The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Commission Meeting on Race and Color Discrimination of April 19, 2006, Washington D.C.

Remarks of Charles Kamasaki, Senior Vice President, National Council of La Raza


My name is Charles Kamasaki, and I am Senior Vice President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) – the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S.1 NCLR is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Washington, DC, which is dedicated to improving opportunities for Americans of Hispanic descent. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. NCLR conducts applied research, policy analysis, and advocacy, providing a Latino perspective in five key areas – assets/investments, civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health. In addition, it provides capacity-building assistance to its Affiliates who work at the state and local level to advance opportunities for individuals and families.

On behalf of NCLR, I thank Chairperson Dominguez and the entire Commission, especially Commissioner Ishimaru and his staff, for requesting our views on these issues. NCLR has a long-held, deep interest in issues related to employment discrimination. In addition to producing a series of articles, testimony before congressional and administrative bodies, including this Commission, and other materials on employment discrimination, in 1993 NCLR issued The Empty Promise, an in-depth report criticizing the Commission’s performance in serving the Latino community.2

While even the Commission’s staunchest defenders would acknowledge that it still has a long way to go to ensure that Hispanics experiencing employment discrimination receive equal treatment by this Commission and other segments of the civil rights enforcement system, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in the dozen or so years since the issuance of our report. Under the leadership of former Chairs Casellas and Castro, and former Vice Chair Igasaki, the Commission implemented a number of steps designed to improve its level and degree of service to the Latino community, many of which have been continued under Chairperson Dominguez. Thus, the Commission has strengthened its focus on discrimination based on national origin, expanded its outreach to underserved groups, and increased its hiring of Hispanics across the agency. As a result, the number and proportion of charges from the Latino community have increased, and the Commission has won important victories on behalf of Hispanics encountering discrimination in employment.3

In this context, I would like to turn my attention to the specific topic for this meeting regarding race and color discrimination. I will start with some general observations about the topic, highlight a couple of emerging issues worthy of greater attention, and conclude with some recommendations.

Observations about Race and Color Discrimination and Hispanics

As the Commission is aware, the vast majority of Title VII charges and other employment- related complaints of discrimination from the Latino community are based on national origin, sometimes coupled with a related basis, e.g., gender. This is not surprising since the fundamental historical and sociological bases for discrimination against Hispanics are associated with classic national origin and cultural characteristics – language, surname, speech accent, and perceived immigration status.

Questions of race and color are also very complicated within the Latino community, which is racially diverse. Furthermore, although there is a rich and growing body of literature that examines Hispanic perceptions of race and color, much of this work focuses exclusively on the community’s attitudes,4 but much less so on whether and the extent to which Latinos’ race and color may contribute to employment discrimination. It is this latter question that should be of greatest interest to this Commission. After all, the source of employment discrimination involves employers’ perceptions of race and color, not the protected groups’ attitudes. In this context, there are two important Hispanic subgroups that may be disproportionately likely to experience workplace discrimination based on race and color – Afro-Latinos and indigenous Latinos.


Thus, one emerging question that the Commission should consider is the extent to which Hispanics who are of African descent (Afro-Latinos) are disproportionately likely to experience employment discrimination in the U.S. In addressing this question, you might first consider the size of this population, although this is a matter requiring some additional analysis. For example, John R. Logan of the Lewis Mumford Center has estimated that, based on analysis of the Public- Use Microdata Samples, or PUMS, from the 2000 Census, in 2000 there were about one million individuals whom he refers to as “Black Hispanics.”5

For a variety of reasons, it is virtually certain that Logan’s estimate represents the absolute lower-bound for this category. For example, using somewhat different but entirely plausible assumptions, Black Enterprise reported that about 1.7 million Hispanics in the U.S. identify themselves as having some African origins and speculated that the actual number could be closer to 3.9 million6

The way in which individuals become “Afro-Latino” is also mixed – some acquire the label through inter-marriage with African Americans, while others come from Hispanic nationality groups with strong African origins. One study reported that nearly half of Afro-Latino children have one parent who is non-Hispanic Black. The balance is composed largely of Hispanics with Caribbean origins, mainly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.7

