The Census Can't Fit Latinos Into a Race Box — And It's Causing Problems

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A new study has shown a shift of Latinos identifying as "some other race," to "white." But according to Huffington Post writer Roque Planas, it's not quite as simple as attesting it to a matter of assimilation. It's really a matter of misunderstanding by non-Latino researchers, writers and a faulty Census classifying system.

Planas argues that while it indeed could be true that more Latinos in the future will identify as "white," the recent statistics by Pew do not make that case quite yet. As most know, "Latino" and "Hispanic" do not refer to a race, but to an ethnic group. Therefore, any race can be considered Latino or Hispanic. 

In Latin America, race is a tricky thing to classify. This is made even trickier when categories that exist in parts of Latin America do not exist in the U.S. and, you guessed it, on the Census. When combined with the idea of mixed races identifying as "white," there's definitely going to be skewed results. Why identify as white? As Planos explains:

"Seeing mixed-race people identify as white is not unique to the United States, nor does it, in and of itself, demonstrate a uniquely American process of racial assimilation. In Latin America the same phenomenon occurs. Though Latin America did not generally experience the same sorts of rigid, legally mandated racial segregation characteristic of the United States, the region still suffers from racism and the legacy of creating a coerced labor pool made up of either black slaves or indigenous workers."

Beyond this, the idea that Census mandates a "race" after one identifies as Hispanic, it makes sense that many would choose a race already identified: white, black, Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander or "some other race." It makes sense then, as Planos argues, that they would identify as white. 

But this isn't the first time we're seeing this. The total share of Latinos self-identifying in the Census rose from 47.9 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2010. 

Whether this is a nod towards assimilation or just confusion not only on Latinos' part, but in the way the Census understands and classifies Latinos, is yet to be determined. In any case, only in moving past sweeping statements can we really understand race and identity. 

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