October 29, 2006 — I recently received this email, and with the writer’s permission am posting it here in hopes that others can help me out with their own experiences. I can’t answer some of her questions.

I am an African American who is fascinated about Mexican culture and its people. As a black person, how will I be treated? I have read and heard nothing but bad things concerning blacks and Latin America, specifically Mexico.

Are Americans treated well in general?

…I was wondering though, are all of the wealthy white and all of the poor black or native? Are any of wealthy mixed race, black, or indigenous, or at least dark skinned in Mexico? Or is it that all of the wealthy and elite are european looking?

It is just that the image is one of rich whites controlling everything and dark skinned poor people, especially in Latin America, specifically Mexico. How color conscious are Mexicans in general and does it have any effect on how tourists are treated? What effect would it have on expatriates who are black getting a job? I have read about the “good presentation” meaning that they prefer the whiter, lighter skinned candidate. Is that true?

How much Spanish do I need to know before I enter mexico? I would like to go to a Mexican university but it has been years since i have learned Spanish… Your help would be greatly appreciated.

As a black how will you be treated? Hmm, I really don’t know. I have seen black people in various parts of Mexico from time to time but never had a chance to really ask a black person what his or her experiences have been. I saw a black American the day before I got your email, and from now on I will watch for a chance to ask someone — and of course blog about it!

Also, some of the black people I have seen have turned out to be Mexicans, usually from Mexico’s eastern shores. I’d imagine that they have experienced plenty of racism. This IS a very color-conscious society and more European-looking people are more likely to be news anchors, actresses, and so on. But bit by bit this is changing, and there are certainly many successful people with Indian appearance. Benito Juarez, one of Mexico’s greatest presidents, was of totally Indian ancestry.

Interestingly, several modern Mexicans whose skins and features show a strong ancestry of native peoples or perhaps both native and european have told me that they simply think of themselves as Mexicans. On the other hand, a brilliant friend of ours from Oaxaca in the south is very proud of the fact that he has no European blood.

Getting a job here as an expat has its own set of problems. I’m no expert but so far as I know, foreigners can’t get jobs that a Mexican could do, though I’m not totally sure how that works. There is also a reason that so many Mexicans head north to work. There often isn’t work here.

You ask how well Americans generally are treated, and that is one question I can answer. I and many other Americans and Canadians are delighted with the kindness and graciousness of the Mexican people. You can imagine, no doubt, that a lot of the actions of our current government — from planning a 700-mile-long fence to going to war abroad — do not go over well here. But Mexicans I have spoken with have always been extremely polite if the topic came up, and they are entirely able to separate how they feel about a government’s actions from how they feel about people they meet.

Many Americans who live here say that one of the main reasons they like it here is the people. That’s surely true for me, and if you read back through the posts you’ll see that.

You can come to Mexico without knowing Spanish, but the more you know, the richer your time here will be. There are many, many places with various price tags where you can take Spanish classes. For example, there is a Mexican woman in our town who I haven’t found yet who is said to give very good classes which cost about three dollars a session. You may be pleased at how much the Spanish you used to know will come back to you.

Okay… I am well aware that I have not truly answered your question about how much the color of your skin will lead Mexicans to pre-judge you. I have far too much awareness of how deeply people can be affected by conscious or unconscious racism to simply say that they will treat you as a person first and as a black person second. I don’t know if that will be the case for you. It certainly might be, but I just don’t know. If you have heard “nothing but bad” concerning blacks and Mexico, then another challenge for you would be to work at not letting those ideas shape your own personal experiences.

I’d say, come on down, trust that fascination, use common sense, and see what you learn. As a woman, especially if you come down by yourself, you will likely also encounter the ideas Mexican men have about American women!

Comments from the old blog:

    John said:

    Your perception of racial differ-
    ences in Mexico is incorrect. Do not listen to people in the U.S. who
    generally have predjudice against Mexico.(Bandits,bad roads,dangerous etc.)
    Mexico is a very racially diverse nation,whose people are remarkably free from racial prejudice. There ARE class distinctions; the very rich look down on everyone, as they do in the US. The very poor are not educated and therefore do not often
    rise to the top, but this is a world
    wide phenomenon, not race related.
    Here you will find more than 80 tribes of indigenous people, with their own languages and customs. In the north there are many Mennonite farmers from Germany, Chinese with the clothing factories, Koreans and Japanese in electronics, Arabs in all sorts of businesses and black people from all over the world in all levels of society.
    The “elite” with “old wealth” here are mainly of Spanish descent,but
    they no longer control society.
    As a tourist in Mexico you will be treated with respect. Mexicans are open and warm to “extranjeros”!
    Offer to teach English in return for help with your Spanish.
    Stop reading and start learning!
    John

    Mark said:

    I live in Durango, Durango. Black people here are stared at a lot because there aren’t very many of them. A few years back a group came through and one of the members was black. They were at a restaurant eating a meal. Someone else ordered for them, but he wanted to order water himself. When the waitress came by he asked for it in broken Spanish. The entire restaurant applauded him! They were very excited that he was trying to learn their language.

    Mark
    www.mexico501.com

    Anonymous said…

    I had some girlfriends from Jamaica visiting Mexico City for about a week some years ago. People would run into their homes to call their children to come out and see them, and they were once stopped by a woman and asked if her daughter could kiss them, because it was good luck. I don’t think they were offended, but they were a bit taken aback by all the attention.

