Like Mexico‘s massive territory, its history is just as complex and vast.

When folks think of what a typical person of Mexican heritage looks like, a specific iconography may come to mind. Often, it doen’t look like Afro-descendants — as with the Afromexicanos of the vibrant city of Cuajinicuilapa in Mexico’s Costa Chica.

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Over 500 years, over two million Afromexicanos have lived in Costa Chica and Yanga in Veracruz. Their rich history and flavors have influenced the shaping of one of Mexico’s hidden gems.

Mexico’s History with the slave trade

Conquistadors established the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1521 after the fall of the Aztec Empire, per the University of Texas. New Spain had dominion over Central America, the Spanish Indies (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), the Philippines and parts of the United States.

It wasn’t until the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlán, in 1535, that the Spanish formalized it as a vassal state. They ramped up what would lay the groundwork for the growth of New Spain — something that included free labor. 

Initially, they turned to the labor of indigenous people. After cries from reform advocates and the dying indigenous population, the Spanish turned to the slave trade.

About 200,000 enslaved Africans were taken to New Spain over the course of three centuries, the Smithsonian reports.

Despite not representing a large part of the population, African slaves took up much of the work. Spanning from the silver mines in Zacatecas to the sugar plantations in Morelos and the factories in Puebla and Oaxaca.

The Smithsonian adds that runaway slaves created palenques as a place of refuge until slavery was abolished in 1829. Those descendants now live in the state of Veracruz and what is known as la Costa Chica.

Afromexican influence in la Costa Chica makes it a must-visit for tourists in Mexico

According to Afro-Mexico, La Costa Chica is a 200-mile stretch of coastline that goes from Acapulco in the state of Guerrero to Huatulco in Oaxaca. Why did they run to this area? The region is known for its extreme heat and difficult-to-navigate lands. Something that could be a useful deterrent for a slave owner in pursuit of an escaped slave.

Because of their relative seclusion, Afromexicanos established new traditions and cuisines that aligned with what they could pull from the land, per Eater

Besides the Afromexicanos live in Costa Chica, the area is home to the Amuzgos, the Mixtecs, the Tlapanecos and the Chatinos, according to Mexconnect.com.

Along with the cities of Acapulco and Huatulco, other significant stops along the way included Playa Ventura and Punta Maldonado. Also, nestled within this region is the city of Cuajinicuilapa, said to have the largest population of Afromexicanos in the country, Travel Noire asserts.

Cuajinicuilapa has the largest population of Afromexicanos and their influence is tangible in the region’s rich culture

Travel Noire states the first time Afromexicanos were included in the Mexican census starting in 2015. The number at the time? About 1.3 million. In 2020, that number was 2,576,213 people, per the Wilson Center. The state of Guerrero has the largest concentration.

Like much of history lost to time, many are unaware of the large community of Afromexicanos within Mexico. Many who leave the region must deal with this stereotype once they step into larger cities, as noted in a ABC News report.

Similar to its surrounding areas, Cuajinicuilapa has strong ties to agriculture, to Afromexicano campesinos. These tend to things like corn, coconuts, mangoes, sesame and watermelon, according to AfroMexico.com.

Along with the cuisine that began to flourish, Eater mentions dishes like “mole with pork cheeks and mashed plantains with beef soup” being on the menu. Culture is also ever present. 

The Danza de Diablos, also known as the Dance of Devils, is a practice much like Brazil’s capoeira for its meaningful ties to the community. This dance traces back to New Spain as a ritual asking the god Ruja for freedom, per the Mexican government.

As time progressed, the dance incorporated both Catholic and indigenous influences from the surrounding communities. The Danza de Diablos can be seen in its full glory every September for the celebration of Cuajinicuilapa’s patron saint Nicolas of Tolentino, per Kuwait Times.