
Oaxaca Santa María Huazolotitlán 11400 6201 54.4%
Oaxaca Magdalena Mixtepec 1375 742 54%
Oaxaca Villa de Tututepec de Melchor Ocampo 46152 20669 44.8%
Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave Xoxocotla 5446 2312 42.5%

Municipios with the largest population of Afro-Mexicans

State Municipio Total Population Afro-Mexicans (totally or partially) Percent
Guerrero Acapulco de Juárez 810669 86157 10.6%
México Ecatepec de Morelos 1677678 37638 2.2%
Distrito Federal Iztapalapa 1827868 34239 1.9%
Nuevo León General Escobedo 425148 33849 8%
Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave Veracruz 609964 30688 5%
México Chimalhuacán 679811 30190 4.4%
Jalisco Guadalajara 1460148 26018 1.8%
Jalisco Zapopan 1332272 22275 1.7%
Distrito Federal Coyoacán 608479 21101 3.5%
Distrito Federal Álvaro Obregón 749982 20806 2.8%

P.S. Source Code

  1. Update: Removed the part about the back migration into Africa because it was wrong 

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