MIAMI — Black people of Caribbean descent are being asked by their community’s leaders to write in their nationalities on the upcoming U.S. Census.
Those leaders wanted the Census Bureau to treat Caribbean immigrants and their children like Hispanics, who get to note whether they are descended from another country, like Mexico. But the Census form doesn’t allow that for black citizens and residents of Bahamian, Haitian or other Caribbean descent.
Some Caribbean-American leaders are urging their communities to write their nationalities on the line under “some other race” on the forms arriving in mailboxes next month, along with checking the racial categories they feel identify them best.
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It’s another step in the evolution of the Census, which has moved well beyond general categories like “black” and “white” to allow people to identify themselves as multi-racial, and, in some cases, by national origin.
The wording of the questions for race and ethnicity changes with almost every Census, making room for the people who say, “I don’t see how I fit in exactly,” Census Bureau director Robert Groves told reporters in December. “This will always keep changing in this country as it becomes more and more diverse.”
In another push tied to the 2010 Census, advocates are urging indigenous immigrants from Mexico and Central America to write in groups such as Maya, Nahua or Mixtec so the Census Bureau can tally them for the first time.
The campaign in the multiethnic Caribbean community reflects a tendency, born from multiple waves of migration, to establish identity first by country, then by race.
“We are completely undercounted because there isn’t an accurate way of self-identifying for people from the Caribbean,” said Felicia Persaud, chairwoman of CaribID 2010, a New York-based campaign to get a category on the census form for Caribbean-Americans or West Indians.
About 2.4 percent of the U.S. population — more than 6.8 million people — identified on the 2000 Census as belonging to two or more races. A little less than 1 percent of the population — more than 1.8 million people — wrote in their West Indian ancestry.
And about 874,000 people — or 0.3 percent of the population — ticked boxes for Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders that year. If those islanders could get their own categories on the form, Caribbean-American leaders say, why not their communities?
Their lobbying efforts led to a bill in Congress requiring a box to indicate Caribbean descent on the census form, but it did not pass.
Accurate counts in the once-a-decade survey ensure recognition from the federal government and the fair allocation of resources to state and local governments, advocates say.
While most Caribbeans are expected to at least check the box for “black,” lumping them together with all African-Americans means corporations and politicians won’t see the political, economic and social issues specific to their immigrant communities, Persaud said. They also won’t see the size of those communities or get a sense of the diversity of experiences among Afro-Caribbean groups.
Persaud plans to check the “some other race” category and write in her nationality, Guyanese. Her father is Asian Indian, and her mother is black and Asian Indian, but she doesn’t feel those categories reflect her blended Caribbean identity.
“We’ve always been able to say we’re a mix, and then you come to this country and you’re not sure where you’re fitting under, so I figured that we’re ‘other,'” Persaud said. “That’s how everybody feels.”