As I have mentioned in previous writings, nothing validates more what I do through my own writings than the responses I get from my readers about my writings. Such has been the case as a result of my article called “Afro-Mesoamericans” (Part I). For example, I got an e-mail from Dr. Refugio I. Rochin (former Director of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives and Professor Emeritus from U.C. Davis) thanking me for my article, and he then, in turn, sent me a copy of a paper he wrote called “Latinos and Afro-Latino Legacy in the United States: History, Culture, and Issues of Identity.” (2001) Well, I could not have been happier!
But what’s even better, Dr. Rochin’s research seems to indicate that there may indeed be more historical miscegenation (between persons of Spanish/Hispanic descent and African descent) than meets the eye! Shades of a black grandpa in our closets! (Thank you Henry Louis Gates!) Additionally, the findings reported by Rochin are a very good fit to my first article, and indeed improve on what I started. I think when you read what I report below you will agree. I thank Dr. Rochin for allowing me to quote him profusely—just count the “Ibid’s.”
For example, Rochin points out in Part II of his above-mentioned paper that for persons who prefer to be identified mostly as “Hispanics,” that they should not forget that “they themselves carry African blood derived centuries ago from the Moors.” (Ibid.) Apparently, some persons in America seem to want to sweep history under rug and oftentimes forget that “a Muslim army from Africa invaded Spain across the Straits of Gibraltar in 711!” (Ibid.) Rochin points out that Spain in essence was held as a “dependency” to North Africa. According to him, “Muslim sects from Africa invaded Spain additionally in 1086 and in 1145!” (Ibid.) So can you imagine the amount of “miscegenation” that must have occurred between 711 and 1492 when the Moors were driven out of Spain?!
Rochin further states “for most of the seven centuries prior to Spain’s arrival in the New World, Muslim Africans and Moors lived in and ruled Spain, and undoubtedly transmitted their bloodlines into the Spanish conquistadors and their American descendants.”(Ibid.) In addition, the author also points out that there is even racism between Afro-Hispanics and Afro-Latinos, and that among some persons of Afro-Hispanic heritage they distinguish among themselves based on the color of their skin. Rochin states that, for persons who consider themselves Hispanics and/or descendants of the people from Spain, “it is not a question of a drop of blood making a person either Black or White, for Latinos, shades of color are the basis for discrimination.”(Ibid.)
But what is also interesting about Dr. Rochin’s research is that he points out that “Some Hispanics with the last name ending in “Z” believe that they are descended from the Moors, such as Alvarez or Velasquez, etc.” (Ibid.) If true, then Mesoamericans descended from persons whose surname ended in “Z” might more properly be call “Afro-Mesoamericans,” wouldn’t you agree? But the categorization of persons of mixed ancestry (including Chicanos) includes a number of terms (or castes), according to Rochin, such as being called “Indio” for Indian, “Mestizo” for Spanish/Indian, “Mulato” for Spanish/Negro, and/or “Zambo” (Indian/Negro). (Ibid.) The author also points out, “Historically, Hispanics, are very conscious of skin color because the lighter they are the more likely they ‘look’ Spanish,” thus being afforded more privileges in society.
But even more impressive about the research reported by Dr. Rochin is that he points out there were even more historical instances of the involvement of additional persons of African descent in the exploration of the New World. For example, the author points out the following: a) Pedro Alonzo Nino was an African navigator who piloted one of Christopher Columbus’ ships; b) Juan Garrido known as “El Conquistador Negro,” traveled from Africa to Spain around 1500—then went on to travel with Ponce de Leon in Puerto Rico, and introduced the planting of wheat in North America; c) the expedition of Hernando de Soto to Alabama included a Black man named Robles; and d) and the expedition of Bonilla de Leyva-Antonio Gutierrez and Juan de Onate also included Black members. (Ibid.) For the record, my birthplace was in El Paso, Texas, about a stone’s throw from the very spot where Juan de Onate crossed the Rio Grande for the very first time in the history of the of America!
But Dr. Rochin also reports that Estebanico the Moor (who travelled with the Cabeza de Vaca party) was “America’s first African-Hispanic, Muslim explorer in the New World.” The author writes that “accompanying Cabeza de Vaca and two others was Esteban (or Estebanico). From 1528 to 1536 the four survived out a three-hundred man expedition and made it back to Mexico. Estebanico turned into a sorcero (a medicine man) for survival. He treated Indians and others he met and had a reputation that helped in most places. He was killed ultimately at the hands of Indians in Arizona. But the amazing thing about the ordeal of (Cabeza) de Vaca and Estebanico is that they covered over 6,000 miles of unknown territory, stirred the imagination of other explorers, and lived to tell about the great expanse of the south.” (Ibid.)
