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Census Data Hides Racial Diversity Of US 'Hispanics' – To The Country's Detriment



President Biden Joe Biden speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 reception at the White House. Just who counts as ‘Hispanic’ in the U.S. is an open question. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

As I opened a recent email from my local grocery store chain advertising Hispanic Heritage Month – it runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year – I was surprised to see it highlighting recipes from four distinct regions: Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

The advertisement rightly noted that while corn and beans have framed much of what in the United States is considered “Hispanic” foods, Latin America has a much greater diversity of foods. Its cuisine, which began long before the Spanish or other colonizers came to the Americas, continues to flourish.

While many of us Latine – an alternative term for Latinos or Latinx that I prefer – embrace our European heritage, we also embrace our Indigenous and African heritage.

In recent decades, many Latin American nations have officially recognized their Indigenous and Afro-descendent populations as distinct groups with unique histories, cultures, foods and languages.

Countries across the Americas, including the United States, have revised their census questions to better understand their populations, enabling them to create more inclusive policies that actually address people’s needs – and to recognize the too-often hidden achievements of these groups.

Census changes in Latin America

Some Latin American countries, such as Peru, have counted their Indigenous population for over a century. But with the exception of Brazil and Cuba, Latin American countries generally excluded race on their national census, allowing economic and social inequalities to flourish undocumented.

The effort to better capture both Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in Latin America began around the turn of the 21st century.

Uruguay, a small and prosperous South American country, long portrayed itself as white and European despite being home to Afro-Uruguayans descended from enslaved Africans. In 1996, under pressure from Afro-descendent activists, it added race to its national household survey. That census had census workers identify the respondents’ race and found the country to be 6% Afro-descended and revealed stunning racial disparities in education, income and employment. When in 2006 Uruguayan census-takers began asking residents to state their own racial identity, the Afro-descended population jumped to 10%. This data shift had important implications when Uruguay implemented race-based affirmative action a few years later.

In Mexico, where Indigenous identity had previously been linked only to speakers of one of the country’s 68 Indigenous languages, the census was changed in 2020 to ask if respondents self-identified as Indigenous or belonged to a community that identified as Indigenous. The result was an increase of 7.1 million people to 23.2 million who identified as Indigenous. The same change targeting the Afro-Mexican population identified a previously unrecognized population of 2.5 million.

‘Some other race’

The U.S. added a question about Hispanic descent to the 1970 census long form, and to the short form in 1980. The question asked, “Is this person of Hispanic/Spanish descent?” If the answer was Yes, these were following options: Mexican or Mexican-American or Chicano; Puerto Rican; Cuban; Other Spanish/Hispanic.

In subsequent decades, small changes were made such, as including the word “Latino” and allowing those who choose “other” in the national origin category to write in a response, with suggestions of “Argentinian, Colombian, Dominican, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on.” In 2020, the census allowed respondents to identify as “multiracial.”

The 2020 U.S. census questionnaire.
Ɱ via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

The U.S. Census Bureau argues that its categories now adequately capture the heritage of the 62.6 million Hispanics that flourish in the U.S. “because all detailed Hispanic origin groups are included in the newly combined code list.”

In fact, however, if your heritage stems from one of the hundreds of Indigenous or Afro-descended groups in Latin America, these identities remain outside of the way the U.S. captures race among the Hispanic populations. That may explain why, according to the Census Bureau “the vast majority (94%) of responses to the race question that are classified as Some Other Race are from people of Hispanic or Latino origin.”

Overgeneralized and under-recognized

When the fixed categories of a census erase the diversity of a population, the gross miscalculations that result may harm a country’s ability to appropriately respond to the needs of its people.

For example, the overgeneralizing of U.S. Hispanics hurts the quality of American education and health care when these institutions assume that Latin American heritage communities speak Spanish. In addition to Indigenous languages, Latino Afro-descendant populations may not speak Spanish but rather may speak French or Haitian Creole, Portuguese or an Indigenous language. If they are from the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, they may speak an English Creole.

These language differences reflect unique cultures and histories that relate to how people engage with doctors, teachers, politicians and much more.

