Category: Commentary

Uncharted: Teach About Black Mexico in Schools

“History is history” – the suppressed truth of Latino- and Black-American historical assimilation

Before the truth of the birth of Los Angeles was revealed in 1981 prior to the Los Angeles Bicentennial celebration, historians had relegated the seeding of what has become one of the world’s great megalopolises to a pioneering group of Spaniards and mestizos. That’s the way the original history was written.

Thanks to the ethical due diligence of the late University of Southern California historian Doyce Nunis, Jr., and a special Los Angeles Bicentennial research sub-committee organized by him, the truth was unearthed that a major African presence was also involved in the seeding of Los Angeles. In fact, the research revealed that more than half of the original pobladores, or settlers, that arrived in seed and nurture colonial Los Angeles were infused with African blood.But it was flawed.

They were the Black-Mexicans biased historians tried to suppress.

But truth hushed to a whisper will cry loud!

To put it bluntly, certain members of Los Pobladores 200, an association of about 250 people who trace their lineage to Los Angeles’ original settlers, were disturbed to learn that information attained from census archives in Seville, Spain by the Nunis sub-committee found that the majority of the pioneering settlers to Los Angeles were not pure blooded Spaniards and mestizos — but rather, mulattos and mestizos. The mulattos were an assimilation of African and Spanish blood.

In other words given the universally accepted “One Drop-Black Blood,” postulation, the mulatto pobladores were unquestionably Black.

The original plaque at Olvera Street commemorating “Los Pobladores,” had for many years omitted any reference to the African heritage of the Black pobladores. But all that changed after the Nunis fact-finding mission, which led to the replacement of the old plaque with the current one which accurately depicts the multiracial makeup of the founders.

Doyce Nunis Jr. was professor emeritus of history at USC College and editor of Southern California Quarterly. Photo: Historical Society of Southern California.

Olvera Street was a favorite destination for elementary school “field trips” prior to 1981 for children throughout Los Angeles County. This writer remembers it well. Prior to 1981, the county’s students were not privileged to the truth that Black-Mexicans were not only involved in the colonizing of Los Angeles but were the dominant settlers in the city’s founding.

Unfortunately, divulging the history of the original pobladores was a racially political hot potato. Some of the descendants of the mestizos settlers were very sensitive — even angered — to the prospect of being revealed as having African blood. The truth that Black- and Latino-Americans share a lineage of colonial assimilation that binds many of them at the hip, was an unspoken taboo for many Latino families in, and before, 1981 — and for all intents and purposes, still largely remains in the shadow of ignorance. For Black-Americans, the revelation has hardly been broached.

Nunis’ team had been assembled to establish the indisputable truth about the contributions of Black-Mexicans to the seeding and nurturing of colonial Los Angeles. The multiracial ethnicity of the pobladores had been rejected as rumor by the scholarly establishment and never accepted until explicit census information was found in an archive in Seville, Spain. Documents there confirmed that 12 families recruited by Gov. Felipe de Neve, the first Spanish governor of California, arrived from the Mexican provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora.

The voice of history resounded. The “third colonial root” from Africa revealing assimilation with Spanish and indigenous roots in colonial Mexico to produce the multi-ethnic blend of Mexico in 2015, also found its way to California and plowed its way into the fertile ground that spawned the City of Los Angeles

Nunis, who died on Jan. 22, 2011 at age 86, said at the time of the revelation — “history is history; you can’t change it. And the sub-committee found the evidence.” He will be forever remembered for leading the fact-finding research that set the historical record straight.

Had the truth been known and highlighted in American history curriculum in schools across the U.S. and Mexico from the beginning — certainly in California where, today fractious relationships between Black- and Latino-Americans erupt into random violence in shared neighborhoods, and high schools, a bond of peace and understanding might have served to prevent the mayhem that seethes — not to mention the turmoil in penal institutions between Black and Brown gang factions.

It’s not too late. The truth of a shared history between Latinos and Blacks in Mexico, and indeed all of the Americas, can be infused into the history curriculum of all grade levels in schools across America.

After all, as Dr. Doyce Nunis, Jr., once famously said: “History is history; you can’t change it.”

Ignorance languishes in darkness. But the truth is light. And the light vanquishes the darkness.