Puerto rico government

Puerto Rico reflects on race amid surprising census results

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – The number of people in Puerto Rico who identified themselves as ‘white’ in the last census has dropped nearly 80%, sparking a conversation about identity on an island breaking away from a past where the race was not followed and seldom debated in public.

The drastic drop has surprised many, and theories abound as America’s 3.3 million people begin to consider racial identity.

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

Almost 50% of the people represented in the 2020 census – 1.6 million out of 3.29 million – identified with “two or more races”, a jump of 3% – or some 122,200 out of 3.72 million – who have chose this option in the 2010 census. Most of them chose “white people and another race”.

Meanwhile, more than 838,000 people have been identified as “another race alone,” a jump of almost 190% from some 289,900 people a decade ago, although Bonilla said officials of the Census Bureau had not yet released the breeds they had chosen. Experts believe people probably wrote “Puerto Rican,” “Hispanic,” or “Latin American,” even though federal policy defines these categories as ethnicity and not race.

Among those who changed their response to the breed, 45-year-old Tamara Texidor chose “other” in 2010 and this time chose to identify as “Afro-descendant”. She said she made the decision after talking to her brother, who was a census taker, and told him that the people he met when he went from house to house often had problems with the race question. .

Texidor began to reflect on her ancestry and wanted to honor her since she was descended from slaves on her father’s side.

“I’m not going to select ‘other’,” she recalls thinking as she filled out the census. “I feel like I am something.”

Experts are still debating what triggered the significant changes in the 2020 census. Some believe several factors are at play, including wording changes and a change in how the Census Bureau processes and codes responses.

Bonilla also believes that a growing awareness of racial identity in Puerto Rico has played a role, claiming that “extra intense racization” over the past decade may have contributed to it. She and other anthropologists argue that the change arose out of anger over what many see as a botched federal response to a US territory struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a crippling economic crisis.

“They have finally understood that they are being treated like second-class citizens,” said Bárbara Abadía-Rexach, a socio-cultural anthropologist, of Puerto Ricans.

Another critical change in the 2020 census was that only just over 228,700 were identified as uniquely Black or African American, a drop of almost 50% from the more than 461,000 who did so ago. ten years. The decline came even as grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico launched campaigns to urge people to embrace their African heritage and raised awareness of racial disparities, though they said they were encouraged by the increase in category “two or more breeds”.

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

The island’s government also does not collect racial data on populations, including those who are homeless or incarcerated, added Abadía-Rexach.

“Denial of the existence of racism renders invisible, criminalizes and dehumanizes many blacks in Puerto Rico,” she said.

The absence of such data could be rooted in Puerto Rican history. From 1960 to 2000, the island conducted its own census and never asked questions about the breed.

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

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

For Isar Godreau, anthropologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, this type of data is crucial.

“Skin color is an important marker that makes people vulnerable to varying degrees of racial discrimination,” she said.

Data helps people fight for racial justice and determines the allocation of resources, Godreau said.

The major change in the 2020 census – particularly how only 560,592 people identified as white compared to over 2.8 million in 2010 – comes amid growing interest in racial identity in Puerto Rico, where even surveys Recent reports on race have elicited responses ranging from “members of the human race” to “normal” to “I get along with everyone.” Informally, islanders use a wide range of words to describe the color of a person’s skin, especially “café au lait”.

Much of this interest is fueled by a younger generation: they enrolled in bomba and plena classes – century-old musical traditions fueled by percussion – as well as workshops on making or wearing headgear. .

More and more hairdressers are specializing in curly hair, eschewing the blow-dry results that have long dominated professional circles on the island. Some lawmakers have submitted a bill that cites the 2020 census results and which, 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 what triggered so many changes in the 2020 census, Bonilla said an important question was what the 2030 census results will look like. “Will we see this pattern intensify?” , or will 2020 have been some kind of pivotal moment? “

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