On this Cinco De Mayo, we want to give a very special shout out to the Afro Mexican freedom fighters that contributed to the rich legacy and liberation of our Mexican brothers and sisters. With the current climate of fear and prejudice running rampant in America at this time, displaying solidarity and unity without the contingency of uniformity are key components to progressive navigation of this terrain.
People often mistake Cinco De Mayo for Mexico’s Independence Day – this is inaccurate because Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16th. Cinco De Mayo actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla that was fought between Mexico and France. The celebration of Mexico’s overwhelming victory on May 5, 1862 extends way beyond sombrero hats, tequila drinking, and eating guacamole/avocados. Africans warriors contributed greatly to this victory, but their contributions aren’t often lauded or mentioned when the Battle of Puebla is discussed.
Another phenomenal African contributor to Mexico’s history of liberation is Gaspar Yanga. Known as the “first liberator of the Americas,” Gaspar Yanga was an African slave who spent four decades establishing a free settlement in Mexico. Yanga’s odyssey began in 1570 when he staged a revolt at a sugarcane plantation near Veracruz. After fleeing into the forest, Yanga and a small group of former slaves established their own colony, or palanque, which they called San Lorenzo de los Negros. They would spend the next 40 years hiding in this outlaw community, surviving mostly through farming and occasional raids on Spanish supply convoys. The origin of Yanga’s name hails from regions in Western and central Africa and means “pride” in Nigeria. Although Yanga’s story isn’t shared as frequently as it should be, he is considered one of Mexico’s national heroes and should definitely be used to help our Mexican students begin to connect African ancestry to their liberation story.
Educators can also juxtapose Yanga’s story with Nanny and Cudjoe of the Maroons, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and the Haitian Revolution to highlight the thread and spirit of rebellion that moves through the African Diaspora with unapologetic pride and resilience.
Love, Light, and Revolution Time