For years, the Mexican government all but ignored its Afro-descended population, but in 2008, as part of an international conference, officials acknowledged “the need to include Afro-descendants in all sources of data.”
They didn’t do so in the 2010 Census, however, and it wasn’t until this year’s intercensus that an option was added for census respondents to choose to identify themselves as Afro-Mexican.
The option, which came 120 years after the country’s first governmental census and after decades of advocacy conducted by Afro-Mexican organizations, made Mexico the tenth country in Latin America to include an option for self-identifying as Afro-Latin within its census-taking activities.
Brazil was the first Latin American country to include the option, which was introduced in its 1950 Census.
The outcome of Mexico’s most recent intercensus, announced last week by INEGI, the country’s census bureau, was Mexico’s first official data set quantifying its population of Afro-Mexicans. INEGI reported that 1.4 million respondents–1.2 percent of the total population–identified as Afro-Mexican.
The actual number, however, is likely to be bigger, according to Sergio Peñaloza Pérez, an activist and current president of the group México Negro. In an interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Peñaloza pointed out that INEGI did not carry out any campaigns to talk about identity and self-recognition as Afro-Mexican. Peñaloza expects the actual Afro-Mexican population remains underreported because many Afro-Mexicans don’t use the term to describe themselves. One reason they avoid doing so, he explained to La Jornada, is because of the poor treatment they’ve received because of their skin color.
In addition to an initial baseline number of Afro-Mexicans, the intercensal data provide information about the education, health, and socioeconomic levels of Afro-Mexicans.
Not surprisingly, the news is depressing. According to the census data, only 8.9 percent of Afro-Mexicans over age 15 attend school, and just 53 percent of people aged 12 and over participate in “economic activities.”
“A gesture of inclusion?”
While the census data do give the government–and activists–a place to start with respect to advocating for more services and support for Afro-Mexican communities, Peñaloza signaled that he was not particularly pleased with what he viewed as a mostly tokenized gesture of inclusion on the part of INEGI and related government entities.
“We’re still at zero,” Peñaloza was quote as saying in La Jornada, “because we’re not recognized in the Constitution. Great ignorance remains around the subject.”
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