This article is from the August-September 2003 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Mysterious Ancestry

by Bruce McGovern 

I have said that racism does not exist in Mexico. This is a serious error, of course. With about 400,000 North Americans in Mexico at any moment, there will be oodles of racism. What I meant was the Mexican people themselves have virtually no racist views. Attempts to claim racism, usually based on financial differences between people who live much as their ancestors did a thousand years ago compared with people of advanced education, are sheer nonsense, in my opinion. Of course, many people from North American disagree with my opinion. 

Here is an anecdote which will demonstrate my point. 

My wifeís grandfather died in about 1972, in his 80's. His father had a much younger son by a second wife. This great‑uncle lives near Cordoba, Veracruz. My wife had mentioned over the years that she had relatives in the country, but I never met them. She kept telling me I did not want to meet them. Something about what they eat. 

Finally, early this year I told her in plain English I WANT TO MEET THESE PEOPLE! She warned me they eat strange warm‑blooded things from the jungle, and sometimes pressure visitors to join them. Neat! 

We hitched a ride out from her brother, and planned to catch a bus home. 

I was enchanted, even though, alas, they offered no coatimundi eyeballs. These kin folk are the poorest kin I have met, though they are certainly not the poorest people I have met. They live in a small wood house, with floor of red clay, and it is made of vertical boards with spaces between them. The rear yard is also bare, red dirt. I bet itís a quagmire in rainy season. They do have a color TV, put way up on top of a cupboard, where the kids canít beat up on it. 

And, they are the friendliest, prettiest, brownest people I have seen in Mexico. One of the young daughters, probably pre‑teen, was wearing a white dress for a friendís birthday party, and the contrast between that beautiful, dark skin and that pure white dress was awesome. 

The great‑uncle is about 75, and his wife of 25 years is now about 50. (What a civilized place, smirk!) She does not look like any of the groups of indigenous people that I know Ė Toltec, Olmec, Aztec, Otomi, Maya. Her skin is much browner, and the face shape is very similar to Anglo. I tried to figure it out, because itís interesting to know as many of the different ethnic groups as possible. But, I sure couldnít recognize which group it was. 

I asked my wife when we got home. She had no idea. I asked her brother and his family. They discussed it, but also had no idea. 

Several months later, we went back again. I took one look, and said to myself, ďDUH!Ē Black, curly, almost wooly hair with a touch of gray; a rounded face; and very, very dark, almost black skin? Double Duh!! 

What threw me off was the small lips. The Ďblacksí we usually see in the States have beautiful, very large, sensuous lips. I knew there were African groups which have smaller lips like we Anglos do, but I had never seen one of them before.

I have read that the descendants of escaped slaves live in the State of Veracruz. So, it would be no big surprise to encounter one of them in Cordoba. The reason this incident interested me is because there is so little attention paid to race in Mexico that no one in the family had ever even thought about her ancestry. 

I donít consider myself racist, but I do take a curiosity with me about the ancestry of people I meet. I suspect this is a product of our culture, no matter how little racial prejudice I may have.