Failing to recognize the diversity of Hispanics also creates frequent election surprises in the U.S. For example, pollsters got the Latino vote all wrong in 2020 by lumping together 32 million people with diverse political opinions and national origins as “Latino.” Democrats arguably made the same mistake in 2018.

In overgeneralizing Hispanics, the U.S may also overlook – to its own detriment – the knowledge and experience of a culturally unique people who bring with them alternative understandings of the world, some of which I’ve studied as an anthropologist focused on food security, migration and health in Latin America. These include agricultural practices that can aid American farmers in responding to the global climate crisis and Mesoamerican strategies for health based on communal care and traditional remedies.

A growing community with more to offer

Despite its limitations, U.S. census data clearly shows that the Hispanic population continues to grow. While the overall U.S. population increased 7% between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic population expanded by 23%. Today, 1 in every 5 people in the U.S. identifies with Hispanic or Latino heritage.

This growth is particularly notable in the South – in states like Georgia and North Carolina – and in rural areas. The Hispanic population has become a demographic lifeline for parts of small-town America that experienced significant population loss in the late 20th century.

Hispanic communities have also reinvigorated urban neighborhoods as they open small businesses.

A man and woman dance as men in a traditional Mexican costumes entertain
Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who live in Brooklyn, New York, celebrate a birthday in Prospect Park on April 4, 2021.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Rebuilding cities, stabilizing rural counties, expanding local economies – these are among the group contributions made by the community of Americans celebrated each year during Hispanic Heritage Month.

The better we understand the nuances of this large population, the better we will understand who we are as a nation – and benefit more fully from our diversity.

The Conversation

Ramona L. Pérez receives funding from the Tinker Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the US Department of Agriculture. She is affiliated with the American Anthropological Association, where she currently serves as president.

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Georgia On The Nation's Mind: 5 Essential Reads




Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia waves to a crowd on election night. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Shortly after his reelection on Dec. 6, 2022, Rev. Raphael Warnock talked about his political journey in a state better known for its racist history of suppressing the Black vote.

“I am Georgia,” Warnock said. “A living example and embodiment of its history and its hope, of its pain and promise, the brutality and possibility.”

Warnock’s senate campaign against his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, occurred at a time when Georgia voters faced a slew of new election law reforms that the state’s lawmakers said were necessary to protect election integrity. But civil rights advocates characterized the reforms as the latest version of suppression efforts targeting Black voters.

During his speech, Warnock was clear on his position.

“The fact that millions of Georgians endured hours in lines … that wrapped around buildings and went on for blocks, lines in the cold, lines in the rain, is most certainly not a sign voter suppression does not exist,” Warnock said. “Instead, it is proof that you, the people, will not allow your voices to be silenced.”

As the campaign unfolded, The Conversation published several articles looking at the history of voting in Georgia and how race has played a significant role in shaping the state’s election laws.

1. New election reforms

Georgia’s GOP lawmakers overhauled the state’s election laws in 2021 – and critics argued that the target was Black voter turnout, not election fraud as claimed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other white conservative politicians.

Emory University Political Science Professor Richard Doner details the shameful history and breaks down the key changes in the state’s new voting law, SB 202, that emerged at a time of growing Black political power and GOP unproven conspiracy theories on election fraud.

À lire aussi :
Georgia’s GOP overhauled the state’s election laws in 2021 – and critics argue the target was Black voter turnout, not election fraud

2. Runoff elections usually produce better policies

Despite its racist history, Georgia’s runoff voting process is not inherently racist – as the 2022 campaign demonstrated with two Black men running against each other.

In fact, argues Westminster College Assistant Political Science Professor Joshua Holzer, runoff voting tends to produce better policies.

“This is because,” Holzer writes, “runoff elections often favor candidates who lean to the center, and center-leaning candidates seem to be more likely to respect human rights and provide better representation of a larger portion of the electorate.”

À lire aussi :
A brief history of Georgia’s runoff voting – and how this year’s contest between two Black men is a sign of progress

3. Georgia’s national importance

With Warnock’s victory, the Democrats control the Senate with 51 of the 100 seats and no longer need a deciding vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties in order to pass bills that support their legislative agenda.

But as political science scholar Richard Hargy explains, the campaign stood as another test of the influence former president Donald Trump holds within the Republican Party and as “an opportunity to improve their Senate seat tally ahead of a difficult election cycle in 2024.”

