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As National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15, more people are recognizing the growing population of Afro Latinos in the United States.

According to information in the report “Centering Black Latinidad: A profile of the U.S. Afro Latinx population and complex inequalities,” the number of Afro Latinos in the United States has developed at nearly twice the rate as the population of non-Black Latinos since the beginning of the century.

The report’s authors, from UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Institute, used data from the 2015–2019 American Community Survey (ACS) to evaluate the U.S. Afro Latinx population and look at how far this community has come in terms of education levels, employment, and homeownership.

Their research found that there was a 121% increase in self-identified Afro Latinos from the year 2000 through 2019. They determined that this is a group that tends to be younger than non-Black Latinos: Their average age is 21. And Afro Latinos tend to be able to garner higher education levels than non-Black Latinos, yet they also have higher poverty rates and lower homeownership rates.

The discord between high education levels and high poverty rates has a lot to do with the position Black Latinos find themselves in in the United States, according to Dr. Nancy López, a University of New Mexico professor of sociology who is one of the co-authors of the report.

Rarely viewed as a stereotypical Latino and not always seen as epitomizing U.S. Black culture, Afro Latinos stand apart from the two groups they form part of, so they don’t always see the benefits either community is given.

“It’s critical that we employ intersectionality or attention to the idea that race, gender, class, and ethnicity are all analytically distinct,” López told the AmNews. “I’m a Black Latina, a U.S.-born daughter of Dominican immigrants, and I have people in my family who are not Black, but they’re still Dominicans. So, if we want to practice solidarity, we have to understand that race––and I call it ‘street race’: If you are out in public, what race would you think others who don’t know you would assume you are, based on what you look like––is not the same as ethnicity, which is your cultural background, your genealogical heritage.

“The reason why paying attention to Afro Latinidad is important is because we are making visible any inequalities within our community that follow along racial lines that would obviously remain unseen if we assume that all Dominicans are the same race or all Puerto Ricans are the same race or all Mexicans are the same race.” 

Unique issues for Afro Latinos

There are some 2 million Afro Latinos in the United States. They have traditionally been merged with the estimated 58.9 million Latinos in the U.S. When Afro Latinos are not separated out and counted, their unique issues are not recognized.

When the concerns of Afro Latinos are subsumed under Latinos issues, the significance of their African heritage is denied. The racial hierarchies in Latin America that colonized indigenous people and enslaved Africans are integral parts of the traditions of white supremacy that many Latino migrants bring to the United States.

This is one reason there has been a push by U.S.-based Afro Latino organizations to counter a proposal to combine race and ethnicity on the U.S. Census. Black Latinos experience the same anti-Blackness that other people of African descent do. Women have been sexualized while at work or at school, individuals have suffered constant surveillance due to assumptions of criminality, and discrimination has led to mistreatment.

“Afro Latinos who were raised here, whether or not they were born abroad…we experience anti-Blackness from the minute we step into so many spaces,” said López. But history shows that Afro Latinos and African Americans have often formed communities of solidarity that help both groups face racial disparities. “We go to the same schools, we live in the same neighborhoods, obviously there’s going to be community building that way,” López said. “When we talk about Blackness and we don’t think about the cradle of Blackness, in the Caribbean and Latin America, then we are missing an opportunity to create linkages and create solidarity.”

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