Why counting AfroLatin@s matters

On April 5, Esperanza United hosted a discussion about recognizing the importance of race in our community, “Why Counting AfroLatin@s Matters,” convening community leaders and academics who have dedicated their activism, careers and research to racial justice and the inclusion of Blackness in the Latin@ community.

As a national Latin@ organization working to end gender-based violence, we are committed to creating safe spaces for these important conversations. Our Director of Training and Technical Assistance Paula Gomez Stordy and the founder of Encuentro Diaspora Afro Yvette Modestin kicked off the discussion by sharing, “We can’t talk about culture without talking about race. Latino is not a race.”

AfroLatina panelists discussed how culture and race are often lumped together and understood as one category in the United States. Combining the two has far-reaching effects for those at the intersection who experience discrimination based on how dark the pigment of their skin appears, on top of their ethnicity. The checkboxes they  regularly encounter don’t accurately represent them. As one panelist put it, “We live in a world where Blackness shows first. Latina does not show first.” The lack of intersectional counting of Afro-Latin@s results in an inaccurate and inequitable distribution of government and community organization resources.

Activists are mobilizing around this right now, because of a new proposed rule by the Office of Management and Budget. This rule would change federal standards for how race and ethnicity data is collected in the U.S. Census. Instead of separating these categories as distinct, this rule will lump them together in the same question. In Puerto Rico’s 2022 Census, Black identifying Puerto Ricans dropped by almost 80%. If we don’t act now, the undercounting of AfroLatin@s in the U.S. will probably worsen here too. 

Yvette Modestin, the moderator of the panel discussion and founder of Encuentro Diaspora Afro, observed this lack of visibility in her Afro-Latina Call to Action co-created with La Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diáspora and Esperanza United. In this report, she notes that the question of identity and feeling of not belonging anywhere is particularly problematic for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. She also discussed a time in her life when she served as a sexual assault advocate – after seeing the discrimination and the gaps that prevented Black women  from getting the help they needed, she changed direction and became an activist. Now she facilitates workshops where she asks Afro-Latin@s, “How do you identify?” and “How do you think others identify you?” This helps people understand whether whitewashing or internalized racism has altered their sense of identity.

Dr. James Jennings, an Afro-puertorican scholar  living in Boston shared, “We need more anthologies where Afro-Latinas can share what they’ve experienced in the Latina community about how the Latinx community has abandoned us.” 

Also joining the panel was Sandra Guzman, award-winning writer, previous editor of Latina magazine, and producer of Toni Morrison’s documentary The Pieces I Am, now on Netflix.

Participants affirmed this was such an important conversation for our Latin@ communities, sharing their gratitude for the space to have it. In her parting words, Paula- Gomez Stordy said, “Esperanza United is committed to amplifying the representation and voices of AfroLatin@s across our country and beyond. With the support of the Department of Health and Human Services, Afro-Latinidad will be an integral part of our upcoming work guided by Afro-Latina advocates, providers, and activists including  these panelists.. I am so happy to be able to be part of an organization that is leading the way on such important social justice issues. My heart is full.” 

Take action now about the undercounting of AfroLatin@s by leaving a comment or sending a letter to the Office of Management and Budget about their proposed rule. All messages must be received by April 27.