Caribbeans Urged to Write in Ancestry on US Census

Jennifer Kay, Washington Post, February 24, 2010

Identify yourself as being of “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin” on the 2010 U.S. Census questionnaire, and you will get to be more specific about your ancestry, such as Mexican-American, Cuban or Puerto Rican.

But check the box for “black, African-American or Negro” and there will be no place to show whether you trace your identity to the African continent, a Caribbean island or a pre-Civil War plantation.

Some Caribbean-American leaders are urging their communities to write their nationalities on the line under “some other race” on the forms arriving in mailboxes next month, along with checking the racial categories they feel identify them best.

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In another push tied to the 2010 Census, advocates are urging indigenous immigrants from Mexico and Central America to write in groups such as Maya, Nahua or Mixtec so the Census Bureau can tally them for the first time.

The campaign in the multiethnic Caribbean community reflects a tendency, born from multiple waves of migration, to establish identity first by country, then by race.

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About 2.4 percent of the U.S. population–more than 6.8 million people–identified on the 2000 Census as belonging to two or more races. A little less than 1 percent of the population–more than 1.8 million people–wrote in their West Indian ancestry.

And about 874,000 people–or 0.3 percent of the population–ticked boxes for Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders that year. If those islanders could get their own categories on the form, Caribbean-American leaders say, why not their communities?

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While most Caribbeans are expected to at least check the box for “black,” lumping them together with all African-Americans means corporations and politicians won’t see the political, economic and social issues specific to their immigrant communities, Persaud said. They also won’t see the size of those communities or get a sense of the diversity of experiences among Afro-Caribbean groups.

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Efforts to push the federal government to recognize specific communities have grown since the 1960s, when residents began filling out the forms on their own, said Ann Morning, a sociology professor at New York University.

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Now there’s more recognition of diversity within the black community, Morning said.

“For so long, black meant a particular kind of ethnic identity–a native-born descendent of slaves who had been in the South generations ago,” she said. “Now people are increasingly realizing there are other kinds of African descent.”

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