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Notions of race in modern-day Mexico addressed in lecture, exhibit

The complicated and nuanced issue of race in Mexico is often overlooked, but The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History hopes to spark an inclusive conversation.

The Stone Center is presenting a conversation with Christina Sue and Laura Lewis, two scholars with extensive knowledge of the issue of race in modern-day Mexico.

In addition to the talk, the Stone Center is also unveiling a new photo exhibit, “La Costa Chica,” by Wendy Phillips, a UNC alumna.

“Here at the Stone Center, we have a tradition of discussing these types of issues,” said Clarissa Goodlett, the Center’s program and public communications officer.

Goodlett said the Center chose to host this particular event as part of its ongoing exploration of the idea of diaspora and where people of African descent live today.

Christina Sue, assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and one of the authors speaking at the event, said she is looking forward to engaging in conversation with Laura Lewis, the other author that will be present.

“I hope we can both learn from each other, and I hope it will further our understanding of Mexico,” Sue said.

Sue said her book, “Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico,” discusses the ideas or race, racism and race mixing in modern day Mexico.

Sue said the book, which was inspired by what Sue observed doing field research in Veracruz, Mexico, focuses on the difference between the Mexican government’s attitude towards the issue of race versus the reality faced by mixed race people living in Mexico.

“What I’m really trying to do is complicate our understanding of race in Mexico,” Sue said.

Due to the government’s hush-hush attitude toward the issues of race and racism in Mexico, Sue said the topic remains relatively unexplored, without a significant amount of scholarly literature on the topic.

Wendy Phillips, whose exhibit features photos taken in Guerrero, Mexico, said she too feels like the Afromestizo community, the community of Mexicans of African descent, is misunderstood by many.

There are many stereotypes surrounding, in particular, the women of the Afromestizo community, and her work attempts to explore the reality of the lives of these women, Phillips said.

Phillips said she chose to use a Holga camera, which produces imperfect, blurry images, and opted for developing the pictures in a darkroom instead of taking the more digital approach because she wanted to give the photos a more authentic feel.

Laura Lewis, author of “Chocolate and Corn flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of ‘Black’ Mexico” and a professor at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said she similarly found inspiration from doing over a decade or field research in Guerrero.

Although the process was extensive, Lewis said she enjoyed getting to know the people in the village community she studied.

“It is as if I have a very large extended family in this community,” Lewis said.

According to Lewis, race in Mexico is viewed in a more historical and situational context.

“In order to understand racism, we have to understand how we think about race,” she said.

She said the issue of race and the way race is perceived in Mexico is important to understand because it differs from the perception of race in the U.S., where it is seen as a purely biological concept.

As far as what students will take away from her exhibit, Phillips said she hopes they will walk away with a better understanding of the Afromestizo culture.

“I hope people will leave having a better understanding of how different people live in a community,” Phillips said.

Sue said she hopes students come away from her talk thinking about the origins of racism and the various ways it exists in every type of society, while Goodlett said she hopes this event will raise awareness about this issue among UNC students.

“We hope, with everything we do, that we are opening up a dialogue,” Goodlett said.

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