Co-Producing Knowledge in Mexico’s Costa Chica

My name is Manuel Robles; I am a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the History department. My dissertation focuses on the contemporary history of Afro-Mexico. I examine how Mexico went from largely ignoring its Afrodescendant population to officially recognizing them as a distinct ethno-racial group with full constitutional rights. My work on this topic has allowed me to engage with research that prioritizes both archival sources and oral testimonies. With the latter in mind, the Immersive Dissertation Research Fellowship became a vehicle for me to establish and cultivate relationships with local organizations and communities. This approach was especially critical to my research due to the ongoing pandemic, resulting in the closure of most Mexican archives for most of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Seeing that access to archival sources was significantly limited, I shifted my focus from archival research to ethnographic work. This transition, in turn, increased my collaborative work with activists and organizations and subsequently deepened my ties with local communities.

In the summer of 2021, I arrived in Mexico with plans to conduct research and concurrently produce a short documentary and develop infographics for local schools. The video will be an audiovisual component of a dissertation chapter that examines gender in the Afro-Mexican movement and how the role of Afrodescendant women, specifically, changed over time. I will also screen the documentary in multiple communities of the Costa Chica region. For this project, I collaborated with Rosa María Castro of the Asociación de Mujeres de la Costa (AMCO) and André Lo Sánchez, a filmmaker and independent activist from Mexico City. Co-producing the documentary created an opportunity for me to develop a friendship with Rosa María and André and, through our conversations, better grasp the complex history of the Afro-Mexican movement. As for the infographics, I initially envisioned this project as a solo effort with minimal collaboration from AMCO. However, after the 2022 Summit for Young Afro-Mexicans, I decided to team up with three attendees and emerging activists to co-design and develop these visual texts. I will conduct the necessary research for and writing of the infographics in collaboration with Luis Antonio Monjaras Gazga (a recent college graduate), Noeli Torres Sarabia (an incoming college student), and Yasmin Cortez Bernal (a high school student). Also, they will play a key role in distributing the materials to communities on the coasts of Oaxaca and Guerrero. We will finalize this project at the end of this summer.

Bearded, Afro-Mexican young man in a pink shirt in front of a colorful bird sculpture Afro-Mexican young woman with long hair and white shirt in front of pink building Afro-Mexican young woman in a black girl in front of water with a boat

Luis Antonio Monjaras Gazga, Noeli Torres Sarabia, and Yasmin Cortez Bernal 

In April 2022, in Huatulco, Oaxaca, AMCO and I held the Summit for Young Afro-Mexicans. The idea for this event emerged from a conversation that Rosa María Castro and I had in September of 2021 about the needs of young adults in the Costa Chica. She and I worked together to secure funding to make the summit possible. Also, we searched for and invited speakers to make this event the first to have mainly young Afrodescendant speakers. At the event, we addressed issues pertinent to the lives and needs of young Afro-Mexicans. The event also became a site for me to establish multi-generational links with Costa Chica communities and for attendees to build connections with speakers. Less than a month after the summit, a speaker from a Mexican state institution shared with attendees an opportunity to travel to Spain this summer to exchange their experiences with other young Afrodescendant activists and meet with European policymakers. The three young activists with whom I am collaborating to co-produce the infographics have submitted applications to attend the event in Spain. If selected, it will be their first time traveling outside Mexico.  

Group of smiling young people at the Summit for Young Afro-Mexicans Young people working in a group at the Summit for Young Afro-Mexicans

Summit for Young Afro-Mexicans

The Immersive Dissertation Research Fellowship was an invaluable support during my 2021-2022 year of research. More than supporting archival research and collecting oral testimonies, it allowed me to engage in participatory research and the co-production of knowledge with local activists and communities. This approach was indeed unforeseen but critical to my development as an emerging scholar. The experience advanced both my goals of developing meaningful connections with activists and communities while concurrently engaging in rigorous academic research. For the academic year 2022-2023, I will transition from research to writing with the support of an Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship. During this time, I will also continue cultivating my relationship with AMCO, local activists, and communities.

Manuel Robles
May 2022
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