Breanna Reeves | Photos: Aryana Noroozi
Upon entering the newly unveiled Afróntalo exhibit at California State University, San Bernardino’s (CSUSB) Anthropology Museum, visitors are met with a 10-foot tapestry designed and made by CSUSB student Alessandro Corsaro.
“One in four Latin Americans has African ancestry…,” is woven into the center of the tapestry, surrounded by the continents of North America, South America and Africa.
Corsaro used traditional quilt fabric from each continent to stitch the regions into the tapestry — a visual representation of “stitching the community together,” Corsaro said.
Corsaro also helped design the entire Afróntalo exhibit which presents a historical and cultural examination of Mexico’s Afrodescendant population through art, books, food, music, dance and geography.
The exhibit also features a large and vibrant two-story mural, painted by muralist Julio “Honter” Antuna Lopez, that can be seen throughout the exhibition.
Under the leadership of the Anthropology Museum Director Ariana Huhn, the exhibit is the culmination of more than two years of work inspired by the Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad Program 2021 “Exploring African Heritage in Mexico,” hosted by Comisión México Estados Unidos para el Intercambio Educativo y Cultural (COMEXUS). Over the last two years or so, the Anthropology Museum has hosted a variety of events in anticipation of the exhibit’s opening including a bilingual teaching symposium and a two-day celebration of Oaxaca’s Afrodescendant heritage.
During the exhibit’s opening reception on Sept. 21, CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales congratulated Huhn and recognized the significance and importance of the exhibit.
“I was born in Puerto Rico. I’m proud to claim my Afrodescendant background. Hispanic Heritage Month is definitely one such occasion where we celebrate diversity here at Cal State San Bernardino in all of its manifestations. The exhibit is part of our programming for this year’s celebration,” Morales said.
“It provides access to diversity which exists within the U.S. Hispanic heritage as well as in the global Hispanic community because AfroLatino culture, history and experience are a vibrant part of the Hispanic world, in part which is frequently overlooked.”
The Afróntalo exhibition was curated by representatives of four Afrodescendant communities in Mexico who partnered with the Anthropology Museum — Tamiahua in Veracruz, curated by Doris Careaga-Coleman; Coyolillo in Veracruz, curated by Daniela Carreto López; the Negros Mascogos of Coahuila, curated by Karla Rivera Tellez; and the Costa Chica region of Oaxaca and Guerrero, curated by Sergio Navarrete Pellicer.
The opening reception of Afróntalo celebrated the partnership between the Anthropology Museum, COMEXUS and all four partner Afrodescendant Mexican communities featured in the exhibit. A representative from the Mexican Consulate presented certificates to Huhn and lead curators in recognition of their collaborative work on the exhibit. Traditional dances by dance group Afrobalele and rap presentations were performed by members of Casa Coyolillo, a cultural center in Coyolillo, in the state of Veracruz in Mexico.
“Today we gather to celebrate a remarkable journey into rich histories, heritage and identities of Afrodescendant communities in Mexico. This exhibition is a culmination of tireless efforts, collaboration and dedication, and I am honored to stand before you as we embark on this enlightening exploration,” said Hazel Blackmore, executive director of COMEXUS.
“This exhibition is exceptional because of the way it was curated. Representatives from each of these communities chosen for their leadership and community development work have taken a leading role in crafting the context of this exhibition.”
Haeley Young, 22, recently graduated from California State University, San Bernardino as an Anthropology major. Young initially assisted with research on the Afróntalo exhibit during the planning phases two years ago. Young explained how difficult it was to find information on Mexico’s Afrodescendant populations because there was limited information available or a lot of the information available was in Spanish.
The exhibit presented original portraits of 21 Afrolatine Californians who shared written accounts of their experiences and struggles growing up in a society that didn’t recognize that Afrodescendents exist across the Latin diaspora. Young explained that she is someone who doesn’t feel completely part of the Black community nor does she feel closely connected with her Spanish heritage. Young said she’s “in between both worlds.”
Young isn’t alone in her sentiments. Many of the individuals featured in the portraits of the Afróntalo exhibit expressed similar feelings. One portrait featured an individual named Reggie, a community organizer fighting for social and economic justice in Black communities.
“As a kid I was always feeling like everyone was looking at me. Like, you’re dancing cumbia and you’re Black!? How can you be Black and speak Spanish? And I really experienced imposter syndrome and an identity crisis,” read a blurb under Reggie’s portrait. Reggie gives a first-person account of his experiences as someone who identifies as AfroSalvadoran.
Afróntalo is an educational and eye-opening exhibit that tells the intricate histories of Afrodescendant communities in Mexico and beyond. For the first time in 2020, Mexico’s census counted its AfroMexican population of 2.5 million. In the U.S., there were about six million AfroLatinx adults in the U.S. in 2020, and they made up about 2% of the U.S. adult population and 12% of the adult Latino population.
The museum is located on the third floor of the university’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences building, in room 306. The exhibition will run the full 2023-24 academic year, and is scheduled to close on June 19, 2024.