Washington DC, July 28, 2022. – Within the framework of International Afro-Latina, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Day, and with a view to contributing to a more equitable world, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) launched on Monday, July 25, through a hybrid event in Mexico City, the project “Promotion of an anti-racist agenda to strengthen the work of civil society organizations in the fight against racism and discrimination in Mexico”, which is being implemented thanks to the support of the WK Kellogg Foundation.
With the participation of representatives of public institutions and autonomous human rights organizations of ethnic and national nature, the event was held in the Digna Ochoa room, at the headquarters of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City. In his welcoming remarks, the Executive Director of Race and Equality, Carlos Quesada, highlighted the political will of the Mexican State to combat racism and racial discrimination with the ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI) in November 2019.
Meanwhile, the Director of Programs for Latin America and the Caribbean of the WK Kellogg Foundation, Alejandra Garduño Martínez, pointed out racial equity as a key element for the construction of an anti-racist agenda. “Achieving racial equity means that a person’s identity does not determine how they are treated; racial equity requires, therefore, the transformation of systems and the identification and change of practices that deny equal treatment or produce unequal results for certain social groups, resulting in an increase in social inequality,” she emphasized.
In the first panel of the event, which was called “Importance of promoting an anti-racist agenda in Mexico”, the participants offered their views on racism and racial discrimination, agreeing that these are structural problems in Mexican society and that they have different manifestations, so they must be combated from different areas and through common actions.
Francisco Estrada Correa, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico (CNDH), drew attention to the need for public policies or social programs to take on discriminatory issues from a comprehensive point of view, since focusing only on some of its manifestations are also racist actions or practices, he considered. “To unlearn racism, education in schools, messages in the media and the forms of socialization that we learn in the family are central to its elimination as long as they are accompanied by legal provisions that punish these behaviors,” he noted.
The coordinator of Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination of the General Directorate of Human Rights and Democracy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Elvira García Aguayo, highlighted the progress at the international level with the adoption of agreements such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the CIRDI. In this sense, she encouraged everyone to learn more about the System of Monitoring and Attention to International Recommendations on Human Rights, which can be found on the Internet under the acronym SERIDH.
Akosua Ali, President of the Washington, DC chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People known by its acronym in English NAACP was unable to attend the event in person for health reasons, so her intervention was through a video. The activist referred to the history of slavery in Mexico, a country that during the 16th century had more enslaved Africans than any other colony in the Western Hemisphere. “We need to start having these difficult conversations to heal past trauma and move forward together to ensure our communities are safe, healthy, and whole,” she said.
Berenice Vargas, Deputy Director of Planning of the Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination of Mexico City, considered that community work is important to combat and eliminate racist and discriminatory practices, for which coordination between state institutions and civil society organizations is necessary. She also stressed that the actions within the framework of this effort must take into account the perspectives of gender, interculturality, multiculturalism, human rights, and intersectionality.
The Deputy Director of Territorial Liaison of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED), Jean Philibert Mobwa, provided an overview of the recognition of racism and racial discrimination at the constitutional level in Mexico and the rest of the countries of the Americas. “The denial or elimination of the term race in national provisions does not solve the problem of racial discrimination and racism. And be careful, here the general principle of law works according to which ‘what is not prohibited is allowed‘”, he explained.
In the second panel, entitled “Towards the construction of an anti-racist agenda in Mexico”, María Celeste Sánchez, Alternate Senator for Mexico City, Fátima Gamboa, general director of EQUIS: Justice for Women AC; José Antonio Aguilar, founder and director of Racismo MX; Sagrario Cruz, professor and researcher at the Universidad Veracruzana; and Conrado Zepeda, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Mexico, intervened.
The Alternate Senator for Mexico City, María Celeste Sánchez, recognized the role that civil society organizations must play in building an anti-racist agenda in the country, with representation from all population groups and geographic areas. In addition, she confirmed that the Senate has a draft decree initiative since December 2020 requesting to reform and add various provisions of the federal criminal code to criminalize racial hatred based on the CIRDI. It is expected that once the Senate is reinstated in September and with the promotion of an “anti-racist agenda” progress will be made on this and many issues of interest to ethnic communities in Mexico.
The general director of EQUIS: Justice for Women, Fátima Gamboa, contributed to the debate some questions for the construction of an anti-racist agenda, among them: the role of the organizations that promote projects, which—she said—must be more horizontal, accompanying and strengthening, as well as having ethics in the use of voice and representation of people, organizations and key actors for its construction that outlines anti-racial structural transformations with a gender perspective.
Sagrario Cruz, professor and researcher at the Universidad Veracruzana, presented a series of proposals to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in the country, targeting sectors such as education, health, and census. Regarding the latter, she expressed that it is very necessary to update the National Survey on Discrimination (ENADIS) with disaggregated data.
José Antonio Aguilar, Founder and Director of Racismo MX, highlighted the importance of this project, which he identified as a first space to establish an anti-racist agenda in Mexico. “We have a country where more than 80% of the population, according to the 2017 ENADIS, has dark skin tones regardless of identity, so that means that there is a majority population in Mexico that is vulnerable to acts of racist discrimination,” he shared.
Conrado Zepeda, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Mexico, referred to the problem of racism and racial discrimination from the perspective of human mobility and intersectionality. “All migrants and refugees are not treated in the same way by government agents, by social organizations and by people in general. It is not the same to be a male, white, young, heterosexual, and European migrant or refugee, than to be a female, indigenous or black, elderly, lesbian migrant or refugee from a poor country,” he stated.
About the project
Miguel Ángel Alanis, a consultant for Race and Equality in Mexico, pointed out that this project “is part of a comprehensive strategy focused on Mexico whose objective is to empower civil society organizations to strengthen their fight against the structural racism and racial discrimination they face on a daily basis, based on an anti-racist agenda that directs their actions towards a more equitable world.”
A key focus of this project is the promotion of the effective implementation of regional and international human rights and anti-racism and racial discrimination tools and conventions. “With the signing of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI) by the Mexican State on November 19, 2019, the need emerges to redouble efforts to promote the contents and scope established in the Convention between public and academic institutions and the counterparts that pay to build an anti-racist agenda in the country,” explained Alanis.
In Mexico, according to the 2020 Population and Housing Census, 2,576,213 people identify themselves as Afro-descendants and 7,364,645 speak an indigenous language. Despite advances in the recognition of rights and the inclusion of statistical information, structural barriers continue to exist that make it impossible to exercise human rights and enjoy a life free of discrimination and racism.