Many Hispanic people identify themselves based on their ancestral countries of origin, their Indigenous roots, or racial background.
About 6 million adults in the United States identify as Afro Latino, a distinction with deep roots in colonial Latin America, according to a new report by Pew Research Center. That’s about 2% of the adult U.S. population and 12% of the country’s adult Latino population.
The center released its latest report on Afro Latino identity Monday, revealing the multiple dimensions of Latino identity.
Afro Latinos’ life experiences are shaped by factors including race and skin tone in ways that differ from other Hispanics. Most but not all identify as Hispanic or Latino, the survey found.
Being Afro Latino is “distinct and exists along a person’s racial identity, national origin and includes or is tied to culture, ancestry and maybe also physical features,” said researcher and report author Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. “But it is much more than just a label and much more than just a race.”
The report’s results reflect Latin America’s long colonial history, during which mixing occurred among Indigenous Americans, white Europeans, Asians and enslaved people from Africa.
Melissa Dunmore, 32, a writer and poet living in Phoenix, said she embraces both her father’s African and Cherokee roots and the Puerto Rican ancestry from her mother’s side.
“I identify mostly as Black, but I also feel close to the island,” said Dunmore, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but moved with her family to Arizona as a high school student after 9/11. She was excited to discover a restaurant near her Southwest home that serves mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made with fried plantains.
“Outside of class, I grew up mostly speaking Spanish after school and during the summer with my maternal grandparents,” said Dunmore. Now she speaks Spanish to her 5-month-old baby girl, Flora. “I want her to have that as well.”
A previous survey published in 2016 showed about one-quarter of all US Latinos self-identify as Afro Latino, Afro Caribbean, or of African descent with roots in Latin America. But Gonzalez-Barrera said the results cannot be compared to the more recent report because the previous survey was conducted over the phone, with an interviewer, and the questions were different.
Well-known Afro Latinos in the US include actress Rosario Dawson, rapper Cardi B, and former professional baseball player David Ortiz, a Dominican American nicknamed “Big Papi.”
Many Hispanic people identify themselves based on their ancestral countries of origin, their Indigenous roots, or racial background. The survey asked adults whether they self-identify as Afro Latino separate from other questions on race or ethnicity. As a result, the number also varies from US Census Bureau sources, which count Afro Latino as anyone who identifies as Hispanic and Black in a two-step race question. The 2020 census show there are 1.2 million people of all ages that identify as such, much lower than the 6 million estimated in the latest center report.
“The thing to consider here is that Afro Latino identity transcends racial identity and cannot be captured by a checkbox-type of question where you mark your ethnicity,” said Gonzalez-Barrera, who has studied Latinos for about 15 years and has worked with Pew Research Center for about 12 years. She identifies as Mexican American and Latina.
The survey asked a census-style question about race to display the complexity of identity. Twenty-eight percent of all Afro Latino people selected white as their race, 25% selected Black and 23% selected “some other race.” According to the report, 59% of Afro Latino people who did not identify as Hispanic selected Black as their race, compared to the 17% who did identify as Hispanic.
A March 2021 Pew Research Center survey of Latino adults said Afro Latino adults who identify as Hispanic were more likely to say they would be seen as multiracial, mixed race or Black when walking past them on the street, a concept known as street race. It also said Afro Latino adults who identify as Hispanic were more likely to say their skin color is darker than other Hispanic adults.
A complementary report released this week said having darker skin and being born outside the US is associated with an increased chance of experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment from other Latino adults. Still, Hispanic people are just as likely to say they personally experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from someone who is not Hispanic.
The estimates of the Afro Latino adult population are based on a survey of 68,398 adults across the U.S. conducted from Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020. The margin of sampling error for estimates of the Afro Latino adult population is plus or minus 600,000 people.
The 2021 survey of 3,375 Hispanic adults was conducted March 15-28 using samples drawn from Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel and Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, which are designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.