Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Behind Afro-Mexicans’ Historic Effort to Be Counted

A black activist reflects on a history-making question on Mexico's next census.
Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on migration

It was a long fight. But Afro-Mexicans won the right to claim their heritage, and be counted as part of Mexico’s population, Mónica Moreno Figueroa, co-founder of the Collective to Eliminate Racism in Mexico (COPERA) spoke to AQ about their quest, and the significance of this victory.

Americas Quarterly: For the first time, Mexicans had the opportunity to self-identify as Afro-Mexican, Afro-descendant or black in Mexico’s 2020 census conducted in March and April. How did this occur?

Mónica Moreno Figueroa: It’s the result of a 20-year, bottom-up movement of different organizations campaigning to make the Afro-Mexican community visible. The movement has already resulted in the formal recognition of the term “Afro-Mexican,” which was added to the constitution in 2019. In an intercensal survey in 2015, 1.4 million people self-identified as Afro-Mexican, Afro-descendent, or black, representing 1.2% of the total population. Since then, COPERA has been advocating for census inclusion and also launched a national campaign, AfroCenso.MX, to raise awareness around participation. When the results come out, I expect the number of people that self-identify to be greater than in 2015.

AQ: Why is it important that Afro-Mexicans self-identify on the census?

MMF: The census will, hopefully, allow the Afro-Mexican community to recapture their identity with pride. It also has enormous policy implications. Obtaining data on where and in what conditions black people live in Mexico opens the window for creating policies that benefit the black population, especially at the municipal and regional levels. Indigenous populations, for example, have been identified on the census since 2001, and policies have, in turn, been tailored to the indigenous populations’ specific needs. 

AQ: As an activist with COPERA, you have been campaigning to make racism public in Mexico. What are some of the unique challenges that Afro-Mexicans face?

MMF: Black identity in Mexico lacks recognition. Issues of race, racism and slavery, and the history of people of African heritage, are not prioritized in Mexican schools. There is confusion and even sometimes denial of the existence of Afro-Mexicans and where they live.

Rauls is editorial intern at AQ

Tags: Afro-Latinos, Census, democracy, demographics
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