Latin@ is what Latin@ is: says who?

I am starting to work with census data, and reading through questionnaire of the American Community Survey, it caught my attention that “Hispanic” is not considered a race or an ethnicity. Also, from the Surveys’s implied nomenclature, the question of origin is independent to  the topic of “ancestry”.

From the ACS’s instructions, Latino is not a race, not an ethnicity and not something that’s relevant to one’s ancestry. What does it even mean to be Latino in the eyes of the Census Bureau?

The question of identification about Hispanic origin is awkwardly included as a weird appendix-like question in the first section  which builds a demographic profile of the household’s members. According to the 5th question of the ACS, being “Hispanic” is the same as being “Latino”, or having Spanish origin. And if I am Hispanic/Latino/ or have Spanish roots, you can be one of the following: (1) Mexican, Mexican American, or Chicano; (2) Puerto Rican; (3) Cuban; (4) Another: such as Argentinean, Colombian ,Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadorean, Spaniard, and so no. But either way, my race is not “Latin”. My race is either Black, White, Native American, Guamanian or Chamorro, Native Hawaiian, or, comically, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Other Asian, or Some other race.

This is fundamentally wrong. It is explicit in the Census that I cannot choose to fill the “Some other race” box with “Colombian” or any other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin denomination. Why is someone from Vietnam Vietnamese instead of Asian, while Colombians are defined as Hispanic/Latino and seen as identical (to the eyes of the government) as for example Argentinians -many of whom are of Italian descent anyway?

This raises an even more troubling issue: what business does the Census Bureau and the federal government have in “defining” my identity? And if it is justifiable, why does it do it wrong?

This has practical as well as philosophical implications. In the practical sense, this inconsistency in the semantic frame can affect important procedures, from applying to federal aid, to filling college registration forms, to competing for government money with other minorities. From the philosophical stance, I find it offensive that even having a clear red flag of a violation of logic in the Survey, the US Census Bureau gives itself the luxury to perpetuate a profound ignorance about the largest minority group in the US. Even worse, if the Census Bureau was not sluggish or stubborn in learning about its constituency and actually did understand the identity of a sixth+ of the US population, that the question of race and origin and ethnicity is logically inconsistent, is a worrisome sign of the government’s laziness to change the status quo.

Is it manipulative? Is it malicious? I can’t say much more for now, but my initial reaction to how this country measures me and counts me and collects and discloses data about me is troublesome.




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