Latinos, Hispanics and Racial Identity
There are more people living in the one Miami subdivision where my parents live than in the whole of my little town outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
And except for the nice family who owns the local Mexican restaurant, and the woman from Spain, and maybe one other Cuban I have heard of, but haven’t met, there aren’t too many of what the government calls “Hispanics” in my tiny corner of the Boonies.
So, when the Census Bureau forms came out, it was important to me to be counted as Hispanic. And to count my daughter, who like me is half gringita. (Though, technically that makes her officially less than half Cuban.) But, when it comes to identification as a Latin, there are no rules, only self-identification matters.
I tell you this because this past week I found a national story and a university study about racial and ethnic identification among Hispanic-Americans and Latinos that struck me. Both of the stories said many of us, as a population, are not identifying as Hispanic on the census, or at all.
For one reason, we see ourselves made up of more than one race (more than one little box). How do you pick one race when your bloodstream potentially has everything from Spanish to African to Indian to Chinese?
And secondly, the deeper our roots are — second, third-plus generations — the less likely we are to self-identify as Hispanic/Latino. We become just “white” or “black” or “other.”
The case could be made that my little daughter and I could, or should, just check “non-Latino white.” But for me, that wouldn’t be right spiritually and emotionally. I am not sure how my daughter will check her own box when she’s an adult.
But, here is what the University of Southern California study I found said about the second, third-generations (like my daughter and me) not checking the box:
“As a result of some Latinos’ propensity to not check the Hispanic race box on the census, a correct analysis of Hispanic achievement and mobility in America is undermined.”
According to the USC survey, approximately 44.1 million U.S. residents declared Hispanic or Latin-American roots, but 2.5 million did not check the “Hispanic” box on the 2010 Census.
The New York Times yesterday published a great story titled “For Many Latinos, Racial Identity is More Culture than Color.” It quoted a 2011 survey of Mexican-Americans that found that the parents of “more than a quarter of third-generation children with Mexican ancestry do not identify their children as Latino on census forms.”
Much of the “ethnic attrition” happens when Mexican-Americans marry non-Mexican or non-Hispanic whites, the story said. Additionally, the story said, it fails to show the economic and social progress of Mexican-Americans in America.
From the USC study, assistant sociology professor Jody Agius Vallejo:
“Scholars and politicians question whether and to what extent Latinos are assimilating. Some Latinos are not identifying as Latino and disappearing into the population.
People with Latin American ancestry who do not identify as Hispanic may be a harbinger of future patterns of assimilation, but because these people are left out, we might be underestimating the extent to which Latinos are assimilating into America’s core social structures.”
The Census will forever reflect that in 2010, in my little town with a less than 1% Hispanic population, there was at least one successful, proud Cuban-American and her Hispanic daughter. And as long as I can check the box for both of us, that’s what it will say.
It’s tricky, right? This question of race and identity. Only further proves, to me, that holding on to la cultura is a task and a challenge, that the rewards of immigration come at a cost and, it could be argued, a loss.
So, how do you identify when someone says: What are You? What does the 2010 Census say about you?
How would you change the question on the Census?