Thursday, December 2, 2021

Puerto Rico Ponders Race Amid Surprising Census Results

The number of people in Puerto Rico who identified as “white” in the most recent census dropped by about 80%, sparking conversations about identity on an island that was moving away from a past where race was recognized was not tracked and was rarely publicly debated.

The steep decline shocked many, and theories abound as the US territory’s 3.3 million people began to grapple with racial identities.

“Puerto Ricans themselves are understanding that their whiteness comes with an asterisk,” said Yarimar Bonilla, a political anthropologist and director of the Puerto Rican Studies Center at Hunter College in New York. “They know they’re not white by American standards, but they’re not black by Puerto Rican standards.”

About 50% of those represented in the 2020 census – 1.6 million out of 3.29 million – identified with “two races or more”, a jump from 3% – or some 122,200 out of 3.72 million who did in the 2000 census. chose that option. Most of them selected “white and some other race”.

Meanwhile, more than 838, 000 people identified as “some other race alone”, a nearly 190% jump compared to some 289,900 people a decade earlier, although Bonilla said Census Bureau officials have yet to continue. Not sure which race they have chosen. Experts agree that the people probably spelled “Puerto Rican,” “Hispanic” or “Latino,” even though federal policy defines those categories as ethnicity, not race.

Among those who changed their reaction to the race was 45-year-old Tamara Teixidor, who in 2010 chose “Other” and this time chose to identify herself as “Aphrodescendent”. He said he made the decision after talking to his brother, who was a census worker, and told him that when he went from house to house he often had trouble with the question of caste.

Texidor began to think about his lineage and wanted to honor it since he was a descendant of slaves from his father’s side.

“I’m not going to select ‘Other,'” she recalled thinking while filling out the census. “I guess I’m something.”

Experts are still debating what led to the significant changes in the 2020 Census. Some believe that several factors are at play, including changes in wording and changes in Census Bureau procedures and code responses.

Bonilla also thinks that growing awareness of racial identity in Puerto Rico played a role, adding that “extra-deep racialization” over the past decade may have contributed. He and other anthropologists argue that anger stems from many over a failed federal response to a US region struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a crippling economic crisis.

“They have finally understood that they are treated like second-class citizens,” said Barbara Abadia-Rexach, a sociological anthropologist, of Puerto Ricans.

Another significant change in the 2020 census was that a little over 228,700 identified only as black or African American, a drop of nearly 50% compared to more than 461,000 who did so a decade earlier. The decline also occurred as grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico began campaigns to encourage people to embrace their African heritage and raise awareness of racial inequalities, although they said they were encouraged by the increase in the “two or more races” category. it was done.

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Bonilla said Puerto Rico currently has no reliable data to determine whether such disparities have occurred during the pandemic, noting that there is no racial data on coronavirus testing, hospitalizations or deaths.

Abadia-Rexach said the island’s government does not collect racial data on the population, which includes those who are homeless or in captivity.

“Denying the existence of racism makes many black people invisible, criminal and dehumanizing in Puerto Rico,” she said.

The lack of such data may be rooted in Puerto Rico’s history. From 1960 to 2000, the island conducted its own census and never asked about caste.

“We were all going to be mixed and all equal, and race was supposed to be an American thing,” Bonilla said.

Some argued at the time that Puerto Rico should keep track of racial data, while others saw it as a divisive move that would enforce or harden racial differences, a view widely adopted in France. which does not collect official data on race or ethnicity.

For Isar Godru, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, that type of data is important.

“Skin color is an important marker that makes people more or less vulnerable to racial discrimination,” she said.

The data helps people fight for racial justice and determines the allocation of resources, Godru said.

The major changes to the 2020 census – specifically how only 560,592 people identified as white versus 2.8 million in 2010 – comes amid growing interest in racial identity in Puerto Rico, where recent surveys about race prompted responses from “members”. humankind” to “normal” to “I get along with everyone.” Informally, people on the island use a wide range of words to describe the color of one’s skin, including “coffee with milk”. .

That interest is largely fueled by a younger generation: They’ve signed up for classes in bomba and plena — centuries-old, percussion-driven musical traditions — as well as how to make or wear headwraps. Workshops on

More hair salons are specializing in curly hair, avoiding the blow-dry results that have long dominated professional settings in the island. Some legislators have introduced a bill that cites the results of the 2020 census and, if approved, would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their hairstyle. Several US states already have similar laws.

As the debate continues over so many changes to the 2020 Census, Bonilla said an important question is what the 2030 Census results will look like. “Will we see an intensification of this pattern, or will 2020 be like a blip moment?”


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