Yes, you do have to choose a race

by | Feb 27, 2020 | Census 2020

Latinos may be tempted – again -- to avoid choosing a racial identity in the census, but if they don´t, someone will, says USC Geographer Manuel Pastor.

Also available in Spanish.

By Pilar Marrero, La Opinion & Ethnic Media Services

In the 2010 Census, 53% of Latinos chose the “white” option for the question about race and 43% chose “other races,” leading professor Manuel Pastor (Sociology and American Studies, University of Southern California) to wonder out loud in a published article: “Are Latinos really turning white?”

“So, what happened? Perhaps assimilation is indeed alive and well? Maybe the racial threats posed by anti-immigrant rhetoric led some Hispanics to become defensively white?” he wrote in 2014.
In a recent interview, as he had in his research back then, Pastor pointed to the questions as the likely culprit, not the answers.

“There was a growing sense that the questions being asked of people regarding race and ethnicity were not the right questions to ask,” he said.

And in the year 2020, this is happening again, he says.

This year, the Trump administration decided to drop a question that they had extensively tested and that would improve the gathering of data, particularly for Latinos, in the 2020 Census.

“That was one of the few questions they had thoroughly tested,” Pastor said in a recent interview, referring to a combined “origin and race” question that would take the place of two questions, one for Hispanic origin and one for race, which had yielded a lot of confusion in the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Instead, the Trump administration sought to add a question they had not tested at all, the citizenship question -- now excluded from this census due to Supreme Court intervention.

In both cases, the administration’s decision would have the same result: depressing the Latino numbers. Pastors says he can´t reach that conclusion but he makes the observation that both things are true.

He himself confesses marking “other races,” after self-identifying as a Hispanic in previous census. Pastor is of Cuban origin but he hardly sees himself as white, the race that´s assumed in the United States. “I think the longer Latinos are in the United States, the less white they feel and the more they feel they are the other.’”

Research in this area indicates that many new immigrants might be confused by U.S. racial categories and then mark “other” because nothing fits. Pastor´s own research shows that, controlling for other factors, “the more time you spend in America, the less likely you are to think you are white.”

What´s the recommendation for Latinos filling out the census regarding the racial question? Nobody can tell you how to self-identify, activists agree, but Pastor and others seem to believe that leaving the question blank is not the way to go.

“The public service message is to answer ALL nine questions with as much accuracy as possible,” Pastor said. “If you say you are Hispanic but don´t choose a race, the U.S. Census Bureau will do it for you. They use ‘imputation,’ looking at similar people around where you live, age, sex, ethnicity and they ‘impute’ something is missing. The more people don´t mark, the less information they got.”

And that may skew the results.

Pilar Marrero

Pilar Marrero

Contributor

Pilar Marrero is a journalist and author with long experience in covering social and political issues of the Latino community in the United States. She is one of the foremost experts on immigration policy and politics in the US media world and has covered the issue extensively during her years as a reporter. Marrero is the author of the books "Killing the American Dream" and "El Despertar del Sueño Americano." In October 2018, she was selected by her peers at CCNMA (Latino Journalists of California), as Latina Journalist of the Year.

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