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Georgia’s runoff election: why the result is so important to Biden and Trump

4. Runoffs elections have a cost

In Georgia, if no candidate receives 50% of the general election vote, there’s a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

And those races are expensive, writes political science professor John A. Tures.

Though the final tally for the 2022 runoff is not completed, in 2020, the campaigns cost at least $75 million statewide.

Despite the expense, runoff elections have an impact on voter turnout – and not for the better.

“The only consistent trend is that the runoff elections drew fewer voters than the general elections that preceded them,” Tures writes.

À lire aussi :
Georgia runoff elections are exciting, but costly for voters and democracy

5. Weak celebrity political candidates

In addition to race, another factor played a part in the Georgia campaign – Walker’s celebrity status.

Political science scholar Richard T. Longoria explains that while celebrity candidates have advantages in name recognition and media attention, they often lose their bids for public office.

“They lose for the same reasons other candidates lose,” Longoria writes. “If they take unpopular policy positions, they lose. If they are never considered to be serious candidates, they lose.”

À lire aussi :
Celebrities in politics have a leg up, but their advantages can’t top fundraising failures

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

The Conversation

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Amid Coup, Countercoup Claims – What Really Went Down In Peru And Why?




Clashes on the streets of Peru. Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images)

Peru has a new president following the ouster of former leader Pedro Castillo at the hands of the country’s Congress.

His removal followed an attempt by Castillo to cling to power by dissolving a Congress intent on impeaching him. Castillo’s opponents accused him of attempting a coup – a charge his supporters similarly levied in regards to his removal from office. The day ended with the former president in detention.

The Conversation asked Eduardo Gamarra, an expert on Latin American politics at Florida International University, to explain the wider context of Peru’s political crisis – and what could happen next.

Can you talk us through the events of Dec. 7, 2022?

In a nutshell, President Pedro Castillo thought he was going to be impeached and tried to move ahead of lawmakers by closing down Congress. He said he intended to rule by decree and reform the country’s constitutional court and judiciary. In effect, he challenged the armed forces to choose sides.

But the plan backfired. He announced that he was closing Congress, but Congress refused to be closed down. Instead, lawmakers went ahead with a previously planned impeachment trial and overwhelmingly voted to remove him from power. The military for its part rejected Castillo’s ploy.

Castillo was later arrested on a charge of violating a constitutional order. He was replaced by former Vice President Dina Boluarte, who was sworn in as president. Peru’s first female leader intends to serve until 2026.

A man in blue is seen inside a car with a police officer next to him in uniform
Former President Pedro Castillo was taken into custody.
Renato Pajuelo/AFP via Getty Images

Behind all this was a competition of legitimacy between Congress and the president – and Congress won.

How did it come to such a crisis point?

That isn’t easy to explain, and the wider background and political system needs to be understood first.

Peru has a hybrid system, in which both parliament and the presidency split power and can act against each other. So constitutionally, the president can dismiss Congress and call for new elections, and, at the same time, Congress can impeach and remove the president. But there is some ambiguity, and there is a case to say Castillo exceeded his constitutional powers in this instance.

The point of having such a system is that when there is a crisis of government, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a crisis of state. The prime minister can resign as head of a government, yet the president can remain in place for stability.

But in reality, it encourages instability. Congress has forced a president from office before. President Martín Vizcarra was removed from power in a 2020 impeachment. In fact, Peru has now had six presidents in the last five years. There have also been instances in the past of Peruvian presidents dissolving Congress. Famously, President Alberto Fujimori did this in 1992 in what was undoubtedly a coup d’état.

At the same time, what you have seen in Peru is a dismantling of the traditional party system. More than a dozen parties are now represented in Congress, which makes it hard for any one party to hold a majority.

In the case of Castillo, only around 15 members of Congress were from his party – a tiny minority in the 130-seat assembly. That made it hard for Castillo to form a strong base to push forward his agenda or protect him from impeachment proceedings.

Making matters of governance worse is the fact that there has been a collapse in trust for Peru’s political institutions and parties.

This all leads to an atomized political system – the old parties have disappeared, but no strong new parties have emerged. In this void have been individuals who have driven the political agenda, with no central force to govern cohesively.

