Adriano Espaillat made history as the first-ever Dominican-American and former undocumented immigrant elected into Congress. Now, the U.S. representative for New York’s 13th Congressional District might rewrite the rules of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) if the organization permits. According to Politico, the self-identified “Latino of African descent” has sparked a debate on race and ethnicity amid making his interest in joining the group clear.
Known as the “conscience of the Congress,” CBC is home to an exclusively African-American membership. Opening its doors to Espaillat, who has already joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, would jolt its bylaws given that “African-American” tends to point to “a cohesive community with a shared historical experience within the United States” as Remezcla explains.
“See that complicates matters. Even though our agendas are typically parallel, occasionally they are not. So it may be problematic if someone wants to belong to two ethnic caucuses,” former CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said of the conflict. “If he’s considered an African-American then he’s certainly welcome in the caucus. But I can’t speak for the caucus.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) affirms that reviewing membership requirements is essential before moving forward. “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,” he said.
“Now [in Congress], we’ve been different in that you were either in the Black Caucus or you were in the Hispanic Caucus,” he continued. “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.”
What further clouds the debate is Espaillat’s contentious history with CBC founding member Charles Rangel, who happens to be half Puerto Rican. The congressman, who failed to unseat Rangel in 2012 and 2014 Harlem primary races, often challenged his predecessor over ethics, Politico reports. While his relationship with his onetime foe shouldn’t determine the outcome of this scenario, it surely hasn’t helped.
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