Things That Matter

How Afromexicanos Fought For Their Place on the 2020 Mexico Census and Why It Took So Long

Photo via SusanaHarp/Twitter

Black history month is the time of year that we shine a spotlight on the rich and unique history of people of African descent in the United States–a past that has consistently been downplayed, ignored, and in some cases, erased from our history books.

At this point, it’s evident that the Black experience is not a monolith–there is no “one way” to be Black. And yet, many people still struggle to comprehend the fact that Afro-Latinos exist.

When you hear the term Afro-Latino, you might immediately think of a few Caribbean Spanish-speaking nations with explicit ties to the African diaspora–Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, for example.

But the fact is, Black people are everywhere in Latinidad. But Afro-Latinos in non-Caribbean countries often feel overlooked, erased. And this phenomenon is especially true for afromexicanos.

In 2020, after years of fighting, Afro-Mexicans finally got recognition on the Mexican census.

The question was simple, but powerful: “Por sus costumbres y tradiciones, ¿se considera usted afromexicano, negro o afrodescendiente?” (“Based on your culture and traditions, do you consider yourself Afro-Mexican, black or Afro-descendant?”)

For Americans, especially, it can be hard to understand why the question wasn’t on the census in the first place. After all, Americans live in a country where identities are divided into strict categories: Black, white. Hispanic, non-Hispanic.

But for Mexicans, the concept of race and ethnicity is a bit more complicated. To critics, separating people into Black, white, and Indiegnous categories on the census seemed divisive. Many Mexicans identify as mestizaje–a combination of indigenous, European, and, to some extent, African roots.

But for the organizers of the #AfroCensoMx campaign–a campaign to add the negro/afromexicano to the census–the movement was more than just identity politics.

Self-identifying as Black on the Mexican census is, of course, a little bit about pride in one’s identity, but it also has more practical concerns.

The census numbers who also inform organizations about socio-economic patterns associated with being Black in Mexico–information that is invaluable. Because as of now, afromexicanos have unique experiences that are informed by their heritage, their culture, and their place in the Mexican stratum.

As Bobby Vaughn, an African-American anthropologist who specializes in Black Mexicans, put it bluntly: “Mexicans of African descent have no voice and the government makes no attempt to assess their needs, no effort to even count them.”

But for afromexicano activists, being identified as such on the Mexican census is empowering.

Lumping all Mexicans together and ignoring their (sometimes very obvious) differences can have the effect of making certain groups feel erased. Yes, Black Mexicans are simply Mexicans–that fact is not up for debate. But stories abound of afromexicanos being discriminated against because of the way they look.

An Afro-Mexican engineer named Bulmaro García from Costa Chica (a region with a significant Black population) explained to The Guardian how he is grilled by border guards and asked to sing the Mexican national anthem whenever he crosses into Guerrero.

He says the guards’ behavior is “classic discrimination due to skin color. [They think] if you’re black, you’re not Mexican.”

The differences exist, and by acknowledging it, we are more able to speak truth to power.

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Things That Matter

Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Ritchie Torres Makes History As First Gay Afro-Latino Elected To Congress

Things That Matter

Ritchie Torres Makes History As First Gay Afro-Latino Elected To Congress

Noam Galai / Getty Images

The 2020 election is far from over for the presidency. However, in the meantime, there have been some historic firsts in American politics. One of these firsts is Ritchie Torres, the first gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress.

Ritchie Torres made history as the first openly gay, Afro-Latino to be elected to Congress.

Torres won his race against Republican Patrick Delices by 77 points with 88 percent of the vote reported. Torres will represent the 15th district of New York, which includes the southern Bronx. Torres, who was a New York City Council member, is taking Rep. Jose Serrano’s seat. Rep. Serrano is retiring after 30 years.

Torres was eager to see a Blue Wave leading up to the election.

Torres has hopes of being part of a government where Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House. Torres told CNN that have that majority would be a chance for Democrats to boldly lead the U.S. into the 21st century.

“That to me is self-determination,” Torres told CNN. “That is decolonization. That is democracy.”

His election to Congress is an important part of the continued steps of representation in politics.

Torres has been making history in politics because of his sexual orientation. At 25, Torres became the first openly gay person to win a seat on the city council. Torres had to defeat a crowded primary race to get to the general election. This includes running against Democrat Ruben Diaz Sr. Diaz Sr, another city council member, is a Democrat who supports President Trump and has expressed anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality views.

New York doubled down on their history last night by also electing Mondaire Jones to the House of Representatives.

Jones understands the importance of his victory in national politics. Jones and Torres made history by breaking a barrier that has held steadfast for centuries. The two Congressmen-elects show that gay people of color can have a seat at the table in national politics.

“There’s never been an openly gay Black member of Congress in the 244-year history of the United States, and it was only in the past few years that I began to think that it was possible,” Jones said on The Mother Jones Podcast.

Congratulations on your victories!

READ: Ritchie Torres Is Poised To Become The First Out Gay Afro-Latino In Congress After Primary Win

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