Invisible Roots: Afro-Mexicans in Southern California 2015
Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, Suite 550, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Tiffany Walton, Lizz Mullins, and Richard Goldlander
Directed by Tiffany Walton and Lizz Mullis
DVD, color, 88 min.
High School - General Adult
African Americans, History, Hispanics, California, Anthropology
Date Entered: 02/22/2017Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY
“Who am I?” This might be an alternate title for this fine study of Afro-Mexicans living in California, many of whom are forced to justify their self-identification as Hispanic and or Mexican.
The film is structured around the reflections of several families who trace their lineage to the Costa Chica region in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Some have been in California for hundreds of years, some a generation or less having migrated from the town of Cuajinicuilapa in that region. The film shows the pain and joy of these families. Most of the people interviewed share the common frustration of having been questioned by African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians about their identity as “Mexican” or “Hispanic” because they do not look like Mexicans because of the color of their skin or other physical features. One man, born in Mexico, was stopped by Mexican police when he was visiting relatives there and forced to prove his Mexican identity. There is also pride among these families who share customs shaped by their African roots, such as dances, food preparation, and even some minor but noticeable linguistic differences from other Mexicans.
The history of the Afro-Mexican community is provided by Yismar Toribio, a teacher, and Alva Moore Stevenson. a historian. Toribio grew up thinking he was Mexican but discovered his African roots after taking a DNA test. Toribio and Alva Moore explain that enslaved Africans were brought to Mexico by the Spanish and ultimately established their own families of Afro-Mexicans. These families began migrating to California in 1781. During the nineteenth century these cultural roots became invisible and are now being teased out by historians studying African American and Hispanic history.
Documentarians Tiffany Walton, Lizz Mullins, and Richard Goldlander effectively use interviews to highlight an aspect of a culture that is little known. The soundtrack by Kemo the Blaxican used music to effectively demonstrate the rich blending of cultures. The film would be a fine edition to classrooms studying culture, identity and stereotyping. It would also be useful for examining California history.