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Daniel Cubias

Daniel Cubias

Posted: April 6, 2010 06:22 PM

Stand Up and Be Counted... Or Not: Why Latinos Have Issues With the Census

What's Your Reaction:

I am not an overly paranoid person.

Why, have you heard otherwise? And who told you?

Never mind, I'll just move on to my main point, which is that I have never understood the deep mistrust of the U.S. Census. I've written about this before.

Apparently, a noticeable segment of the population is terrified that filing out this form will allow the government to stick them in internment camps, Christopher Lambert style (and yes, mentioning Fortress is officially the most obscure pop culture reference to date on the Huffington Post):

In any case, it seems that right-wing nuts aren't the only ones who believe the Census is all a plot... a slow-moving, bureaucratic, cumbersome, and tedious plot, but a dastardly scheme nonetheless.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, just 57 percent of native-born Latinos believe that census participation is good for their community. This means a large number of Hispanics distrust, or at least dislike, the Constitutionally mandated exercise.

Strangely enough, it is foreign-born Latinos, many of whom may not even be citizens, who are more accepting of the process. The Pew Hispanic Center says 80 percent of them believe the Census is a good idea, adding that "the foreign born are also more likely to correctly say that the census cannot be used to determine who is in the country legally [and] more likely to trust the Census Bureau to keep their personal information confidential" than Latinos born in America.

Once again, this proves that assimilation is definitely taking place. Just as foreign-born Latinos tend to get obese and unhealthy the longer they live in the United States, so are their offspring more likely to turn into government-hating paranoids who can't be bothered with facts. So to everyone who says Hispanics can't assimilate - in your face!

But aside from the inherent hatred that the Census provokes, there is also the messy racial element on the form itself. As many people have pointed out, the form does not list Hispanics as a race. Instead, we are an ethnicity.

This is because, as I've stated before, Hispanics may be of any race. We can be light-skinned, brown-hued, or as dark as any African American (although Torii Hunter might say such individuals are imposters).

However, to say that we are not a separate race has adverse consequences. It's very easy to find a Latino who is annoyed that he's being forced to pick "white" or "black" for his race. This irritation is not unjustified.

Furthermore, with distrust of the Census so high, an unnecessary racial jab is not the way to increase Hispanic participation. It's also an ineffective sidestep. For example, Time magazine reports that "more than 40 percent of Hispanics, when asked on the Census form in 2000 to register white or black as their race, wrote in 'Other' -- and they represented 95 percent of the 15.3 million people in the U.S. who did so."

I can personally back up this fact. Last week, when I filled out the Census for our household, I checked Hispanic for my ethnicity. But I was stumped over what to mark for race. Strictly speaking, white is my closest option. But I checked "Other" and then wrote in "Hispanic" in the space provided to explain this otherness. This wasn't a political act. It just seemed to make the most sense at the time.

However, in retrospect, my answer was, at the very least, redundant. Why write in "Hispanic" when I had already checked it off on the ethnicity box? More interestingly, I was now insisting that "Hispanic" is a race and not just an ethnicity. Did I really mean to do that? Perhaps I should have thought it out better. But images of Fortress were playing through my head, and I panicked.

So maybe critics are right to say that we should do away with the whole sloppy system of assessing the racial makeup of this country. Even President Obama had to make a stand when confronted with the Census' limited options. Witness all the tittering and twittering that accompanied his decision to checkmark the box that says "Black, African Am., or Negro."

It's clearly not so easy anymore to stick people into fixed racial categories. And it's only going to get crazier as each generation becomes increasingly mixed and mingled.

I have to wonder what the options will be for the 2100 Census. Regardless, I'm sure plenty of Americans will fear and hate it.