Excerpts from a 2007 talk by Debbie Johnson at a meeting in Detroit for Black History Month.
There’s a long history of Mexicans welcoming and assisting Blacks fleeing US slavery. When white slave-hunting militias would come into Mexico demanding that their property the enslaved workers be returned, many Mexicans rejected these pleas and were angered at the fact that these slave hunters would have the audacity to enter Mexico, a nation that had already banned slavery for moral and religious reasons.
As early as 1811, the Rev. Jose Morelos a Mexican of African descent led an all-Black army brigade to help fight for Mexican independence. In 1855 more than 4,000 runaway slaves were helped by Mexicans in Texas to escape and find freedom in Mexico. The Underground Railroad was not just into Canada. It went south as well.
Indeed, through three centuries, African slaves were joined by Mexicans in opposition to the exploitation of Africans by European immigrants settlers on the North American continent. Just a few examples of this long rich history of solidarity are:
In 1546, Mexico recorded the first conspiracy against slavery, which occurred in Mexico City among a coalition of enslaved Africans and indigenous insurgents.
In 1609 in Vera Cruz, Mexico, Yanga established the first free pueblo of formerly enslaved Africans in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1693 within what’s now the US, which was in fact Mexican territory, an alliance between African runaways and rebellious indigenous tribes developed and resulted in considerable cooperation and intermarriage between them.
In 1820, in Mexico, the pro-independence army commanded by Black Gen. Vicente Ramon Guerrero was joined and saved by the courageous Mexican/Indigenous leader Pedro Ascensio. This army won many battles in resisting French and American colonial wars of occupation.
In 1836, during the battle of the Alamo, Mexican troops fought not only to keep the U.S. from annexing Texas, but also to abolish the dreaded practice of slavery carried out by white settlers. While the Mexican people did not have to join in this fight, they believed slavery was wrong, and they helped fight to stop it. after the US war with Mexico, Mexicans consistently took in and helped Black slaves who ran away from the US.
During the period before the Civil War, Mexican authorities refused to return enslaved runaways to the U.S. slaveholders. Aided by Mexicans in Texas, thousands of runaways escaped to freedom in Mexico. The U.S. government had to send 20% of its army to the Mexican border to try to stop this and intimidate the Mexican people, but they continued to aid escaping slaves.
In 1862, during the US Civil War, French colonialists invaded Mexico seeking to take over. However, at the battle of Puebla on May 5, the Mexican defenders, with the help of freed African slavesóthis army was considered the complete underdogódefeated and turned back the French invasion. It was a great victory, now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. This victory was also a blow to slaveholders of the US.
One historic event, organized through the solidarity of Mexican, Black, Indigenous and Asian people, was the ìPlan de San Diego. This was intended as a general uprising by these peoples in the Southwest, initiated in an effort to regain the lands stolen in the US aggression in the 1840s, which include California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other states. The plan addressed and recognized the contributions of Blacks, Asians and Indigenous people by granting them freedom and autonomy. Although the plan was not successful, it revealed the long history of solidarity of peoples of color in struggle against those who would enslave them.
In 1866, Mexican President Benito Juarez confirmed an 1851 land grant giving Black people in Mexico a sizeable place of refuge at Nascimiento.
In 1964 the African American and Latino communities welcomed the heroic revolutionary leader Che Guevara to the UN. Che Guevara also met with the revered Malcolm X, as Malcolm offered his solidarity and appreciation for the work Che had done with freedom fighters in the Congo against the neocolonial forces there.
In 1968, solidarity developed among the Brown Berets, Black Panthers, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other progressive youth organizations.
In 1992, during the rebellion in LA, Latino and African American neighbors recognized their common plight, and demonstrated their collective rage against continuing acts of injustice, oppression and exploitation.
In 2006 millions of demonstrators came out for immigrant rights, the brown faces of the Latino/Mexicano peoples were joined by Central America and South American workers, by Caribbean, Asian, African, and African American allies.
Current attacks against immigrants must be seen as attacks on all workers. This current assault on Latinos/ Mexicanos is just another tactic, like racism, homophobia and sexism, that the ruling class uses to pit workers against each other. The only winners when this happens are always the bosses.
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