Some are sceptical about the proposal. Rubén Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, accepts the need for good data but says the bureau is thinking about race in 18th-century terms. Hispanic identity in America, he adds, is a “Frankenstein’s monster” that has taken on a life of its own.
The ethnic origins of some previous waves of immigrants have evaporated over time: Italians, Germans and Russians, dismissed by Benjamin Franklin in 1751 as of “swarthy Complexion”, are now, for the most part, just white. Similar forces may be at play today: last year the Pew Hispanic Centre found that among Hispanics of the third generation or above, almost half preferred to call themselves “American”.The point here, which is a very good one, is why we even use the concept of "race" at all anymore. The collection of data like this derive from our collective desire to measure inequalities, which are often driven by discrimination. But, as Rumbaut has famously said on other occasions, "race is a pigment of your imagination". So, we need to be more inventive about the ways in which we identify people, if we are really going to use these data for the improvement of society.