Viridana Ponce, rediscovering her African origins in Mexico

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Like many Mexicans, the young woman, artist, and activist has long ignored her African roots. Through educational and cultural projects, she is now working to rebuild forgotten collective memory.

In the colorful alleys of the Huaca neighborhood in the heart of Veracruz, Viridiana Ponce wanders and marvels: ” Coming here allows you to go back in time “.in the colonial era, the houses there were built with wood salvaged from boats that ran aground in the port of Veracruz upon arrival in New Spain. Frequented in the 20th century by famous musicians and artists, the alleys of Huaca now attract few tourists.” It sounds ambitious, but I want to return Huaca to its original identity: the identity of the Black Quarter.. The young woman has just started a cultural project with the children of this popular region. “ Through workshops of painting and landscape expression, we approach the origins of the carnival. »

The Carnival of Veracruz, an essential tradition, gathers hundreds of thousands of people each year, yet its roots remain largely unknown to Mexicans. ” Even here, most people don’t realize that its main influence comes from Africa. »

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In Mexico, at least 250,000 people in chains arrived from the African continent, mainly between the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish colonists practiced the slave trade to build cities and establish guardianship. Over the centuries, African presence persisted and led to great interbreeding” But at the time of the revolution, he was hiding the construction of the identity of the Mexican nation »And the Viridiana Analysis. ” All of my projects attempt to reconstruct this lost historical memory. »

Many Mexicans are ignorant of their African origins

On a daily basis, a young woman with a passion for history identifies herself as Afro-Mexican activist »And the But this was not always the case: It was only at twenty-eight that I realized that I also had African ancestors.. Several years later, she still can’t explain this hindsight. ” It’s amazing, because it shows on my face, She wonders about her hair in braidsAs far as I can remember, I grew up experiencing discrimination. Coming from a mixed family, Viridiana suffered from racism and struggled to build herself up on a personal level: “ Before, I couldn’t stand my body, I also wanted clear skin and eyes. ‘, she regrets, but as the discovery of her roots progresses, she asserts herself and flourishes: Now I feel proud, because I am the little girl in the family who looks like our grandmother a black woman. »

Viridiana isn’t the only one who has ignored her family’s origins for a long time. ” There is a great disconnect between Mexicans and their past ,” she explained. In 2020, a census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics for the first time counted the Afro-Mexican population. The survey reveals that just over 2.5 million people self-identify as “Afro-Mexican” or “Afro-Mexican.” , or about 2% of the population. In fact, African ancestry will be more important in the demographics of the country, and some consider it one of the three roots of the Mexican people with Spaniards and ancestry, but consciously or not many Mexicans ignore their ancestry.” Not only was the suffering of our ancestors who arrived here by force forgotten, our identity was shaped in such a way that we can no longer even see this history. ‘ concludes the activist.

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It’s like I’m wearing glasses »

Viridana was born in Veracruz, the largest city in the Gulf of Mexico founded in 1519 during the landing of Hernán Cortés. She knows the city by heart, but since her origins were revealed, she has taken a fresh look at it: “ As if I was wearing glasses, I finally saw all the traces of our ancestors here and there. »

Specifically, across the historic city center, Viridiana stops in the middle of a pedestrian alley, in front of a yellow building that serves as a cultural center. ” Now that I know what happened here, I share it as soon as possible, because hardly anyone knows the history of this place. “The place was an auction market for slaves who had just arrived at the port,” says VeracruzanaThis is where they separated families “.

In the time of the pandemic, Viridiana quit her job as a teacher to adopt a new career as a freelance artist. ” When the schools closed, I took advantage of this forced freedom to start, and then I realized that, deep down, this was what I wanted to do. The young woman implements several projects: in parallel with writing a graphic story about the city of Veracruz, she is directing her first film. ” It is a documentary novel that is closely related to my personal history The story of a black community living by fishing on a beach north of Veracruz. The film traces the residents’ struggle to defend their lands, intertwined with Viridiana’s memories: “” Because I spent my childhood on this beach But today is the place. absorbed by the port area It doesn’t exist anymore. It is now the young artist’s daily struggle: to make the voices of the past speak, to find and transmit memories: So that this date is not lost “.

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