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The 2010 Census and Latinos: What race are we?

The 2010 Census has confused Hispanics. It asks one’s race but doesn’t have a Hispanic option. What about 'multiracial,' or brown?

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Growing up in a Mexican-American household, I was quite familiar with the term “Viva la raza!” Anytime there was a party or gathering at our house, it was normal for someone to get excited and yell this out. One day, I asked my father what it meant. “La raza means the race,” he explained. “That’s us, Mexicanos. So Viva la raza means ‘Long live our people.’ Get it?” I nodded. I got it.

Not so long afterward, I was sitting in my third-grade science class at school. “There are three races,” my teacher intoned a now discredited theory. “Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid. Everyone in the world belongs to one of these three races.”

I raised my hand. “What about la raza?” I asked.

My teacher gave me a blank look. “What’s that?”

“You know, like Mexicans,” I offered.

My science teacher glared at me. “Mexicans are not a race. I just told you there are three races. Weren’t you listening?”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t get it.

Back then, I had no concept of race and ethnicity; I was just confused that what I learned at home didn’t match what I learned at school. But such cultural conundrums remain a fact of life for Latinos. In March 120 million households received their questionnaire for the 2010 Census, and it has left many Hispanics perplexed.

Question 8 asks whether a person is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, and then lists possible answers ranging from Mexican-American to Cuban to Spaniard.

It is Question 9 that has confused Hispanics. It asks one’s race, and the possible answers are White, Black, American Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, and Samoan. Responders are allowed to check as many boxes as they like.

Excuse me, but when did nationalities like “Japanese” and “Korean” become a race?

And in the interest of accuracy, what is the best answer to Question 9 for Latinos? The overwhelming majority of Hispanics are a combination of Spanish and indigenous peoples, yet there is no box to check off “Biracial” or “Mixed race.”

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