Photo Credit: Justin Lewis
Veracruz: The State Where Africa And Cuba Meet On Mexico’s Caribbean Coast
Every state in Mexico varies massively, but nothing quite beats the change in energy once you arrive in Veracruz. The state, most known for its beautiful beaches and Carnival also has an abundance of Black history that is still evident today.
The true essence of the Caribbean can be felt in Veracruz, not only for its coastline, but also for its rich Cuban influence and its African-descent Mexican people.
When Hernan Cortes arrived from Cuba in Veracruz in 1519 on Good Friday, the day known as the ‘the true cross’ or ‘Vera Cruz’, he brought with him a semblance of Cuba and enslaved, semi-free and converted African-descent soldiers who would go on to hugely build-up the Veracruz area that exists today.
Veracruz’s history of being a port for bringing in and trading in enslaved Africans has a lot to do with the population’s demographic. As more and more Africans were brought over to work on the sugarcane plantations, the port city of Veracruz quickly became Mexico’s most important port of entry and during the late 1500s, Veracruz had the largest enslaved population in all of Mexico.
Furthering Black History in the region, in 1570 an enslaved African named Gaspar Yanga led an uprising and went on to establish San Lorenzo de los Negros. After failed attempts to recapture enslaved Africans, the Spanish decided to negotiate with the community. In exchange for freedom and peace, Yanga agreed not to raid Spanish communities. In 1630, the town of Yanga was established and still stands to represent the African communities.
It is easy to see the influence of Veracruz’s Cuban roots even the subtle every day such as the Caribbean Spanish accent which heavily resembles the Cuban one or the love for dark, steeply sugared powerful coffee and of course the love for music. Jaracho, Bamba and Macumba each have Afro-Caribbean flair to them which speaks to the history. The dance styles also serve as a way of preserving the distinguished Afro-Cuban ways of movement known as creole (criollo) in Veracruz.
The annual Afro-Caribbean music festival, uniting countries like Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Belize and more, is a fine display of the state’s Caribbean influence.
The legacy of Veracruz and Cuba in particular can be found in the dishes. Plantains, yuca, calabaza (pumpkin) and peanuts, feature in many a dish in Veracruz. Fritters are also widely made, using shaved coconut and malanga, undeniably paying homage to Cuba. The modern Veracruz culinary melting pot owes much to its plentiful indigenous Mexican, Spanish, African and Cuban roots.
Today Afro-Veracruzan inhabitants who tend to identify as Jarocho, a term that now relates closely to ‘mestizaje’ or being of mixed blood even if it once did make reference to the African roots of Veracruz. Even still, the wavy tropical heat, the beats of the Caribbean and the rebellious historical presence all serve to remind of the very African, very Cuban tradition in this Mexican state.