Latinos, Race and the 2010 United States Census

After posting a few articles on about how important it is for everyone, especially Latinos, to fill out the US Census, I began to notice a trend. Everyone agrees about the importance of standing up to be counted—after all, the census is the way our government determines how direly necessary federal funds are allocated to schools and hospitals and how congressional districts are shaped. But a healthy debate was brewing about how we Latinos were choosing to fill out the race section of the census.

This argument hits close to home for me. As a dark-skinned Latina, I'm never sure quite sure how to navigate the race section of any form, much less one as important as the census. So, I asked my family for their advice. My fiancé insisted on selecting “Other” and writing in "Latino"—which immediately sparked a heated discussion between us. Latino refers to culture and geographical origin rather than race, I argued. In fact, Latinos come in all shapes, colors and sizes. From the Chino-Cubanos of the Caribbean to the Afro-Panamanians of Central America to the Indigenous groups of Bolivia, surely Latino does not encompass any specific race, I insisted. He rationalized that since race is a social construct with no scientific backing, why not create a new race which referred not to the color of your skin but rather the group you felt most aligned with?, that made me think.

My father got very specific and, our family being of Puerto Rican origin, selected the White, Black and Native American boxes, filling in Taino as the tribe from which he hails. This seemed to be the most historically accurate representation of a Puerto Rican, but it still didn't feel quite right for me. My mother insisted on checking "Other" and writing in "Human," as she believes it really doesn't matter what the color of your skin is—as long as you picked Latino/Hispanic and Puerto Rican in the ethnicity section, then our community would be correctly counted. For many years, it seemed to be that "whiteness" was universally favored by most Latinos in the United States; but as our community grows more educated and sensitive to our own history and diversity, it has become apparent that we are searching for labels that more accurately reflect who we really are.

I realized I was not the only one struggling with this question, which is why I wanted to open up this debate and hear what you, our readers, have to say. I'm not sure if a label exists, or ever will, that accurately reflects the beautiful mashup of cultures, skin tones and traditions I'm so proud of. But for now, I'm choosing to be a part of the Human Race. Maybe labels aren't so important after all.