As most of you know, the month of February is Black History Month in the U.S., and as Chicanos and Chicanas I think it behooves us to consider how persons of African descent have also played a role in the history and heritage of Chicanos. You see, even though Chicano History Week covers the dates of Feb. 2-8, that does not mean that we as Chicanos have to ignore the remainder of Black History Month. In fact, I would say that Black History Month gives Chicanos another springboard to use in extolling the achievements of historical persons I call Afro-Mesoamericans and/or Black Chicanos. According to Cirenio A. Rodriguez (2015), “The heritage of Africans in Mexico after Christopher Columbus is a rarely explored topic in the history books of the Americas.”
And even though many of us have been involved with matters relating to the arrival and celebration of Chicano History Week (Feb 2-8), that first week in February has now passed. Yet there is “something” more which many persons who identify as Chicano or Chicana may want to take into consideration. That “something” is that we are still in the midst of the celebration of Black History Month in the U.S. So some of us may want to change from our usual “non-black” modus operandi and/or frame of mind, and think: What black Chicanos or Chicanas do we know? I think that we as Chicanos and Chicanos owe it to ourselves to address this question during Black History Month (as well as during Chicano History Week, Feb. 2-8). I hope you agree.
It is important to keep in mind that during the 16th and 17th centuries, the two countries of Peru and Mexico together imported more slaves than the entire United States. Dr. Cirenio A. Rodriguez (2015) suggests the following: “Just Google Afro-Mexican heroes and you will find many sources. Also Professor Henry Louis Gates did a film for PBS entitled ‘Mexico and Peru: The Black Grandma in the Closet. This one-hour film deals in part with the history of Africans in Mexico after Christopher Columbus, a topic which is rarely explored topic in the history books of the Americas.”
According to Rodriguez (Ibid.) “Gasper Yanga, was one of the often neglected African figures in the history of the Americas. He was the founder of the town Yanga, located in the Veracruz region of Mexico, between the Port of Veracruz and Córdoba. It is among the first free African settlements in the Americas after the start of the European slave trade. Black slaves also rebelled against the Spanish in 1570. Two Mexican heroes of the Mexican Independence (circa 1810) were also part black, Vicente Guerrero and Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon.”
Additionally, I would like to remind our readers that sometime back I spoke to you about who might be persons in Chicano history who could possibly be considered as Chicano historical “archetypes” (or more perfect versions of ourselves). I had hoped that by doing so, I could put together a hallway display of such persons, and that such a display could then be available for K-12 schools to show their students—well, that project is still in the works. But the reason that I mention the Chicano “archetypes” project is because it has occurred to me that one of those “archetypes” could be, and in my opinion, should be, any persons of African descent who has exhibited any of the multitude of characteristics we find admirable and/or praiseworthy as Chicanos or Chicanas. Well, I am of the opinion that in the history of the U.S. there is just such an example of a heroic “archetype” of a Chicano.
The historical figure that I am thinking about has been known in numerous writings as “Estebanico” or Estevanico (1500-1539), and he was a man of Moorish descent who accompanied and assisted the Cabeza de Vaca party to travel across the U.S. Southwest. He was also known as Esteban de Dorantes or Esteban the Moor. Now you may think that Estebanico may not count as a “Chicano,” but if you look carefully at his accomplishments, you will see that he achieved more in his lifetime than did many famous Chicanos, and he did so bilingually and biculturally!
The other thing that I think Estebanico deserves credit for is the fact that in few years he was in America he learned and utilized many of the indigenous peoples’ ways and lifestyles that he encountered. He then as such acted as an intermediary between the indigenous peoples of America and his Spanish-speaking companions. Have you met very many Chicanos who can match such skills and ability? Estebanico additionally had the ability to navigate, probably by using the stars, and/or by accurately assessing the terrain while guiding the Cabeza de Vaca party in their trek across the Southwest. Have you met many Chicanos who could walk from Galveston Island to Western Mexico without a map or a GPS device? So I think Estebanico deserves to be one of our Black Chicano Mesoamerican Spanish-speaking historical “archetypes?”
In addition, Estebanico (born a Moroccan Arab Negro) may have been among the first “Europeans” to pass through the area in present day Texas which the Spanish later called “Hueco” (Spanish for gap or hollow), or what became present-day “Waco,” Texas. Why do I say this? I say this because after having been shipwrecked on Galveston Island, the Cabeza de Vaca (CDV) party headed west, and the Texas land area south of present-day Waco may have been part of the geography through which the CDV group passed enroute west. The “Hueco” area is also the region where the indigenous Ouachita (changed to “Wichita”) peoples originally lived at one point along the Brazos River in Texas. Anglo speakers subsequently also changed the word “Hueco” to “Waco.” The Spanish may have referred to the indigenous people there as Huecos, however.
Furthermore, one theory as to which route the CDV party took is called the Balcones Escarpment Route. The Balcones fault zone is a geological formation that runs approximately from the southwest part of Texas near Del Rio to the north central region of Texas near Waco, Texas (See “Cabeza de Vaca Slept Here,” by M. J. Garcia—2008.). In addition, a 1996 documentary film by Ken Burns on PBS supports the Balcones Escarpment Route theory. The precise CDV route has been difficult for historians to determine, but one theory holds that the CDV group traveled across present-day Texas then on to Mexico’s northern provinces. I would also like to add that while Estebanico may not be the only Black Chicano whom we might like to remember during Black History Month. I am of the opinion that he, however, would be a very good candidate-due to ethnohistorical, ethnolinguistic, and ethnographic reasons—not to rule out other Afro-Mesoamerican Blacks we may know.
I should add, however, that if English-speaking Blacks in the U.S. want to claim our Spanish-speaking Estebanico as their hero, too, that is their choice to do so as well. So I ask you, “Should Estebanico de Dorantes be in that hallway display of famous Chicano “archetypes” that I am planning?” What do you think?
Copyright by Margarito J. Garcia III, Ph.D. Estebanico portrayal used under “fair Use” proviso of copyright law. Chicano marchers and Chicano History Week photos copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other photos are in the public domain.