Should the Congressional Black Caucus be open to Afro-Latinos?

Should a Latino be allowed to join the Congressional Black Caucus?

According to an article in last week’s Politico entitled “Black Caucus chafes at Latino who wants to join,” that’s the million dollar question currently being debated, albeit silently, by Caucus members on the Hill.

The Latino in consideration is no other than (D-NY 13th District) Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who last November became the first Dominican-American elected to Congress.

While he has not been formally asked to join the 47-year-old organization, he tells Politico writer Heather Caygle that he is currently in discussion with CBC leaders about the “pros and cons” of his potential membership.

According to Caygle, more than a dozen CBC members and their aides were interviewed for the piece although very few of the CBC current leadership wanted to go on record, citing the “sensitivity” of the issue.

But as Caygle reports, the Espaillat issue is not only causing CBC leadership to review its bylaws (historically, the CBC has limited its membership to African-American statesmen and -women), but it has raised all sorts of debate about who should and should not, be considered African-American.

More specifically, Caygle writes:

“I think it’s reviewing our rules and bylaws and make sure that whatever happens is appropriate. Because it should not only be for him but others,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said. Meeks served with Espaillat in the New York State Assembly.

Espaillat was chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in the State Assembly and later led the Puerto Rican and Latino Caucus in the New York state Senate.

“I got elected with Adriano in the State Assembly. I know his heart is in the right place. I just think this is going to be a continuing dialogue to determine what to do,” Meeks said.

“Now [in Congress], we’ve been different in that you were either in the Black Caucus or you were in the Hispanic Caucus,” Meeks added. “And so the question is what happens in this scenario. And I guess he’s the first Dominican to [apply] and we’re just trying to figure it out.”

For one, Rangel who again is a founding member of the Black Caucus is half-Puerto-Rican.

Espaillat, who eventually earned (through the electoral process) his seat from Rangel, represents a district that includes Harlem and still maintains a large enough Black and Latino population.

After all, if Mia Love, who is a Black Mormon Republican with a White husband from Utah, can call herself a member of the CBC, I don’t see why Espaillat does not have the same privilege.

Not to mention with so many Hispanics – of all colors – choosing to identify as White in hopes of assimilating faster into the American dream, it is quite refreshing to see someone acknowledge their African heritage.

With that said, I can sort of understand why the CBC would not like him.

Unlike Love who can not (even if she wanted too) deny her blackness, Espaillat had previously downplayed his race, during his third and first successful attempt at Rangel’s seat.

As previously reported by the New York Daily News:

“Espaillat was happy to talk of his immigrant roots – while downplaying the racial tensions that have driven primaries in the district.

He moved from the Dominican Republic to New York at age nine with his parents to live with his grandparents, who worked as a seamstress and in a Ray Ban factory.

“We came on a visitor’s visa and overstayed our visa, and we were for a short term of time without a green card, and then we had to go back to get a green card to be able to be admitted to the country legally. For any child or family that’s a traumatic experience particularly when you’re already united with the rest of your family,” he said.

He wants to talk about his background to other members in hopes of influencing them on immigration.

“I hope my personal story is compelling to other members,” he said. “This is a great nation, one that’s offered me a great opportunity. To try to go backwards and be heavy-handed against folks who just want to do better for their families I find contrary to what I have experienced America to be.”