Abdul Karim Bangura is a researcher-in-residence  at the Center for Global Peace and a professor of International  Relations in the School of International Service at American  University in Washington, DC. He holds a Ph.D. in Political  Science, a Ph.D. in Development Economics, a Ph.D. in Linguistics,  and a Ph.D. in Computer Science. He is the author of 47 books  and more than 350 scholarly articles. E-mail him at: bangura@american.edu  or theai@earthlink.net.

Abdul Karim Bangura dedicates this article to Dr. Okolie Uwadibie, a Brother Pan-Afrikanist, Dean, Professor, Author, Association of Third World Studies and African Studies and Research Forum Stalwart, Gentleman's Gentleman and Humanist who left us to join the Ancestors a few days ago right in the middle of offering gratitude to those who helped him to raise funds to support various programs in Nigeria.

One  of my mantras to our Afrikan students from both the Motherland  and in the Diaspora  is that we must get rid of the myth of Afrikans being a "minority." And  that since there are more people on this earth who look like  Whitney than Britney, we have the potential to stop the marginalization  and disrespect we are encountering all over the world if we are united in our struggle. I also tell them that our struggle against  white and other racists is made more difficult by those Negroes  and Negresses who would, paradoxically, denigrate our folk for  a quick buck or 15 minutes of fame. That white Mexican racism  is rearing its ugly head again because we Afrikans have not been  united in fighting for our  folk in Mexico and other countries  in the world is hardly a farfetched proposition.

The most recent racist  act by white Mexicans comes on the heels of the one by their  President Vicente  Fox, the one by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the one  by the Japanese. But the white Mexicans' racist acts are the  most disturbing, given the numerous and valuable contributions Afrikans have made in that country.

As reported by David Wooding in The  Underground of June 14, 2005, on June 13, President Putin,  when challenged about his human rights record, stated that  Africans had a history of "cannibalism." As  Putin put it, "We all know that African countries used to have  a tradition of eating their own adversaries. And we don't have  such a tradition or process or culture and I believe the comparison  between Africa and Russia is not quite just." Even a casual  Google search on the Internet would yield many cases of cannibalism  in Russia.

Meanwhile a little further East,  as  Bruce  Wallace reported in the Los Angeles Times of June  14, 2005, the Japanese reissued Chibikuro Sambo ("Little  Black Sambo"), a turn-of-the-20th Century illustrated children's  book with a reputation for racism. The book was a big favorite  of the Japanese from 1953 until it was yanked from bookstores  in 1988 after a massive anti-racism campaign. The challenge against  the book in Japan echoed that in the West years earlier: Sambo was a long-standing racist term for Afrikans in America, and illustrator Frank Dobias' portrayal of the main character, with his bulging white eyes and exaggerated lips, was deeply offensive.  An estimated 95,000 copies of the book have been sold in just  two months, placing it among the top five adult fiction best  sellers at major Tokyo book chains. Indeed, Sambo itself has  racist implications rather than the story-line.

While Putin's and Japan's  defenders have argued that they have little or no experience  in dealing  with Afrikans, as people of the major societies in this era of  globalization, they ought to be better informed and act accordingly.  White Mexican racism toward Afrikans, on the other hand, cannot  be defended in light of the history of the many and major contributions Afrikans have made in that country.

In The Washington Post of  June 30, 2005, Darryl Fears reported that the Mexican government  issued a five-stamp series depicting Memin  Pinguin, a dark-skinned Jim Crow-era cartoon character  with greatly exaggerated eyes and lips. This action has infuriated  Afrikan and Hispanic civil rights leaders for the second time  in weeks. In May, Mexican President Vincente Fox had to  apologize for  saying that Mexican migrants in the United States work jobs that "even blacks don't want." Still, Fox defended his comment as being taken out of context.

About the Memin Pinguin stamps,  a spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy is reported by Fears to  have argued that the depiction is a cultural image that has no  meaning and is not intended to offend. But offending Afrikans  is exactly what the action has done. If white Mexicans were honest  about their intentions to commemorate Afrikans, there are many positive Afrikan Mexican icons from which they can choose.

As the great African scholar Ivan  Van Sertima informed us in his famous book, They  Came Before Columbus, the first civilization of ancient  America was called Olmec, which was located along the Mexican  Gulf Coast and began more than 3,000 years ago. The Olmecs sculpted  the most significant and widely acknowledged sculptural representations  of Afrikans in the Western Hemisphere or "New World." The very  size of the giant Olmec busts indicates that the persons depicted  were truly important.

In his  book entitled African  Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation, Emporia State  University Spanish professor Marco Polo Hernández demonstrated  how white Mexican institutions have systematically erased "Africaness" from national memory. He also demonstrated that between 55 and 85  percent of Mexicans can trace their families back to enslaved  Afrikans, but that white cultural leaders have actively shunned  this identity.

Hernández also pointed out that  more than 300,000 enslaved Afrikans were brought to Mexico during  the colonial period (1500s-1829), producing millions of offspring.  Many of the major leaders of the Mexican liberation movement  were Afrikans. They included the last two top commanders of the movement, José Maria Morelos and Vicente Guerrero, as well as  a significant number of other leaders and troops. In addition,  even the Spanish conquistadors brought Afrikan heritage with  them, as descendants of the Iberians and the Moors of northern  Afrika who occupied Spain during the medieval era. Thus, it is  not surprising that the modern Spanish language still contains  over 4,000 Arabic words.

