Opinion | “Hispanic” should be racial category on census
March 26, 2020
From March 12-20, households will receive the mail-in census form to be counted in the nationwide process. As the census begins, many Hispanic-Americans will find themselves having to make a serious decision: how should they report their race when “Hispanic” isn’t considered one?
It seems like a delusion to think that, in the United States, “Hispanic” isn’t considered a race. But the lack of a census category is due to a long and rich history of social and racial injustice against Hispanic-Americans.
In 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War, in the hopes of creating peace between the two nations, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Article 9) guaranteed that all Mexicans in the land annexed by the United States would be naturalized as citizens.
However, this agreement conflicted with the Naturalization Law of 1790 that stated only whites could be citizens of the United States. Because of this, Mexicans in this region became white by law.
In 1930, a few decades after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, “Mexican” was put on the national census as a race. At the time of this change, the government was weaponizing the survey as a way to round up and deport non-whites in wake of the Great Depression. So in 1929, the League of the United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was formed with the main goal to get “Mexican” off of the 1930 census. The LULAC protested this addition since, at the time, the only way to be treated as a full citizen was to be white.
“Mexican” was eventually taken off the census. However, while the LULAC’s fight for this change was fought in good faith, today the lack of a racial category for Mexican and Hispanic-Americans writ large forces cultural and structural erasure.
The lack of a racial category representing Hispanic-Americans forces many to choose a race with which they do not identify. Being “white” doesn’t match the discrimination, microaggressions and struggles that many Hispanic-Americans face. Looking at the census as a Mexican-American and seeing that none of my options listed under race fit with my identity makes me feel like I don’t belong.
Marking myself as white takes away all the struggles I deal with on a daily basis as a person of color. But marking myself down as Black makes me feel as if I’m devaluing the Black experience and not taking into account all the privileges I’m granted by having lighter skin. And since my only other options are American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander or “other,” I feel that I am not being accounted for.
This obviously isn’t just an issue for Mexican-Americans though. For many Hispanics and Latinxs, their racial classification as anything else than Hispanic or Latinx doesn’t sit well.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic or Latino may be any race.” For many, however, the problem in that definition is that Hispanic or Latinx is what we consider to be our race.
In 2015, after the 2010 national census, the Pew Research Center conducted a set of surveys that found that “more than any other group, Latinos say their race is ‘some other race,’ mostly writing in responses such as ‘Mexican’, ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latin American.’ Some 37% of Latinos did this in the 2010 census, as did 42% in the 2000 census.”
For many Hispanics and Latinxs, our identity as Hispanic or Latinx is racial, and to imply that our identity is not substantive enough to qualify as a race when being accounted for is not just insulting, it is dangerous. It ignores the existence of an entire population in the United States and facilitates cultural and structural assimilation — in short, erasure of our identities and history. The best way to fix that is simple: include “Hispanic” as a racial category in the census.
Abril is a freshman in Media.