Thrown into this is the political polarization that has affected much of the region, with the country increasingly split between the left and the right.

But it gets worse. Not only is the country polarized politically, it is split by ethnicity, region and class.

And this contributed to Castillo’s downfall?

Yes. From the beginning of his term the leftist former teacher was attacked by his many opponents in Congress for a variety of alleged grievances. He has governed over a worsening economy and faces a slew of corruption charges. Indeed, Castillo had already survived two attempts to impeach him before the events of Dec. 7, 2022 – and he only came to power in July 2021.

Recently, he was accused of treason after suggesting in a CNN interview that he would consider giving landlocked Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean. Suggesting that an apparent off-the-cuff comment amounted to treason might be pushing it. But on top of that, there were serious accusations of corruption against the president. By my count, there were five serious attempts by Congress to bring about malfeasance trials against Castillo.

How has he responded?

Castillo initially was hoping to get the backing of the Organization of American States (OAS) and tried to convince the regional body, which is tasked with, among other things, upholding democracy in the region, that his own Congress was trying to remove him in what he said was a coup. That may have worked – after all, he was a legitimately elected leader.

But before the OAS was due to hear a report into the allegations, things escalated, culminating in Castillo’s ouster.

So, both sides are claiming a coup? Any truth in those claims?

That is a discussion that will likely go on for a long time. Peru’s left will no doubt frame Castillo’s removal as a coup, while anti-Castillo politicians will insist it wasn’t. They will claim they were heading off a coup attempt from Castillo who, by dismissing Congress, was setting the stage to become a dictator-like leader.

My sense is what happened was Castillo was desperate and trying to defend himself from a Congress that was over-zealous about getting rid of him. But this is not to say they do not have grounds for doing so, as there does appear to be credible evidence of corruption.

Having said that, is that enough to say it was a coup – especially when it was brought about through constitutional measures? Perhaps not.

How have Peruvians reacted?

There have been some demonstrations, with people out on the street. But it has been so disorganized, it is hard to say who has been protesting for what and in support of whom. It also hasn’t developed into widespread protests.

Has there been concern from regional leaders and the U.S.?

We have seen the usual international appeals for calm, and the OAS has expressed its called for national unity.

Meanwhile, leftist leaders in the region have expressed support for the ousted Castillo. Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed concern but said it was a “constitutional removal.” Others, such as Bolivia’s President Luis Arce framed Castillo’s ouster as the “overthow” of a democratically elected government.

There has been very little comment of consequence from the U.S. other than welcoming the new president and urging democratic order. Both the U.S. and regional leaders are likely hoping that the political and economic instability that has plagued Peru in recent years ends. The concern is that ongoing chaos could affect regional stability, and also affect Peru’s position as a trading partner – the country is a large producer of copper and silver, among other mineral resources.

What could happen next?

There are a lot of ways this could play out. The new president has already called for a political truce and a government that represents all parties.

But whether she will be allowed to effectively govern given her lack of a mandate is in question. Boluarte is a legitimate president based on the constitutional process that saw her put in place. But she has no legitimacy in the sense of being democratically elected. She was also very closely aligned with Castillo.

A women in a yellow jacket raises her right hand in front of a Peruvian flag.
Dina Boluarte, Peru’s sixth president in five years.
Congress of Republic of Peru / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Perhaps the best thing she could do is call immediately for general elections so the people can have a say in what happens next.

But that could also be a risk, given the degree of political polarization in Peru. The country has seen a rise in xenophobic and nationalistic sentiment, due in part to high levels of immigration into the country.

Peruvians want a government that can actually govern. The fear, however, is that the country’s current conditions – economic and political instability mixed with polarization and growing xenophobia – could lend itself to the emergence of a far right populist.

The Conversation

As an academic and as director of a university research center, I’ve received funding from foundations, US government agencies, and multilateral institutions.

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What Are Iran's Morality Police? A Scholar Of The Middle East Explains Their History




Protestors are pressing the Iranian regime for changes since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

Until recently, most people outside of Iran had never heard of the country’s morality police, let alone followed their wider role in the region. But on Sept. 16, 2022, the death of Jina Mahsa Amini sparked widespread protests in the streets of Iran and elsewhere that have shown no signs of abating. Amini had been in the custody of Gasht-e-Ershad, the Persian name of this notorious police force, for “improper wearing of hijab.”

