Using Spices to Spotlight the Erasure of Afro Tradition in Mexico Image

The United States is not the only country infected by the curse of racism. Ironically, the countries we think are the least racist are the countries with very little diversity. The target of the harshest prejudice is those of African descent. The documentary Stateless looked at the Dominican Republic’s attempt to “whiten” its nation by striping its darker-skinned residents of their DR citizenship. Now, the wave of racism moves to Mexico.

The 20-minute long Jamaica and Tamarindo: Afro Tradition in the Heart of Mexico is written and directed by Ebony Bailey, and explores the erasure of African culture and customs in Mexico. The jamaica flower and tamarind are iconic ingredients in Mexico, but their history comes from a place much further away. In Jamaica and Tamarindo: Afro Tradition in the Heart of Mexico, director Bailey interviews five people who share stories of how their African heritage has made them feel like second-class citizens. The interviewees are Marbella Figueroa Quiterio, Isaías Martínez Trani, Zurisadai Martínez Trani, Leona Uhuru, and Seynabou Diédhou Bello.

“…explores the erasure of African culture and customs in Mexico.”

Jamaica and Tamarindo explores the systemic racism that runs through Mexico, from its government to its effacing of history. It does so on an intimate scale, so audiences glimpse what the average citizen of Afro-Mexican ancestry goes through daily. This is all well and good, potentially even necessary to get a broader conversation started in the public’s eye. Ebony Bailey says:

I made this film as a way to reaffirm my own identity as a Black-Mexican-American, or as I like to say, a “Blaxican.” My mother is Mexican-American and my father is African-American. All of my life, my Mexican side was negated because of my Black features. “A Black girl cannot be Mexican,” they would tell me. These words have caused me to reflect on the role that Blackness plays in Mexican identity. What does it mean to be Mexican?

Jamaica y Tamarindo: Afro Tradition in the Heart of Mexico illustrates the existence of African heritage in everyday aspects of Mexican culture. The jamaica hibiscus flower and tamarind are two popular ingredients in Mexico, but many in the country are not aware that these two plants have origins in Africa. Jamaica and tamarind become metaphors for the invisibilization of Mexico’s African heritage. In the film, we meet Afro-Mexicans from different walks of life who speak about their own identities and experiences. For me, someone who grew up drinking agua de jamaica and eating spicy tamarindo candies, this film has allowed me to share a bit of my experience through the testimonies of other Afro-Mexicans. We aim for this film to serve as a platform for discussion in the global conversation of diversity and inclusion.

The titular Jamaica flower and tamarindo, which are commonly used in Mexican dishes. But these ingredients are not native to the land and were brought over by slaves and trade ships in the 16th century. Instead of exploring how their association with Mexico parallels the erasure of African culture, the audience is given this bit of information before the film moves on, not bothering to let any of it sink in.

Jamaica and Tamarindo: Afro Tradition in the Heart of Mexico is currently available on DVD and various streaming platforms and appropriate for any educational setting. 

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