Was My Black Grandmother Actually a Mexican?

DEAR MEXICAN: I recently saw a picture of you in a newspaper article. I was quite shocked. You appear to have more of a European skin tone. However, since your relatives lived in Mexico in the past 200 years, I guess you think of yourself as a Mexican. I tend to think Mexican-looking people have more of that native flavor or color. And your last name is actually Basque. So this makes sense. . . . Have a good day, my European/Mexican dude.

Macho Man in New Mexico

DEAR SURUMATO: The town of Arellano might be in the autonomous Basque Country region of Navarre, Spain, but “Arellano” comes from Latin and denotes “farm of Aurelius.” And while one part of my Mexican ancestry came from Europe (a mixture of Portuguese, French and Sephardic Jews, since “Arellano” is listed in the Inquisition rolls), the other part is Chichimeca, ready to chingarte for your chisme.

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DEAR MEXICAN: My grandmother died, like all people of this world, but there was something fascinating that I was able to discover after her time. She was possibly born in Vera Cruz, Mexico. From what I understand—and that may be very little when it comes to American history—it always seems to be a bit cloudy, and this tradition has been passed down from generation to generation of black Americans. During my lifetime, many questions of our past or ancestral history have been unclear, unlike the Mexican or Asian culture of this great country. I'm American through and through—California-raised, so I can easily identify with the Latin culture. I also speak Spanish, which was a prerequisite for survival back in the '70s. What light can you shed on the mystery of Vera Cruz and its relation to Americans or blacks?

Constancia—Not Your Tia Concha

DEAR NEGRITA: The way you spelled Vera Cruz, methinks your abuelita was actually born in the towns by the same names in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all named after the Gulf Coast city in Mexico. But let's say she was actually born in Mexico—in that case, you're connected to one of the proudest black traditions in the Western Hemisphere. Veracruz the state is one of two regions in Mexico with a significant population of Afro-Mexicans (the Costa Chica region spanning the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca is the other). Near the city Veracruz was the first freeman town in the Americas: San Lorenzo de los Negros, created after a colony of ex-slaves led by Gaspar Yanga successfully fended off conquistadors (a statue of Yanga still stands in Veracruz proper). The famous singer Toña La Negra came from Veracruz, as did the rhythms of son jarocho. Even if your grandmother were born in the U.S., it's better to say she's from Mexico: After all, would you want your heritage to go back to some Podunk Rust Belt town?

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GRACIAS, READERS! For another great year of letters, tweets, handshakes and the like. I wish I could tell ustedes I have a new project to shameless self-promote in the coming year—but I don't. Just the same DESMADRE we've had in this columna for 12 years, all thanks to ustedes. The Mexican is going back to the rancho to spend Navidad, so I'll be running a Best Of edición next week. Happy holidays—oh, and #fucktrump.

Ask the Mexican at th********@as*********.net, be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

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