Last week, I noted that conceptions of race in Latin American are different from those commonly held in the U.S. Since then, I have received many comments both on Concurring Opinions and offline, and have listened to several programs and panels on the U.S. Census and Latinos. In this post, I want to explore why Latinos, even those who were raised in the U.S. or have lived here most of their adult lives continue to reject U.S. conceptions of race. After all, immigrants often adopt the norms of their new country after a relatively short period of time (a generation?) so why not adopt U.S. definitions of race?
Undoubtedly, one reason why Latinos reject U.S. definitions of race is prejudice against Blacks. Some Latinos deny their African ancestry because they hold negative views about African-Americans. This is illustrated in a public service video that seeks to encourage Latinos of African descent to identify as both Hispanic and Black on the 2010 Census. In this video, a Latina grandmother rejects her grandson’s friends because she erroneously assumes that they are African-American when, actually, they are Latinos of African ancestry.
Most Latinos are proud of their Spanish and indigenous ancestry, and some spend a lot of time tracing these roots. However, some Latinos rarely acknowledge their African ancestry and those that do often attempt to minimize it. Some Latinos say things like “En mi familia no hay negros (There are no Blacks in my family)” when they know that their grandmother or great-grandfather is of African descent. Latinos’ denial of their African ancestry impacts their ability to protect their civil rights. For example, as Professor Tanya Hernandez argued in a 2002 article, Puerto Ricans on the island rarely file race discrimination claims because doing so would require them to admit that they are Black.
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