Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), the first Dominican American elected to Congress and who succeeded former Rep. Charles Rangel in representing New York’s 13th District, identifies as a “Latino of African descent”—and that designation is a cause for debate among members of the Congressional Black Caucus who question whether Espaillat qualifies as an African American.
Politico reports that Espaillat wants to join the CBC, which has a long history of limiting its membership to black Americans and has denied membership to white lawmakers in the past even if they represent districts that are majority-minority.
Espaillat has already joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and he has not yet formally asked to join the CBC, but he has been in discussions with CBC leadership.
“We have discussed, yes, the pros and cons, the bylaws,” Espaillat said of the CBC. “I’m in discussions with some of the members from my state and with the leadership. We’ll make that decision later on as we move forward.”
According to Politico, members of the CBC feel some type of way because Espaillat challenged Rangel, who is a founding member of the CBC and was one of the most high-profile black American members of Congress for years, for his seat in 2012 and 2014.
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Although CBC members debated Espaillat’s potential membership during their weekly meeting Wednesday, no decision was reached.
The group’s chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), denied there was a dispute about allowing Espaillat to join. But several other members confirmed ongoing tensions over the matter. Politico spoke with nearly a dozen CBC members and aides for this story, but most refused to talk on the record, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
For now, several members said, things are on hold until they review membership requirements outlined in the CBC bylaws.
“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.
This debate in the CBC is an important one because it touches on the difficulty that Americans have in understanding that there are some people who identify as both Latinx and black. While Espaillat’s district is majority Latino, it has a sizable black American population and includes Harlem, aka Black Mecca in the U.S.
At a time when the current presidential administration has shown that it has a strong white supremacist bent, it may be time for congressional blacks and Latinx members to come together and work hard to make sure we all don’t end up in the fields picking cotton by next month.
Just a thought.
Read more at Politico.