Moreover, there are some indications that Afro-Latinos may experience higher levels of discrimination than their Hispanic counterparts who do not have African origins. One study notes, for example, that Hispanics who define themselves as racially “Black” have lower incomes than their non-Black Latino peers, while another found that Afro-Latinos reside in more segregated and higher-poverty neighborhoods than other Latinos. Still other studies have found that African heritage is correlated with indicators consistent with high labor market discrimination, at least for some Hispanic subgroups.8

Furthermore, another study has noted that 35% of Hispanics who identify themselves as non- White, a group which includes Afro-Latinos, report that “discrimination is a major problem in the workplace,” compared to only 22% of White Hispanics. Similarly, according to the same study, while less than a quarter of native-born White Hispanics believe that discrimination is a major problem preventing Hispanics from succeeding in America, more than one-third of native-born Hispanics who self-identify with some other race believe that discrimination is an obstacle to success in the U.S.9

There is also some anecdotal evidence of a unique form of national origin discrimination experienced by this group. Participants in a number of NCLR panel discussions and other events on Afro-Latinos have voiced a concern that they are fully accepted as “American” only until they reveal their surname, or start speaking Spanish. At that point, they report, they perceive that they start being treated as “foreigners.”

While hardly definitive, taken together these data demonstrate that the group of Hispanics known as “Afro-Latinos,” broadly defined, is growing, experiences greater socioeconomic disadvantage than their Hispanic peers who do not report any African heritage, and is more likely to believe that discrimination in the workplace – and overall – is a problem. At a minimum, this suggests that, in the context of reducing employment discrimination based on race and color, the subject of Afro-Latinos deserves greater exploration by this Commission.

Indigenous Latinos

Similarly, many believe that Latinos with identifiably “indigenous” physical characteristics are more likely than their European-appearing Hispanic counterparts to experience discrimination. On first glance, the size of this population is modest. According to NCLR’s analysis of American Community Survey data, Latinos are about half as likely to report being Native American or American Indian than Black or African American, implying somewhere on the order of 500,000-850,000 “indigenous Latinos” counted in the 2000 Census.

Estimating the size of this indigenous Latino population using Census data, however, is highly problematic. For one thing, in many Latin American cultures the question of indigenous origin is complicated by the fact that the vast majority of the population includes at least some indigenous ancestry. At what point an individual believes s/he “crosses the line” from a mixed mestizo ancestry into a self-identified “indigenous” category is unclear. Another issue is that the Census racial category – Native American or American Indian – and the specific tribes listed on the Census long form almost certainly result in significant underreporting by Latinos who might otherwise self-identify as “indigenous.”

Nevertheless, other data sources suggest that the size of this population could be very large, possibly exceeding that of Afro-Latinos. For example, according to the Mexican Census, the first language of approximately 8% of that country’s diverse population is indigenous – Nahuatl, Mayan, Mixtec, and Zapotec.10 Assuming that this population’s intermarriage with Europeans or mestizos is minimal (otherwise they would likely be native Spanish-speakers), one could surmise that this group would also be physically purely indigenous in appearance. Assuming further that the 26 million Mexican Americans in the U.S. share a similar heritage, this produces an estimate of more than two million indigenous Latinos of Mexican origin alone, not counting other U.S. Hispanics with strong indigenous origins.

A series of studies over the years have found that darker-skinned Mexican Americans, presumably highly indigenous in appearance, experience substantially greater labor market barriers than their lighter-skinned counterparts.11As with the case of Afro-Latinos, it appears that there is sufficient evidence to support a suspicion that indigenous Latinos may experience higher rates of discrimination than their nonindigenous Hispanic counterparts, and thus warrants greater exploration by the Commission.

Finally, I would observe that if it is true that Afro-Latinos and indigenous Latinos are significant population groups that experience substantial employment discrimination, special outreach and enforcement strategies tailored to these populations may be required. I suspect, for example, that the Commission’s capacity to work with indigenous Mixteco or Zapoteco immigrants who may not be proficient in Spanish is extremely limited. Similarly, it is not clear that outreach strategies that this Commission has deployed with some success to encourage heightened awareness of employment discrimination with respect to Hispanics overall will necessarily be effective with Afro-Latinos.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Because of the limitations discussed above in assessing the conditions of Afro-Latinos and indigenous Latinos, NCLR recommends that the Commission:

In conclusion, I note that I have tried to limit these remarks to the specific subject at hand, i.e., the intersection of race and color discrimination and the Hispanic community. This should not be interpreted as any absence of interest in the Commission’s performance with respect to national origin discrimination. In that connection, we urge the Commission to continue to strengthen its work in that area and would refer you to the recommendations we’ve made to this body over the years.

