Despite an increase in data on the Latinx community over the past five decades, Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz said researchers had only recently begun to study the accumulation of Latinx demographics and their circulation in the media.
“These data help inform – some might say distort – how this population is viewed and apparently understood,” Rodríguez-Muñiz, assistant professor of sociology and Latin / Latin studies at Northwestern University, noted. “It influences self-identification, a sense of community, and enables and constrains diagnoses of the present and visions of the future.”
Rodríguez-Muñiz spoke last Friday during a virtual panel titled “Latinx Data: Historical Civil Rights Advocacy and Contemporary Intersectional Perspectives”. The panel – which was part of the Latinx Connect 2021 Conference and sponsored by Pitt’s Data and company year – focused on the development of Latinx data and how it can be used to understand the Latinx and Afro-Latinx populations. Lisa Ortiz, assistant professor of language, literacy and culture at Pitt, moderated the discussion.
Rodríguez-Muñiz said that although the public regularly consumes Latinx data through media such as newspaper articles, conferences, public service announcements, reports and political speeches, there is still much to learn and to understand about its historical origins, its political conditions and its social effects.
“Traditionally, and still primarily, academic researchers have used statistical data on Latinx populations as a source of analysis rather than a stand-alone object of study,” he said.
Rodríguez-Muñiz said he wanted to focus his presentation, “Data, Demographics and Fabricating Latin American National Civil Rights Advocacy ”on the Civil Rights Era in the United States. During this period, Latinx advocacy organizations and the decennial census developed more diverse Latinx data, according to Rodriguez-Muñiz.
“Statistics became important because they were seen as a solution to the problem of invisibility, which was widely understood to be a major obstacle to empowerment and advancement, or to resolving disparities and inequalities. during this period “, he said.
The lack of inclusion of Mexican Americans in policy making and the frustrated Mexican-American public discourse predecessors of today’s national Latinx advocacy organizations, according to Rodriguez-Muñiz. He said Latinx advocates felt absent from the national conversation, and that politicians and journalists saw them only as a marginalized and regional issue.
“The defenders believed and maintained that this condition, this notion that they were insignificant for national history, was a condition which hampered their ability to draw attention to the social, economic and political needs of the population,” says Rodríguez-Muñiz.
To combat the problem of invisibility, advocates of Latinx have started asking to be included in the decennial census, according to Rodríguez-Muñiz. The United States Interagency Committee on Mexican-American Affairs issued a recommendation to include a question on Spanish heritage. After constant pressure from Latinx advocacy organizations, the US Census Bureau responded to these requests in the 1970 decennial census.
The census office gave two forms in 1970, according to Rodríguez-Muñiz. The shorter of the two forms included demographic questions about the Latinx community, and the longer one included a few additional questions with demographic questions, but was only given to a sample of the population. He said it was only under pressure from the new Nixon administration that the Census Bureau added a question about Spanish inheritance on the longer form.
Amalia Daché, an associate professor in the Division of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said the census is a primary source for examining racial and ethnic variables between different populations. During his presentation, “Cartographies of Afrolatinidad: Limits and Possibilities”, Daché discussed the demography of the Afro-Latinx population.
Daché uses geographic tools with census data to learn more about cities and their access to education for Latinx populations. Daché said she learns how this population engages in their social environment and what institutions and resources are nearby from this information.
“Geography is a major factor in understanding how Afro-Latinx identify themselves, their educational opportunities, their economic opportunities and their social mobility,” said Daché.
Daché said the Afro-Latinx population is very city-centric and located in many cities across the United States. All three populations share a high concentration in the northeast, but the Latin American and African American populations are also highly concentrated in the south.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Ortiz read a question from a participant who asked, “What do you think about the proposal to group the questions on Latino ethnicity with the race question from the census?” ? Does this inevitably lead to the Afro-Latinx being made invisible as we have discussed? Daché said she thinks it’s important to ask more questions and recognize that the census is incomplete because Latinx’s advocacy status cannot be based on these statistics alone.
“When thinking about resistance issues, qualitative data and real human experiences and Afro-Latinx stories are equally important. These are not only quantifiable social problems, they are also qualitative problems and issues, ”said Daché. “It won’t be the end, but I think there are ways to divide these numbers to reflect the diversity of the Latinx group.”
Rodríguez-Muñiz said through numbers and narratives, the Latinx population has been placed at the center of the debate over ethno-racial demographic change. He added that the demographics fueled by population policy greatly influence contemporary politics and policymaking.
“The current rhetoric about electoral fraud, illegal immigration and redistribution shows it,” Rodríguez-Muñiz said. “Population policy, especially among the Conservatives, has turned these problems into population problems. We cannot afford to take racial population policy for granted.