Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Moment of Truth, Census 2010, Hispanic or Non-Hispanic?

I've been dreading this moment for a while now and I cringe every time I fill job application forms, sometimes filling in "Hispanic" because I know they're looking for diversity and it might be a plus for me. Now comes the census form, the time when I have to take an "official" stand on this once and for all.

Are Brazilians Hispanic, though? We do not speak Spanish although most of us understand it and can communicate if we use a Spanish accent and include some Spanish words and speak "Portuñol," as I like to call it (Spanish speaking people cannot understand Portuguese unless they're used to it by having Brazilian friends or family, which annoys me to no end*). Are Brazilians "Latinos"? I guess sure, we are, but Hispanic?

However, the Census wording is: "Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin."

As far as "race" is concern, I'm mostly White/Caucasian/European. In my dad's side I'm 25% German & 25% Polish (dad's 50/50 obviously, his grandparents were born in Germany on his dad's side and Poland, on his mom's side, he has bright blue eyes). In my mom's side: 12.5% French (my great-grandma emigrated from France); 12.5% Italian-Austrian (great-grandpa) -- their daughter, my grandma, had bright blue eyes too; and 25% a mixture, I'm told that there's some English and maybe Spanish too. My grandpa from was Southern Brazil, and he's the most "mixed" of my ancestors, with olive skin, black eyes and curly-ish hair. Most of my ancestors emigrated from Europe to Brazil in the end of the 19th century.

"Race" has nothing to do with being Hispanic though!! I know that a lot of "Hispanics," particularly Argentinean (or Argentine), but also from other countries, also have mostly "Caucasian" ancestors, so "race" is not really a factor here.

I guess they have this question in the Census because then want a confirmation that "Hispanics" are the largest immigrant group in the country and if being from a Latin American country counts, then I guess I should say that yes, I'm Hispanic. Sigh. I'll let K decide. What about the boys? Are they Hispanic too? They're definitely Brazilian, but born here. I guess we have to go with whatever we decide for us, the parents.

This expatriate life is very confusing at times... ;-)

*Someday I want to find a linguist who studies this phenomenon of this "one way" thing that goes between some pairs of languages. I'd love to read a dissertation about the linguistic (phonetic & otherwise) reasons why Spanish speakers cannot understand Portuguese if both languages are so similar. I wonder if anyone has studied this yet.

6 comments:

Hey ❤ Zee said...

Isn't it time to abolish questions like this? These forms in schools, doctors, census. I would think in cultural background rather than race. Because there is no pure race. This country is the most diverse regarding to this issue. There are people from all over the world. We are just human beings. I don't know why "race data" is still in use. This question was never made in Brazil. I remember when the government removed the "color of skin" from the birth certificates. That doesn't stop racism as well though.
Yes, it's interesting why they don't understand us.

Rene said...

This is an interesting topic. My students in Istanbul had to try and define their ethnicity when they took the PSAT. It raised some good questions.

Sandra said...

It is an interesting issue which our family also faces, since there's usually no box for "Arab" and many Arabs do not identify as white (though some do).

I've always been uncomfortable checking the boxes for my kids. Now they are older and can check their own boxes.

I don't really object to collecting this data, because it helps us to see patterns involving racism. In Chicago, where I'm from, I want to know which schools are 90% white or 90% black, so we know there's a problem with those schools.

Lucy C said...

I'm brazilian, not hispanic. Now, borrowing from a friends post on facebook: "For the census I will answer only the one constitutionally mandated question (see Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3) - the number of residents in the home. If they want any other questions answered, they should follow the Fourth Amendment and present a warrant. If they press further, I will follow the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer."

pithydithy said...

Maybe it's just self interest (I'm an economist whose research is broadly about empirical examination of race and gender in America), but I really don't get the comments from people objecting to the collection of these data. I would argue that understanding racial patterns in the US combats racism rather than enables it. For instance, I've used census data to examine whether consumer prices are higher in poor and minority neighborhoods. I've used other government data with the same race questions to examine the impact of affirmative action on female minorities and the determinants of racial wage differentials. If we don't collect info on race, we won't have info on any of these measures of inequality.

Anyway. Lillian, the Census Bureau will call you Hispanic if you call yourself Hispanic. But the "official" OMD definitions make it clear that the government does not consider Brazilians to he Hispanic because their origin is not a Spanish speaking country. (Yes, yes, there are a million problems with this. Your origin IS a Latin country.) The vast majority of Brazilians do not select "Hispanic" on the census form. As for race, that difficult too. (This whole thing just illustrates the huge difficulties with nailing down race, a fluid social construct.) If you call yourself white, you are white. If you call yourself other and fill in Brazilian, you are "other." I'm not sure what most Brazilians say about race. Obviously Brazil has huge racial diversity, so there's probably huge diversity in their answers to this question. I remember seeing once that many Belizeans (who are also not Hispanic) fill in "other" under race and then indicate Belize.

pithydithy said...

Oops-- I put an extra "l" in your name. Sorry!