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Abstract

This dissertation investigates the recognition of blackness in Veracruz, Mexico, beyond self-identification as Afro-descendant and within the logics of mestizaje and multiculturalism. Historically the most important port city in Mexico and a major node in the Afro-Andalusian Caribbean, Veracruz is an ideal location to explore how state-sponsored narratives of history and heritage become interpreted, internalized, and used by locals in their practices of self- and place-making. Through an ethnographic study of cultural affinity groups I call jarocho publics, I argue that the late 20th century multiculturalist turn in Mexico has transformed blackness into a cultural resource for the local regional identity jarocho rather than engendering collective identification as Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant. Participants in jarocho publics presence their blackness through the repetitive nature of practice, be it narrative recitation or corporeal repetition. By grounding blackness in practice and subsuming it in the more established collective identity label jarocho, blackness becomes available to everyone who invests in local culture. This study ties together different scenarios, including the workshop class structure of the musical-dance complexes son jarocho and the danzón; the public dancing scene; and the calendar of events organized by the Veracruz Institute of Culture, to demonstrate how blackness has become the crucial feature in particularizing the regional identity jarocho. By treating blackness as practice and as practiced, this study intervenes in the current trend to delimit studies on the African Diaspora in Latin America to populations who self-identify as black and suggests an alternative view of blackness within mestizaje, arguing that collective identification with one’s black heritage rather than self-identification as Afro-descendant is a consequence of late 20th century multiculturalism that shields blackness from the vagaries of enumeration and identity politics.

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