Furthermore, Hernández found traces  of Afrikan culture in many of Mexico's national traditions - cultural  icons, foods, music, and national holidays. Moreover, the Black  Virgin, a representation of Virgin Mary with dark skin common throughout Spain, France, Poland and Mexico, is an example of  Afrikan cultural influences. However, as Hernández pointed out,  Mexican cultural leaders have rejected this Afrikan heritage,  choosing instead to "whiten" Mexican literature, film and popular  culture from 1920 to 1968, a period he dubbed the "cultural phase  of the Mexican Revolution."

Luz Maria Martinez  Montel, in the article entitled "Africa's Legacy in Mexico: Mexico's Third Root," mentioned  that the fishing villages of Costa Chica on Mexico's southwest  coast has impromptu performers who regale their audience with songs of romance, tragedy, comedy and social protest, all inspired  by local events and characters. At the heart of the songs, named corridos,  is a sense of human dignity and a desire for freedom rooted in  the lives and history of these Afrikan Mexicans of Costa Chica.  The corridos reflect the oral traditions inherited in  Afrika. A corrido that brings applause is committed to  memory to be sung again and again as an oral chronicle of local  life. The lyrics are equally rich in symbols, a tradition that  started when singers among the first enslaved Afrikans invented  code words to protest the cruelties of the masters.
Montel also noted  that the Afrikan imprint in Costa Chica is not confined to music.  For dances performed  during Holy Week in the streets of Collantes, Oaxaca, performers  wear masks that show the clear Afrikan influence. And down on  the docks, fishermen still employ methods of work that can be traced to West Africa. The Spanish colonists took full advantage  of the technology that Afrikans had developed for work and adapted  them to the "New World." Yet today, many Afrikan contributions  to advancing the technologies of agriculture, fishing, ranching  and textile-making remain unappreciated in Mexico. Montel concluded  that although strongest in Afrikan enclaves like Costa Chica,  the Afrikan presence pervades Mexican culture. In story and legend, music and dance, proverb and song, the legacy of Afrika touches  the life of every Mexican.

In the  article entitled "Africa's  Legacy in Mexico: What is a Mexican?," Miriam Jimenez Roman discussed  how in recent years Yanga in the state of Veracruz on Mexico's  Gulf Coast has received considerable attention as one of the  America's earliest Maroon communities: i.e. settlements founded  by enslaved Afrikans who escaped. Originally named San Lorenzo  de los Negros, in 1932, the town was renamed for its founder,  Yanga, a rebellious Muslim man from what is today known as Nigeria.

Roman also noted that particularly  since the Revolution (1910-29), communities like Yanga have not  been considered by the white Mexican regimes as worthy of any  special attention. The Afrikan Mexican presence has been relegated to an obscured slave past, cast aside in the interest of a national  identity based on a mixture of indigenous and European cultural mestizaje - i.e.  the idea of the goodness of being classed as racially mixed.  However, in practice, Roman argued, this ideology of "racial  democracy" favors the European presence; too often, the nation's  glorious indigenous past is reduced to folklore and ceremonial showcasing. But the handling of the Afrikan "third root," which is represented by more than 200,000 Afrikan Mexicans, is even  more dismissive. Since they live as their neighbors do, carry  out the same work, eat the same foods, and make the same music,  it is assumed that Afrikan Mexicans have assimilated into "Mexican" society.  But for Roman, Afrikan Mexicans are Mexican society, as the historical  record offers compelling evidence that Afrikans and their descendants contributed enormously to the very formation of Mexican culture.

As Roman further pointed out, when  Yanga and his followers founded their settlement, the population  of Mexico City consisted of approximately 36,000 Afrikans, 11,600  persons of Afrikan ancestry, and only 14,000 Europeans. Afrikans  who escaped added to the overwhelming numbers in the towns, establishing  communities in Oaxaca as early as 1523. Beyond their physical  presence, Afrikans and their descendants interacted with indigenous  and European peoples in forging nearly every aspect of the Mexican  society. The states of Guerrero and Morelos bear the names of  the last two top commanders of the Mexican liberation movement mentioned earlier. These two Afrikans and many others made possible  the founding of the Republic of Mexico.

In his article entitled "Racial  Amnesia - African Puerto Rico and Mexico,"  Ted  Vincent explained that Mexico's racial amnesia over its Afrikan  roots can be traced to the master-slave relationship which, even  after slavery was abolished, left the belief that a successful  life is one in which one aspires to become white. Mexico's concept  of mestizaje means that it is okay to stop at brown on  the way of becoming white.
As an addendum to  Vincent's explanation,  racism, combined with economic and political discrimination,  is very much alive in Mexico, and it affects even the "brown" people,  i.e. the peasantry (not only in Chiapas), a large fraction of  which has - maybe deliberately - not integrated into the "mainstream" of  the so-called mestizo culture and often refuses to learn or to  speak Spanish. The dominant socio-economic force is still made  up of people like Fox and previous, even whiter, presidents.  The word "Indio" is still an insult, more so than "Negro."

So, yes, Afrikans have made numerous  and valuable contributions to Mexico. Therefore, there are many  positive Afrikan Mexican cultural icons from which to draw to  be depicted in non-racist memorabilia. As we progressive Afrikans  have over the years challenged and continue to challenge racist  anti-Mexican monikers and actions, we expect progressive white  Mexicans to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Memin Pinguin five-stamp  series and to include Afrikan Mexican history in the country's  curricula.