On Dec. 4, reports citing Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri suggested that the morality police had been abolished. Montazeri said that the morality police lacked judiciary power and that hijab laws were under review, which led to widespread speculation about whether the regime was trying to find a way forward.

Yet, there were those who doubted the comments and called it a “false flag” on the part of those in power. A few noted that even if the morality police were abolished and the mandatory wearing of the hijab repealed, the regime would still need to be held accountable for all of its human rights violations.

These sentiments have formed the basis of a three-day nationwide strike that began on Dec. 5 and has shuttered thousands of shops, including those in the historic Grand Bazaar in the heart of Tehran, bringing the economy of the country to a grinding halt.

But who are the morality police? Where did they come from? And what is their history during and before the Islamic Republic of Iran?

A vice squad in context

The mandate and power of morality police date back to before the Islamic Revolution that shook Iran in 1979, and their reach has extended throughout the Middle East.

The Quran says that it is imperative that religious leaders “ensure right and forbid wrong.” To carry this out, beginning at the time of the Prophet Mohammad, public morals were overseen by market inspectors referred to as muhtasib.

As a scholar of gender and feminism in the Middle East, I’ve studied the long history of debates about the role of Islam in regulating morality. The earliest evidence of a muhtasib, interestingly, was a woman selected in Medina by the prophet himself.

Over the centuries, the mandate of the muhtasib became focused on regulating dress, particularly for women. While these market inspectors were recorded as issuing fines and occasional lashings, they did not have the same level of authority as the judiciary.

By the early 20th century, however, the muhtasibs had transitioned into the vice squads, patrolling the streets to make sure people were complying with Islamic values. It was mostly in Saudi Arabia under the influence of Wahhabism that morality police forces first gained prominence and momentum. The first modern morality police force, an official committee charged with “commanding right and forbidding wrong,” was formed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1926. Comprised mostly of men, the force was charged with enforcing modest dress, regulating heterosocializing – engagement with members of the opposite sex if unmarried or unrelated – and ensuring citizens attended prayer.

By 2012, more than one-third of the 56 countries making up The Organization for Islamic Cooperation had some form of religiously informed squadrons seeking to uphold right and forbid wrong as interpreted by Islamists in power.

A committee to enact revolution

In Iran, the morality police first appeared in the form of what was called the “Islamic Revolution Committee” following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who led the revolution, wanted to control the behavior of Iranian citizens after too many years of what he and his fellow Islamists called a period of “secular Westoxication.”

The Islamic Revolution Committee, called “Komiteh” by many Iranians, was merged in the 1980s with the Gendarmerie, the first rural police force overseeing modern highways, to form the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1983, when mandatory veiling laws were passed, the Komiteh was tasked with ensuring these laws were upheld in addition to their other duties of ensuring right and forbidding wrong.

A changing time

The current morality police – the Guidance Patrol or Gasht-e-Ershad – were given formal standing as an arm of the police force by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

The group had been steadily growing in size since the 1980s, and by 2005 consisted of more than 7,000 officers. Women make up less than a quarter of the squadron but frequently accompany their male counterparts, who often arrive in unmarked vans and pour out into the streets in green uniforms. The women, meanwhile, wear black cloaks that cover them from head to toe.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Komiteh was comprised of religiously devout followers of the regime who joined the force at the encouragement of clerics. However, by the early 2000s, Iran’s population was comprised mostly of young people. When Ahmadinejad made the Komiteh an official police force, a number of young men joined to fulfill their mandatory military conscription. This younger generation was more lax than their older counterparts, leading to inconsistent patrolling.

When President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in 2021, he emboldened the morality police to engage in harsh crackdowns on the Iranian populace, particularly in the cities. Raisi, like Khomeini and other clerics, used this vice squad to send a message to Iranian citizens that the regime is watching.

This clampdown, particularly when it led to the death of Amini, has been met with outrage by a large number of Iranians. While it is not yet confirmed whether or not the morality police have been disbanded, protesters are continuing to press the regime for change.

The Conversation

Pardis Mahdavi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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