America loves to declare that it’s a melting pot, but it also loves to separate, identify, and categorize all the ingredients – you know for Census Bureau and reporting purposes. This attempt to categorize is especially troubling for Afro-Latinos who are seeking an accurate count of their numbers. NBC News reported that Latino advocates and educators are working with the U.S. Census Bureau to help make it easier for mixed-race Hispanics to report their background on the 2020 Census.
The Census Bureau reports that in the 2010 Census, 2.5 percent of the 54 million Hispanics in the U.S. also identified as black, but many say this is undercount. “I believe that what we’re hearing from the Afro-Latino community is that they do not believe that those numbers accurately illustrate the Afro-Latino community presence in the United States, and that’s the dialogue that we’re having,” said Nicholas Jones, chief of the Bureau’s Racial Statistics Branch.
The Bureau is currently deciding on changes in how it asks about race and ethnicity. In the 2010 Census, while over half of Hispanics identified themselves as white, 36 percent checked “some other race.” Since so many Latinos did not see themselves in traditional racial categories, the Bureau is considering offering a combined race/ethnicity question for the 2020 Census, offering “Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin” as an option.
Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, believes that the Bureau’s potential decision to make “Latino/Hispanic” a category would be problematic to say the least.
“Latino identity just does not match the standard American configuration,” Noguera said. “A disproportionate number of Latinos will identify as white even though they are not treated as white. It is aspirational; they know that “white” is considered the prestige box.”
With Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, Afro-Latinos are also concerned about their lack of representation within their community and feel that not only are their accomplishments ignored, but their actual existence as well.
Noguera said Afro-Latinos still face discrimination from other Hispanics. “It tends to be that darker Latinos are less likely to get the better jobs, the best positions. The only profession where Afro-Latinos are really visible is athletics, like boxing and baseball.”
Victoria Arzu, 26, is on a mission to improve the visibility of Afro-Latinos. She and her sister Sophia started Proyecto Más Color, a campaign seeking more depiction of Afro-Latinos on Spanish-language television. “The lack of knowledge of Afro-Latinos is due to our educational system, and to the media,” said Arzu, a law student in Atlanta. “I’ve been watching novellas since I was a little girl, and only rarely do you see someone who looks like me on those shows. I want to help change that.”
As America continues to define and redefine itself, the usual drawing of racial lines might prove to become difficult. Lines are blurring every day as races and cultures interact more with one another and begin to find common ground. What’s more important is that people’s existence is validated and they feel they are accurately seen and represented within various places in society.