I would also like to add that Estebanico was for the most part very well received and well-treated by the indigenous people he met—because they saw his dark skin as a positive characteristic, not a negative one. In fact, he rose to the level of being seen as somewhat of a shaman or “healer” due to his reputation of frequently helping the indigenous people he met. In fact, Cabeza de Vaca himself may not have made the historic trek without Estebanico tending to his wounds and injuries. You see, in the fictional Startrek Captain Kirk had his Dr. Spock, but in real life Cabeza de Vaca had only Estebanico.
In fact, Estebanico may indeed be faulted for one chief thing–he succeeded too much in being accepted by the indigenous people he encountered. That trust may have gotten him killed by enemy tribes to the tribes he befriended. You see, Estebanico was killed by indigenous people from Arizona. It may be said that Estebanico may have made an easy target of himself because he carried a rattling gourd on a stick, which was strong magic given only to shamans or persons with strong healing powers. Also, don’t forget that Estebanico was a slave to the Spaniards he traveled with, so he did not have much control over his destiny.
For those of you who don’t know, my hometown is Fort Stockton, Texas, site also to a natural spring there called Comanche Springs. The lands adjacent to the park where the springs exist belonged to my ancestors (See “La Historieta de Margarito,” M. J. Garcia, 2015). My home while growing up in Fort Stockton was about a half a mile from the springs. (See “Cabeza de Vaca Slept Here,” M. J. Garcia III, 2008.) At the entrance to the park where the springs pour out is a State Historical Marker which reads “Site of Comanche Springs,” and it further states, ”Used as a watering place and camping ground by Indians since pre-Columbian times; the springs were possibly visited about 1536 by the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca on his wanderings through Texas.” All those years in my life little did I know I would come to appreciate so much the possible historical value of Comanche Springs to Chicanos and Afro-Mesoamericans (See “Afro-Mesoamericans—Part I” M.J. Garcia, 2015, www.latinopia.com)
I also want to point out that in his previously cited paper (Ibid.) Dr. Rochin goes on to describe a number of additional historical instances of the introduction of persons of African descent into the America’s. The author reports, for example, that a large number of slaves from various lands and jurisdictions often sought
refuge, and many times, citizenship somewhere in the Americas whenever was possible. (Ibid) Rochin also distinguishes between what he calls Afro-Hispanics and Afro-Latinos. The author tells us that Afro-Latinos can be distinguished from Afro-Hispanics because “the former are mixtures of African slaves, American Indians, and other immigrants and not necessarily direct descendants of Spain,” like Afro-Hispanics.(Ibid.) Rochin also informs us, “for Latinos whose origins are from the Caribbean region, there is relatively more African and Spanish heritage in their genes than Amerindian blood.”(Ibid.)
Interestingly enough and perhaps in support of my theory of the existence of the Afro-Mesoamerican in the U.S. (descended moreso from persons of Mexican descent), Rochin also states, “Since the mid-1800s, other Afro-Latinos have descended from American slaves who escaped to Mexico and Latin America. One group of “cimarrones” (as they are called) escaped to Veracruz,
Mexico…The community known as San Lorenzo de los Negros is situated in the State of Veracruz.(Ibid.) In addition, Rochin points out that “another group of Latinos descended from shipwrecked African slaves, survivors who settled along the Caribbean coast and intermarried with the Caribbeans…today they are called “Garifuna.” Rochin tells us, “more than 100,000 Garifuna have migrated to the United States.”(Ibid.)
I think, therefore, that Rochin’s geographic, geoethnic and geogenetic dichotomies put a whole new spin on how we may want to think about Afro-Hispanics, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbeans, and/or Afro-Mesoamericans (which includes Black Chicanos) living in the Americas today. And I think Dr. Rochin is also on the right track when he states, “In a historic sense, I argue that a large proportion of Hispanics have genetic heritage from Moors and African heritage from former slaves. In times of racial discord between Latinos, Hispanics, and African Americans, this historical confluence of cultures should serve as a reminder that both communities share common ancestors and cultures.” (Ibid.)
Thank you Dr. Rochin–I agree, and I suspect, as well, that in many ways we, the Spanish-surnamed peoples in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, may very well all be connected by bonds that go beyond our origin or birth, our identity or nationality, and/or our kind or kin.
Copyright 2015 by Dr. Margarito J. Garcia III. Artist renderings of Juan Garrido and Estebanico used by “fair use” proviso of the copyright law. Street scene copyrighted by barrio Dog productions, Inc. All other photos in the public domain.
Footnote: The above article by me is not intended to do full justice to the extensive information and data contained in Dr. Rochin’s article. Readers interested in the additional content in Dr. Rochin’s article are advised obtain a copy for their use.