Especially as recent events have refocused the nation’s attention on the presence of a large number of Hispanic immigrants in this country, and as the Congress considers various proposals to reform our immigration laws, NCLR urges the Commission to stay ahead of the curve in monitoring this situation. If legislation that includes new workplace enforcement measures is enacted, it is clear that the potential for increased discrimination against Latinos and others perceived to be “foreign” is significant. Even if legislation is not enacted, many observers believe that the potential for a renewed “backlash” against immigrants, or those perceived to be immigrants, is growing. Again, we would urge the Commission to remain vigilant with respect to this issue.

As always, NCLR is prepared to work with you on these and other matters of mutual interest. Thank you again for soliciting our views.


(1) This statement was prepared with research and analytical support from Pedro G. Cavallero, Director of International Projects, who oversees NCLR’s work with Afro-Latinos and indigenous communities; Cassandra Villanueva, NCLR’s Program Coordinator; and Angela Maria Arboleda, NCLR’s Associate Director of Criminal Justice Policy.

(2) Gonzales, C., The Empty Promise: The EEOC and Hispanics. Washington, DC: National Council of La Raza, December 1993. See also, Verdugo, N., “The Effects of Discrimination on the Earnings of Hispanic Workers.” Washington, DC: National Council of La Raza, 1982; Muñoz, C., Unfinished Business: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Washington, DC: National Council of La Raza, 1990; Yzaguirre, R. and C. Kamasaki, “Hispanic Human Rights Goals for the 1990s,” Journal of Intergroup Relations, Vol. XIX, 1992; Sullivan, K. and C. Muñoz, Racing Toward Big Brother: Computer Verification, National ID Cards, and Immigration Control. Washington, DC: July 1995; Yzaguirre, R. and C. Kamasaki, “Comment on the Latino Civil Rights Crisis: A Research Conference.” Cambridge, MA: Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, December 1997; Pérez, S.M., ed., Moving Up the Economic Ladder: Latino Workers and the Nation’s Future Economic Prosperity. Washington, DC: National Council of La Raza, 2000.

(3) See, for example, “EEOC Settles English-Only Suit for $2.44 Million Against University of Incarnate Word,” EEOC Press Release, April 20, 2001; EEOC v. Abercrombie &Fitch Stores, Inc., No. 04-4731 (N.D. Cal. April 14, 2005); “Associated Press, “EEOC: Hispanic discrimination complaints double in South Carolina,” March 14, 2006; “EEOC Settles Lawsuit on Behalf of Hispanic Employees,” EEOC Press Release, April 12, 2006.

(4) See, Logan, J.R., “How Race Counts for Hispanic Americans.” Albany, NY: Lewis Mumford Center, University at Albany, July 14, 2003; Tafoya, S., “Shades of Belonging.” Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, December 6, 2004; Nicholson, P., A. Pantoja, and G. Segura, “Race Matters: Latino Racial Identities and Political Beliefs.” Berkeley, CA: Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2005. See also, Fears, D., “People of Color Who Never Felt They Were Black,” Washington Post, December 26, 2002; Poe, J., “Being Latin and Black: Afro-Latinos grapple with labels in U.S.,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 6, 2003.

(5) Logan, J., 2003, op. cit.

(6) “Black Enterprise Examines the Afro-Latino Connection,” Hispanic, January 20, 2006.

(7) Nicholson, S., A. Pantoja, and G. Segura, 2005, op. cit.

(8) See, Logan, J., 2003, op. cit., Nicholson, et al., 2005, op. cit. See also, Espino, R. and M. Franz, “Latino Phenotypic Discrimination Revisited: The Impact of Skin Color on Occupational Status,” Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 2, June 2002.

(9) Tafoya, S., 2004, op. cit.

(10) Nicholson, S. et al., 2005, op. cit

(11) See, Arce, C., E. Murguia, and W. Frisbie, “Phenotype and Life Chances Among Chicanos,” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 9, 1987; Telles, E. and E. Murguia, “Phenotype Discrimination and Income Differences among Mexican Americans,” Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 71, 1990; Espino R. and M. Franz, 2002, op. cit.

This page was last modified on June 12, 2006.

Home Return to Home Page