When my son's Michigan Educational Achievement Program's scores came back, I didn't congratulate him, or clap him on the back, or point out how well he'd done on both math and reading. Instead, the first thing I asked was "Did you check Latino or Hispanic on the front sheet?"
See, I've told my children from day one to always self-identify as Latino or Hispanic on any official forms. My daughter, now 12, was just a wobbly-necked lump of baby goodness when the Census 2000 worker came to my dingy apartment, looking for the paper that I'd lost between binkies and Huggies. When I told her, confidently, that we were two, one white and one Latino, and no, we weren't unrelated roommates, she looked momentarily confused. This past census, 2010, we proudly sent back the paper, now with two Latino children, their Latino father, and me, the lone Caucasian in the bunch.
How Latino, exactly, are my children, though? They're not allowed to choose more than one category on most forms. We are seeing more of the "multiracial," but it's not always an option. So, genetically, are they 50/50? If so, is the tiebreaker the cultural influence? Which culture do we live in, mostly? I can't cheapen our level of "Mexican" or "non-Mexican" by putting it on some kind of scale, calculated by an odd mixture of which holidays we celebrate, what languages we speak, how often we've been to Mexico, and what kinds of foods we eat. Anyway, I simply don't know the answer. It varies day by day.
Instead, I tell my children to always choose Hispanic or Latino based on the positives they stand to gain from doing so. Yup, I said it.
Recently it was announced that a new court will once again hear arguments about my state's 2006 ban on affirmative action. One of the lead Universities in that case is my husband's team -- U of M. He'd certainly love to see children of his studying there. Do a search on any pool of scholarships, any set of admissions standards, or any breakdown of high stakes tests, and you may see a separate (smaller) pool for minorities. Maybe even a set broken-down specifically for Latinos, too.
In addition, MEAP scores are how Michigan measures Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is a required gauge under the No Child Left Behind act. AYP is scored overall, but it is also scored within certain subgroups, including Hispanic. For a district to make AYP, they are not only "graded" overall, but the subgroups must also be successful. Placing my high-achieving, high-score children in the Hispanic subgroup might help that statistic. But that's where things get sticky for me.
In placing my children into that subgroup, am I doing a disservice to the culture and people I adore? If my school district is actually lagging on the education of Latino children, wouldn't I want that to be noted?
In addition, I'm fairly certain by now that my kids will fare just fine in college entry. By classifying themselves as Latino on applications down the road, are they taking a spot from another Latino child? If they could conceivably achieve UM entry as "plain white kids," shouldn't they, thereby leaving that spot open for a peer who perhaps didn't have the advantages they had?
And what are those advantages, exactly? Am I saying that because I'm white, my children are somehow "smarter than" or more academically gifted than their fully Latino peers? Nope. Instead, what I am doing here is admitting to the cultural capital I have, as a white person who is navigating a system (college entry, or etc.) made by other white people for other white people. I am admitting that I have an insight into that system because I am part of the overall culture that established it. This is a fundamental part of the belief in affirmative action.
At a luncheon last week, my mother chided me for pointing out ethnicity: "Some of us don't make a big deal out of these things." My husband was the only Latino in the room, and I was teasing him, "This is what I felt like last weekend, at that Tejano dance."
But my mother doesn't get it. We adore our cultures. We revel in the differences that we have. We like to notice, and to talk with others openly about our culture. My husband loves being Latino. My children think of themselves as Mexican-American. They love to talk about their culture and identity. They're proud -- orgullosos.
So, even if I asked them to start checking "Caucasian" from now on, there's no way they would bring themselves to do it. They are truly Latino, 100%, through and through.