  • Anonymous said…

    Hola,I am black and presently studing here in Mexico city (and i am not a latino).As one of the comments rightfully said – there aren’t many black persons here in Mexico so it’s abit strange for the majority of mexicans when the see a black person.The problem is that many mexicans have an idea of black people based on what they see on the telivision ie..the hip-hop and aggressive behavior thing,just as we have of them based on the telivision,I’LL say most negative comments you´ll find is from those persons with that telivision based view.

  • And yes due to their tarnished culture and identity by the eurppeans ,just as the blacks they feel that luck and oppertunity is on the white side.However,though it can be annoying at some times,they all ask alot of questions and sometimes thats good , that´ll give them a first time opertunity to speak to a black person and realize that we are ok persons.

  • Sometimes they get very excited when you talk to them(especially the ladies ,and the men also)sometimes no,but i’ll tell you for one, they ”will” treat you better that the americans will do to you.Last but not least,when they get to know you they can be the best friends,even invite you at their homes to see their family and friends(talking from experience).Just don’t make them feel that you need or depend on them or they will abuse it . For vacation o study “si´´ for work forget it,unless you intend to invest yourself.FROM A REAL BLACK BRETHREN,PEACE OUT!

  • Jorge said said…

    The thing here is, mexicans are not racist, since the mix of races occure since.. ever, so everybody has blood from evry race, my brother  has white skin and I have dark skin, we have the same parents, but my grandmother is white, while my grandfather was not, the problem here is elitism (money is important not race) but because there is little black people here when walk on the street people are going to look at you because is rare to see black people.

  • In Queretaro the only blacks are tourists of basketball players (for the local team) and everybody looks at them amazed of how tall they are, and many woman are in love with them because they are black.

    Denzel Washington and Will Smith are really big starts and studs here.

  • Anonymous said…

    I’m glad to hear that the reception to blacks is so good. I was planning on studing abroad in Mexico and was worried about how I would be treated. My grandmother is from Mexico, I wanted to connect to her heritage, but my parents tell me im crazy for wanting to go there. My father especially tells me that I’m not Mexican, Mexicans will never except me, and that I should just give up and stay in America. Hopefully I can visit soon and judge for myself. I really appreciate this subject, it gives me a little more reassurance. enough reassurance to keep trying.

  • Anonymous said…

    I have a Spanish surname and was treated horribly. Everywhere I went, my belongings were trashed if asked my nationality. I was only 14 at the time and and now just asking why I was treated so terribly because of Spanish descent. So all info has been appreciated.

  • Anonymous said…

    I am an african american who is married to a mexican and we’ll be relocating to mexico in early 2009.
    Dont be fooled, mexicans dont care too much about the color in thr rural areas, but they do NOT welcome anyone who thinks they are better than they are. Mexicans are proud, hardworking and generally nice people, but when in their country, approach them as timid puppies and they will embrace you with open arms and rewards. Dont offer advice, wait until they ask for it, and by all means, show an effort to understand them and learn the language. It may take more of you going the extra mile at first, but when it’s all said and done, it will be well worth it! Oh, and there are more Afro-Mexicans than you think. check out the costa chica in Bobby Vaughns blog or website. Good Luck!

  • LATER SHE ADDED THIS:

    Hey, it’s me again….
    I was recently signed in as anonymous, but my name is Lisa Ruiz-Mojica, you know, the african american sista married to the mexican hombre. I will be living in guerrero in feb 2009, I am already volunteering to teach english (gratis) because my 13 year old cunado(brother inlaw)is having a hard time learning english in school. Most mexicans are just reacting to the way americans treat them, and as normal, they keep their defenses up, until they get to know you. We all do that with someone different. Of course, just like in any other country, the lighter the skin, the better you’re treated, but…remember, like us, it’s what’s been taught by society forever, and it’s all that they know. I can’t wait to be the new “gringa” on the block, or go to the market and sell beans and veggies with my suegra (mother in law) or just to be living wholesome off the earth. Im sure i will have some things to adjust to, but my life will the more richer for it!!!

  • Anonymous said…

    I am black and I have been living in Queretaro Mexico for two years, the people here are great, i never had any trouble from them as far as race,yes you get the stares but in general the people are nice and helpful especially if you try to use the language. They will do what they can to help you

  • Aritul said

    I hope it’s not too late to post something. I spent one summer (’08) in Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, some “pueblos negros” and Mexico City. I found the people to be really cool– very welcoming, very nice, very patient as I struggled to speak Spanish. I definitely got stared at a lot especially in some parts of Mexico City and Oaxaca City, but I realize that’s probably because they don’t see that many blacks. In any case, I had a wonderful time and would definitely like to return one day.

  • WB said…

    My mother lived and worked in Santiago de Queretaro for 2 years. During that time, me and my two children (I’m bi-racial and my children are a much darker brown than I am) visited my mother twice. Both visits were wonderful. All of the people we came in contact with were warm, friendly, and helpful. They did not seem curious or surprised at all to see black people, although we did not see even one other black person durin our visits.

    Very few locals spoke any English. But there were all extremely patient when I would try to communicate with them in my broken Spanish.

    I fell in love with Qeretaro, Hildago, and the entire Yucatan peninsula. I would love to visit again someday and would not hesitate to move there for a year or two, if I had the opportunity.

  • I  said…

    Thanks, everyone!
    It fascinates me how people keep finding this page! It’s really an interesting conversation going on here.