Why This Census of US Afro-Latinos Is Groundbreaking

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When it comes to discussions on Blackness and Latinidad, Afro-Latinos typically find themselves shut out of both conversations. And while this is frustrating and unfair, it goes beyond that; it also means that our distinct experiences and needs are erased at every turn, including within politics. Two racial justice and political organizing groups are joining forces in an effort to change that.

Black Futures Lab and Mijente have partnered to launch the largest-ever Spanish-language census geared toward Afro-Latinos living in the United States. The goal is to count Afro-Latinos.

Black Futures Lab⁠ – a political action network focused on targeting the Black community and Black voters founded by Alicia Garza (who you may also know from her work with the Black Lives Matter⁠organization) – launched an English-language version of the survey back in February, called the “Black Census Project.” Its goal is to hear from at least 200,000 Black people about the political and socio-economic issues directly affecting their community. This summer, it partnered with Mijente⁠, the digital grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx political organizing co-founded by Marisa Franco, to make sure that the 1.2 million Afro-Latinos living in the United States are not once again excluded. This coalition guarantees that every voice in the Black community has an equal opportunity to be heard in the planning of their political future.

“Our fates as marginalized people are linked and across the Latin American diaspora runs the lineage of African descendance,” Franco said in a released statement. Garza agreed, “Too often, diverse voices within the Black community are silenced because of the pervasive misconception that Black people are a monolith. Not all Black people are African-American, and we have a duty to create spaces where no one has to check any part of their identity at the door.”

Black Futures Lab hopes that its grassroots census will help Black communities tap into their own political needs and power – on the local, state, and national level. The groups are searching for respondents across class, disability, gender, sexuality, geography, and immigration status. Taken collectively, this diverse group will create an untapped resource aimed at pinpointing policy changes for elected officials and legislators.

Census surveys have traditionally been an important political tactic and a form of advocacy for Black and brown communities. Civil rights organizations often use these opportunities to call for more proficient government spending and the redistribution of assets to better serve those who are otherwise forgotten. During the last federally mandated Census, completed in 2010, Miriam Jiménez Román, Executive Director of the afrolatin@ forum⁠, mounted a bilingual public awareness campaign asking Afro-Latinos to “check both” (meaning, check “Black” as well as “Hispanic/Latino”) on their census forms. At the time, Jiménez Román wrote in NACLA⁠ that she hoped the drive would “provoke a reconsideration of established ideas about Blackness and Latinidad as being mutually exclusive.”

A community census, such as the one currently Black Future Labs and Mijente is conducting, does not have the same goals as a federally mandated one. Whereas the US Census largely only accounts for population growth and demographic changes, the Black Census Project is also taking into account opinions and viewpoints on social issues. Still, there’s a legacy tying this project to Jiménez Román’s work. Franco notes that in order to do its best, Latino organizing centers, like Mijente, “need to understand much more about what realities and issues Afro-Latinx communities see as most pressing to their own lives.”

That’s why Mijente Digital Director Amanda Chavez Barnes emphasizes that it’s vital to have the Black Census Project available in Spanish. “Language is key to accessibility,” she tells me. “Spanish-dominant people are online like everyone else, and if the content is not available in their language, they won’t be able to engage with it as fully.” It also serves as a symbolic welcome. Even for those “who might be more comfortable completing the survey in English. Seeing the Spanish version lets them know that this is for Afro-Latinxs, too.”

Black Futures Lab ensures it will not share any personal information from its respondents. The Census Project will make note of trends and patterns gleaned from these surveys to see what is currently happening on the ground level in Black communities. This data will be made publicly known, not only with survey participants, but also Black-lead community organizations, elected officials, and legislators. They want to increase community engagement and mobilization, as well as crafting political policy and alternative community-based policy models. Black Futures Lab and Mijente envision a future where Black voters, including Afro-Latino voters, are valued every single day, not just during an election cycle.

The Black Census Project can be accessed online in Spanish or in English Both versions of the survey have questions specific to Afro-Latino concerns and needs.