I never knew there was a name for this particular sub-group. African-Americans have been emigrating to Mexico as long as Mexico existed, before U.S. emancipation mostly because slavery did not exist in Mexico (it was the first country to abolish the peculiar institution), and afterwards, because the racial climate in the United States made African-Americans feel their economic and social prospects were better south of the border.
With a few isolated exceptions, most Afro-Mexicans were assimilated into the general population, although more recent “afro-descendientes”… mostly from the Caribbean or Central America… maintain their racial identity. Another small group are African-Americans who like previous generations of African-Americans, saw Mexico as a place where “race” mattered less, but who wish to maintain their U.S. identity.
“The people in Mexico have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Jimmy Young, 65, a Vietnam veteran. He discovered Juarez when he was a teenager stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah, when I get out of the military, that’s where I’m going to be,'” Young recalled.
He made the decision to move to Mexico 49 years ago.
“I consider myself a ‘Blaxican.’ I’m into the culture. I’m into people. I read Spanish. I write Spanish,” Young said.
He met and married his wife in Mexico, and became part of a large extended family – like other African-Americans who migrated south.
“Many had families in Mexico, were married to Mexican women, and essentially, they had embraced Mexico,” said Howard Campbell, an anthropologist at the University of Texas.
Campbell has spent decades researching the migration trend. Some of his findings will appear in a paper “Escaping Identity” that will be published by the Royal Anthropological Institute this summer.
“There were certainly a lot of people who moved to Mexico just because it was cheaper,” he said. “But the main impetus: They moved to Juarez because they loved Mexico; they loved Mexican culture.”
And many chose to live on the border because they could straddle two worlds.