Neighbors emerging from census shadows in US, Mexico

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The United States government tracks census figures every 10 years. According to the US Census Bureau’s population clock in August 2019, the estimated population was 329.4 million.

Of that count, 47.8 million were African Americans, which represents 14.6 percent of the total US population, the second largest minority population following Latino Americans.


Glancing back over 500 years


Between 1500 and 1820, 12.5 million African men, women, and children were taken from Africa and sold to various slave trades around the world. About 410,000 were brought to the US, mostly landing in ports in Charleston, SC; Baltimore, and other parts of Maryland; 

Virginia, and New Orleans. The first U.S. Census in 1790 accounted for 757,208 African Americans, 92 percent of which were slaves. The 1860 census counted 4,441,830 African Americans, 89 percent of that number were slaves. This was the last census during slavery.


By 1900 the Black population was 8 million, and then rose rapidly over the next century to the current figure, which exceeds 47 million. It should be noted that the figure includes the sum total of “Black” people, which combines Black Americans and biracial stocks, blending Black and Black ethnic classifications such as “Black Mexican.”


It will be interesting how certain multi-racial groups in America, such as Black Mexicans, otherwise known as Afro Mexicans or Blaxicans in Mexico and California, respectively, classify themselves in the US Census based on what is transpiring in Mexico where people of African extract who inter-married with Amerindians and Spaniards through the timeline are now being usherd from the outer fringes of obscurity into the mainstream in the national census in Mexico for the first time in the nation’s history.


Mexico is including 1.38 million Afro Mexicans in the National Census, a seminal inclusion for the first time in the nation’s history. African slaves were exported to colonial Mexico in the 15th century by Spanish slave traders. Courtesy INEGI, a certain degree of pride has blossomed as a result here in the US.


Previously, this group in the US was classified solely as “Black” based on skin complexion as a determiner, which was always inaccurate based on the “one drop rule.” The only precise determiner is the human gene pool, as the predominant genetic cellular structure determines the race – not skin color. In spite of that, however, biracial people are free to check any ethnic box desired on the census form, which could contribute to more of one ethnic group and less of another, and which could have a bearing in both the US and Mexico.


But, over the past several years, this community has reshaped how it perceives itself and how others perceive it, stubbornly refusing to be lumped into a racial category due to skin tone. For the first time ever, people of African descent living in Mexico are able to identify themselves simply as Mexican or Black in the census. Some Mexican scholars believe due to the infusion of the three major ethnic groups during colonial times – the national blend infuses a single race; Mexican, without need for hyphenated differentian. After all, they speak Spanish, share Spanish culture, and have lived in Mexico their entire lives.


Still “Undocumented” quandary

With the exception of some infusion of African culture in their food, clothing, and music, these long overshadowed peoples are as much Mexican as the multi-generational offspring of 15th century Spanish slaveowners, infused in Mexico the same way European immigrants infused into America more than 300 years ago.


Afro Mexicans face an entirely new world now that they have been ushered into the mainstream of society with a right to racial equality and opportunity offered to all Mexican citizens.


Today in the US, many seasonal farmworkers here are Afro Mexicans whose children born here are US citizens and eligible to be included in the census, but may remain in an undercount because many of the parents are undocumented and will in all likelihood avoid any participation census on behalf of their children to avoid threatened deportation by the Trump Administration.


If they were to participate, the question of how they would classify their children – Black American or Mexican, inspite of their skin color, presents a quandary.


The 2020 census forms present six categories in which people can identify their race: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, African American/Black, White, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Other.


“Other” may provide a solution to the “Black or Mexican” dilemma. According to the Census Bureau, “Overlap of race and Hispanic ethnicity is the main comparability issue.” For example, the Census Bureau includes in its rationale on the separation of races, Black Latinos/Hispanics in both the number of Blacks and in the number of Latinos/Hispanics.

Going by that rationale, the same would be true for Black Mexicans in the number of both Blacks and Mexicans.


The population survey released by Mexico’s Census Bureau, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) on Dec. 8, 2015, counted 1.38 million people of African heritage, representing 1.2 percent of the country’s population. Most live in three coastal locales, including Guerrero State, Veracruz, and La Costa Chica of Oaxaca, where they account for more than 7 percent of the population. INEGI has found overall, the population is poorer and less educated in these regions than the national average.


No longer “Invisible” people


Similar to their American counterparts, Mexico’s and Latin America’s Black population also have been the target of racism, something that some countries are starting to address with anti-discrimination laws and affirmative-action policies. The governments of these nations have committed to improving social conditions for Afro Mexican and Latino Americans as part of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in 2015.


The UN acknowledges there is still a long way to go for Afro Mexicans and Latin Americans to achieve equal status. Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, said he was “struck by the enormity of the task before us.”


Compared to other countries in Latin America, Mexico had a smaller influx of African slaves. Still, many thousands were brought forcibly to Colonial Mexico by the Spaniards to work in silver mines and sugar plantations.


After independence, this population became largely invisible. After emancipation, freed slaves didn’t fit into Mexico’s new national identity built on the idea of mestizaje, a social norm defined as the mixing between Spaniards and Amerindians, said Citlali Quecha, a researcher at National Autonomous University of Mexico who has studied the country’s Black community. Ultimately, African slaves integrated into the mestizaje, which contributes largely to the ethnic Mexican of 2020, truly an infusion of three races.


Afro Mexicans suffered and scraped out an existence on the fringe of society for generations because they were ignored by the Mexican mainstream, but Afro Mexican activists persevered and their cries for recognition are finally getting some traction. Their inclusion in the census as a population group represents a seminal first step. The “invisible” veil will no longer obscure them. Mexico’s Human Rights Commission has also vowed to fight discrimination forming policies to achieve that.

US Census economics and Apportionment

In the US, the census plays a dramatically different role, assuring the nation’s ethnic communities receive their share of federal government aid involving $675 billion per year in funding for schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and other vital programs.


Businesses use census data to decide where to build factories, offices, and stores, which in turn creates jobs. Developers use the census to build new housing and revitalize old neighborhoods. Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness, while residents use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life, and consumer advocacy.


Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that an apportionment of representatives among the states must be carried out every 10 years. Therefore, apportionment is the original legal purpose of the decennial census, as intended by the Founding Fathers of the United States.


Apportionment is the process of dividing the 435 memberships or seats, in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states, based on the state population counts that result from each census.


The apportionment results will be the first data published from the 2020 Census, and those results will determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years.


Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is publisher and editor of Compton Herald, and Charging BigHorn, the latter which will debut in September 2020. He is also author of the forthcoming book, “Black Mexico–Unearthing the Third Root” (Archway Books), historical non-fiction, which offers keen insight into the 16th century assimilation of African slaves into Colonial Mexico, from which much of this perspective is based.