The Census Bureau is currently in the process of revising how it addresses the race of Latino respondents. In the 2010 Census, Americans were asked if they were of Latino/Hispanic/Spanish origin and then asked to identify their race as White, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Oh, yeah, there was one last choice: “Some other race”. Not surprisingly, 18 million Latinos — or 36 percent of the Latino population — selected this option.
The poor Census people must be racking their brains trying to come up with better race choices for Latinos. What they need to understand though is that, unless they offer a full page of racial options, it’s just not that simple to narrow down a Latino’s racial profile to one selection.
Take me, for example. Sometimes not even other Latinos can pinpoint what I am. I am part Puerto Rican and part Jewish. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but while living there, I was asked a few times if I was Spanish — which, of course, is in my genetic makeup — and I even got asked if I was Italian. I’ve been living in Orlando, Florida, for the past nine years. On one occasion, after asking where I was from, a white American told me, “You aren’t like any other Puerto Rican I have ever met.” I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but the sentiment has been echoed by Latinos.
When I go to the Latino supermarket, I am sometimes spoken to in English or people will look at me like “what’s she doing here buying plátanos?” Also, when I tell other Latinos here in the States that I’m Puerto Rican, every single one has told me they thought I was Colombian or Venezuelan. So I’m guessing there’s also a cultural component to this. I think maybe people, including other Latinos, think about the stereotypical image of the nuyorican woman, and are thrown off when they see I don’t wear humongous hoop earrings, a gold chain around my neck with my name on it, or tawk like Rosie Perez. There can be a distinct difference in the appearance of Puerto Ricans raised on the island and those raised on the U.S. mainland.
I asked five people, four of whom know me and one of whom is a stranger, if they would think I was Latina if they saw me walking down the street. Two people said yes; one person said they would think I was from some European country; and the other two, including the stranger, said they would think I was a white American. My husband and his family are Dominican; to me they look black, but they do not describe themselves as being black. I have three children of three different colors: my daughter is fair with dark blonde hair and green eyes; my middle son is café con leche; and my youngest son is dark.
Good luck, Census Bureau people. Hopefully, in 2020, each of us will find an accurate description for our race. But at the end of the day, we all belong to the human race.
By Taína Haiman, special contributor