There are 6 million Afro Latinos in the U.S. according
There are 6 million Afro Latinos in the U.S. according to the Pew Research Center. Freepik

The U.S. Census Bureau announced in March that the standard for collecting data on race and ethnicity will now use a single question for both categories in an effort to simplify and improve data on Latinos.

The decision was applauded by some in the Hispanic community, but Afro-Latino advocacy groups expressed concern. They had already claimed to be underrepresented in the statistics, but now they believe this policy will directly "erase" them.

That's how sources from those organizations explained it, as quoted in an El País article. While as per the latest census data, there are only 1.2 million afro latinos in the U.S., the Pew Research Center puts the number at 6 million.

Previously, Latinos had to answer two questions about their identity in federal surveys. They were asked if they were Hispanic or Latino, and then asked to select a race: White, Black, Native American, Asian, or "some other."

The new standard combines the two questions into one: "What is your race and/or ethnicity?" Respondents can then select from seven options, including Hispanic or Latino, Black, or White.

The problem, according to Afro-Latino advocates, is that while the question allows more than one box to be checked, checking only one box is considered a complete response, and many Latinos, regardless of race, will skip the other race-related boxes.

"When you put Latino/Hispanic in the same list with racial categories, that leads the Latino to think, 'Oh, those are the categories for English-speaking Americans. They don't mean me because my box is the Latino box,'" told El País Tanya Katerí Hernández, a Fordham University School of Law professor and researcher.

Afro Latina in the US
Afro Latinos represente about 10% of the total Latino population in the U.S. Freepik

When announcing the new method, the U.S. agency said the change aimed to solve another challenge. The results of the last census showed that most Hispanics did not mark their race as white, Black or Asian and instead Latinos tended to choose the "some other race" option or not answer the second question at all.

Specifically, 42% of the 62 million Latinos surveyed in 2020 chose the "some other race" category. In addition, the bureau justified the change by pointing out that several studies show that Latinos prefer to identify themselves simply by their ethnicity, not their race.

The Latino Policy & Politics Institute of UCLA defines 'Afro-Latinxs' as individuals who identify both with Hispanic or Latino ethnicity and with Black race in any combination, either alone or with one or more additional races.

Nancy López, a professor at the University of New Mexico and a collaborator with the Afro Latino Forum and the Afro Latino Coalition, explains that while race has to do with a person's appearance, with physical characteristics such as skin color and hair texture, ethnicity has to do with the cultural heritage of their countries.

"It's not true that people don't know their race," she told El País. The explanation for many Latinos surveyed selecting the "other race" box, she added, is that the bureau has not properly explained the difference to them.

The 'Latino/Hispanic Is Not A Race' campaign raised concerns about how the bureau is now planning to register race and ethnicity in just one question. "This latest effort ensures that Latinos are effectively deracinated and may cause Afro-Latinos to be erased," the organizations that make up the campaign said in a statement from late March.

"By listing Latino ethnicity as co-equal with racial categories, Latinos are inaccurately portrayed as a population without racial differences despite all the research showing how Black Latinos are treated differently from other Latinos."

"Separating ethnicity from race is essential for making visible the actual and intersectional racial disparities that exist within a racially diverse ethnic group like Latinos in access to important public goods such as access to education, employment, housing, medical services, etc. Without it, systemic racism, especially when discussing Latino populations, is rendered invisible," the document added.

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