Hispanic Heritage Month & Black Resistance

Black resistance is central to the Black experience in the United States and throughout the African diaspora. According to Herbert Aptheker, Black resistance took up eight different forms, including purchasing one’s freedom, flight to maroon communities, enlisting in the armed forces of colonial powers and the United States, and revolt or rebellion.

The history of Black resistance can be found throughout American History. Because that history triggers white guilt, there is an active campaign to prevent this history from being taught in the classroom. However, the dawn of Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder that you cannot escape Black history, no matter how hard you try.

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15. It’s a celebration and recognition of the culture, history, and influence of the Latino community in the United States. Celebrations and recognition of Hispanic heritage can often center on the Eurocentric aspects of Latino history and culture. But Latinidad is not solely European; it is also Indigenous and African.

The Afrocentric aspects of the Hispanic heritage are found in rituals, food, music, and dance. Those are typically “safe” opportunities for celebration in public schools; assemblies for students and potluck lunches for faculty and staff where any labor involved is expected to be completed by Latinos, but I digress.

But this month should be used as an opportunity for educators to teach Black resistance outside restrictive curricular conventions as a result of “anti-woke” public policy. Hispanic Heritage Month is a chance for students to learn the rich history of Afro-Latinidad resisters throughout the Americas. For Black and Latino students specifically, it’s an opportunity for them to see a connectedness between one another through the lens of Black resistance, as well as by learning the African origins of the Western world. 

It is an opportunity to learn a story like that of La Virreina Juana of Cartagena.

According to Jane Landers, Juana was likely of Ewe-Fon culture, which is linked to the Kingdom of Dahomey. Enslaved in Cartagena of New Granada (Columbia), Juana along with her husband and her two sons escaped. After months in the forests of Columbia, they took refuge in the Palenque, or maroon community, of Matudere, where she would become leader for two decades.

Matudere was one of many maroons in Columbia ruled by women. Another was formed in San Basilio, the first free Black settlement of Columbia.

Juana called herself Virreina or royal leader to show the Spanish that she, a woman of African descent, was in charge. For twenty years, she successfully defended the Palenque from attacks from the Spanish. However, she was eventually captured and re-enslaved thanks to a military raid of Marudere by the Spanish. According to Landers, what inspired the Spanish was an alleged plot of Marudere and other African peoples against the Spanish.

Juana’s African military force castrating Spanish officers and sending a pair of testicles to the governor, also inspired the Spanish into action.

This month is also an opportunity in the life of folks like Francisco Menéndez.

The West African-born Menéndez was of the Mandinga or Mandinka people; found in Mali, Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea. According to Landers, Menéndez arrived in the Carolinas anytime between 1709 and 1711. In April of 1715, Menéndez escaped his captor and joined the Yamasee in their war against the British, seeing they had a common enemy. However, he and the Yamasee both sought refuge in Spanish Florida due to the arrival of British reinforcements.

Menéndez, thinking he’d be free in Spanish Florida as a result of their edict freeing any Africans fleeing British plantations, was betrayed by the Yamasee, re-enslaved, and sold to Spanish political officials.  

Years later, he was granted his freedom by Governor Manuel de Montiano and was given land that would become Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose. The fort, established in 1738, was the first free Black settlement in the United States. According to Landers, Menéndez and the militia defended the fort from British, pirate, and Indigenous attacks over the next 25 years; including an attack by the Georgia governor James Oglethorpe.

Today, Fort Mose is a historical state park in Florida—where Florida residents can visit to learn the rich history of the resistance of Menéndez and the people of the fort.

Learning the stories of these ancestors and the circumstances surrounding their resistance offers a window into the rich tradition of African warriors they descend from, as well as providing grounds for students to both explore rationales for resistance against power structures and wrestle with whether such rationales apply anywhere in our modern world.

If we are willing to celebrate the triumphs of the human spirit, we mustn’t be afraid to explore the times that try the human spirit. Hispanic Heritage Month should prompt us to explore Black resistance.


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