Latinos are changing the way the U.S. Census is identifying race in America. In an alternative questionnaire experiment done by the Census, many Latinos chose to identify themselves as “Hispanic” under a combined race/ethnicity category. This is significant, explained Census officials in a press conference today, because in traditional forms, many Hispanic households would not answer the “black” or “white” racial category, either leaving it blank or answering “some other race.”
“Some respondents view their Hispanic origin as a race,” said Nicholas Jones, from the U.S. Census, in a Washington D.C. press conference on the findings today.
Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center, says these findings are consistent with their studies over the years. “Many Latinos have been identifying themselves as “Hispanic” to describe their race, and when you let people tell you about their identity, it takes on many different aspects,” he says.
Trying to correctly reflect the national population is one of the key mandates — and purposes — of the U.S Census. So Census officials were stymied by the high proportion of households — actually 7.1 percent — who stated “some other race” as their identifier in the 2010 Census. The group which most answered in this way was Hispanic families.
So in 2010, about half a million households, including an oversample of Latino families, received forms which were part of an alternative questionnaire experiment. In these forms, the households received a census form with a combined “race and Hispanic origin” question. The percentage of the population answering “some other race” went down from 7.1 percent in the regular Census form to .2 percent in the combined race/Hispanic ethnicity alternative form.
This makes sense to Latinos such as Juan Carlos Restrepo Rodríguez, a Colombian-American attorney in New York who has had heated discussions with family members on race identification. “My sister was upset at me when I would not identify us as white,” says Restrepo, “but while my father looks very European-looking, my mother is very Indian looking, so I told my sister even if she ‘looks’ white she is not ‘really’ white,” he explains.
Restrepo says the “race issue is extremely complicated,” but he says having a census form which combines Hispanic ethnicity and race is a step in the right direction.
Another finding announced today is that providing checkboxes with specific Hispanic origin (which countries Latinos are from) is effective. Detailed Hispanic origin reporting was high (86 to almost 89 percent) when the combined race/Hispanic origin question included specific boxes to check country of origin. Less than 80 percent of Latinos identified country of origin, however, if the boxes to check off countries were not available.
Census officials say they are looking at all of this information as they work on the design of the 2020 Census.