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In the market in Silao, Mexico, the very geographic center of Mexico, ten miles south of the the city of Guanajuato in the State of Guanajuato, the semilleros (seed shops) sell black eyed peas (Vigna unguicalata) along with all the usual Mexican beans. They call them veronicas.

You can see them in the sack at the back.  When you ask the vendors how they cook them, they indicate that they “guisar” them, that is they put them in stews as they would habas or garbanzos.  They do not eat them alone and simply boiled as they would the huge variety of Mexican beans.  This makes sense because all three are Old World not New World legumes.  It’s a boon to me because my husband loves black-eyed peas and I can nip down and get a supply from time to time.

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But this leaves the bigger puzzle. To see black eyed peas in Mexico is, to put it mildly, odd.  You simply don’t run across blackeyed peas in markets in Central Mexico.

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But the hypothesis that I have to consider is that these are a legacy of the African heritage in Guanajuato.  As I’m sure all readers know, blackeyed peas have been closely associated with African cooking.

And in the sixteenth century–yes, that early–Guanajuato had a substantial African population that was described as hailing being Angolan, Congan, Biafran, Biafaran, Baran and Araran, that is from the River Niger basin and Angola.  They were mainly slaves though cross-marriage, particularly with indigenous, began almost immediately.

Guanajuato in the sixteenth century was an immigrant community with no large settled indigenous community.  Apart from Africans, it consisted of Spaniards, particularly Basques and Castellanos, migrant indigenous particularly nahuas, michoacanos, otomis, and chichimecas, Portuguese (possibly crypto jews), and French.

According to a document that appears to date from the 1580s, in the mining area of Guanajuato there were 400 Spanish, 500 horses, 800 slaves (presumably African) and 800 mules.

Silao was where the runaway slaves took refuge, seeking out broken country to the south of the town.

If there’s anything to this, it suggests that looking for traces of African foods in Mexico is going to be a case of looking for tiny little clues.

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