Nathalie Torres, 5, of the Brooklyn borough of New York, second from right, and others react as they watch the Dominican Parade Sunday Aug. 14, 2011 along Sixth Avenue in New York.
His phenotypes don’t all represent his Hispanic roots.
With light skin and dark hair, Oliver Ortega, 21, often surprises others when he explains his Colombian heritage. But he doesn’t want his pale complexion to mask his culture — particularly where the government is concerned.
As the United States Census Bureau considers switching Hispanic from an ethnicity to a “race and origin” category in its 2020 survey, Ortega said he hopes the changes won’t occur.
“It’s difficult to pigeonhole myself in a race box,” said Ortega, a junior at Northwestern University.
If the change does take place, he said he would check off Hispanic as his race.
Although it’s unclear how Census data would change with Hispanic under a “race and origin” category, listing it with white, black, Asian and American Indian helps place Latinos on par with other sects of the population, said Ariel Ortiz, a senior at Tufts University.
Because Census data affects legislative district lines and federal funding, the proposed change has the potential to affect public policy — like education and work reforms to benefit the Hispanic population.
Such results could help level the playing field for Latino Americans, said Veronica Jiménez-Lu, a sophomore at Haverford College.
“I’m in favor of it because it’s finally giving Latinos a place on the map,” Ortiz, 21, said. “At the same time a part of me cringes at it because it reinforces the boundaries we keep creating in America.”
While listing Hispanic as a race could simplify which box to check, this U.S. Census consideration doesn’t account for the diversity within this group, which is full of lighter- and darker-skinned individuals, Ortiz said.
For example, as a member of Northwestern University’s historically Latino Omega Delta Phi, Ortega said his fraternity brothers represent myriad heritages — like indigenous and African — which would make it difficult to select a racial category.
As a result, he said he prefers the Census as is, with Hispanic under ethnicity.
Whereas in the ethnicity category Hispanic includes specifications for country of origin, under a “race and origin” designation, individuals wouldn’t have this option.
Though the Census allows people to check more than one race or ethnicity — Ortega said he would have checked white and other in the 2010 Census — there isn’t room for elaboration.
“Hispanic isn’t a race, it’s a collection of race,” Ortega said. “I don’t think the change would reflect the diversity.”
But such diversity is not unique to the country’s Hispanic population.
Within the Census’ Asian race category, for example, citizens from (or with ancestors from) Russia and Israel to India and China are included.
To better account for the “melting pot” citizenry, the Census’ race and ethnicity categories should be open-ended questions, said Jiménez-Lu, 20.
Or, at least, more easily amendable, Ortiz said.
“The Census takes so long to adjust to population spurts,” Ortiz continued. “If they’re going to use these categories they need to more quickly adjust to the population.”
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