When I was in elementary school, we had these standardized tests that we took once or twice a year. The teacher would stand in front of the class and administer the test, helping any kids that had questions about what to fill out. Us kids would take our sharp #2 pencils and bubble in the appropriate answer to the questions that we were asked.
Most of the questions were easy ones like our age at the time of the test, our date of birth, what grade we were in. Then came the questions about race and ethnicity. For a kid, those were slightly confusing questions.
I knew that I wasn’t Asian, Native American, African American or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. I was Mexican-American with Spanish, French, and German thrown in (from my mother’s side). I didn’t see a Mexican-American or Hispanic bubble to pick. Maybe I was “other?”
I remember raising my hand to ask Mrs. Curtis, my second grade teacher, for help because I didn’t seem to fit into the options that were available to choose from. The teacher explained to me that I should select “white” as my race. I was perplexed and chewed on my eraser. I thought that “white” would mean that I was…well, white which meant (in my 7 year old brain) Anglo. Surely she was wrong and I was really an “other.” But she was the teacher and knew best so I selected “white.”
My father picked me up after school, asked me how my day was, and wanted to know what I thought of the test. The confusion returned so I explained to him what happened with the only question on the test that trumped me up – what was my race?
That night, Dad had a sit down talk with my brother and I and explained to us why we were supposed to select “white” on government and school stuff. He tried to make it as simple as possible for us : race – white; ethnicity – Hispanic/Latino/Mexican-American. As we were taught that evening, the concepts of race and ethnicity were completely independent of each other.
I thought the confusion would be done as I grew up. Nope. And it seems the media is just as confused by the phrase “white Hispanics.” Do they exist? I guess so because according to my birth certificate and every other legal document I have, I am one. Is that an accurate assessment of who we are? According to the U.S. Census Bureau it is.
The U.S. Census Bureau states that “people who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race.” They also define white as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as “White” or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.
If we go by this definition, then white Hispanics are alive and well in the U.S. but this brings us back to the USE of the phrase “white Hispanic.” In the George Zimmerman trial, pundits referred to him as being a white Hispanic, which he may be. The use of the term wasn’t because talking heads wanted to be accurate in presenting his ethnicity and heritage. It was done as a way to further divide the races. Let’s face it, saying that a “white” man shot and killed young, black Trayvon Martin gets a lot more attention in the media than saying that a multi-racial man pulled the trigger.
Most of us in this country, or world for that matter, are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious. If we were to dive into our family trees and dig around, most of us would find (as I did) that we have roots in many different countries. Maybe someday we won’t need to check off our ethnicity or race in a box and we can all simply be the HUMAN RACE.
By Being Latino Contributor, Valeka Cruz