This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Monday, June 2, 2014

How U.S. Hispanics Became White

Race is a "pigment of our imagination" as Rubén Rumbaut has famously said, and the census and survey questions that are asked in the U.S. tend to reflect an 18th century view of the human species, as I've noted before. I thought of that when reading an item by Nate Cohn in today's NY Times discussing the finding by the Census Bureau that a large number of Hispanics in the U.S. (keeping in mind that the U.S. is the only country that uses the term "Hispanic") changed their racial classification to "white" between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. For the most part they changed it from "some other race" to "white." One explanation is that the 2010 census questionnaire specifically noted that Hispanic origin is not a racial category, and that may have clarified to respondents that they could be both Hispanic and white. Another explanation is more sociological in nature:
Many analyses of census data shows that Hispanics who call themselves white have higher levels of educational attainment, income and civil engagement than those who identify as some other race. A Pew Research report, drawing on these findings, concluded that Hispanics saw white racial identification as a “measure of belongingness.” 
Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico and a director of research for the polling group Latino Decisions, interpreted the upward swing in white identification as consistent with the possibility that well-assimilated Hispanics might become “for most social purposes, white.”
In some respects, both explanations are consistent with one another, and consistent with the findings of Mara Loveman (now at UC Berkeley) and Jeronimo O. Muniz in their American Sociological Review paper: "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification." Over time the boundaries of what is white became more inclusive in Puerto Rico and I think we are seeing the same thing on the mainland. The note in the census questionnaire is one aspect of that and the recognition by an increasing number of Hispanics that they are accepted in society as "white" is another piece of evidence. Maybe someday we can just talk about "ethnicity" or "ancestry" (your roots--generally defined) and leave race behind altogether. I'll come back to this issue after Mara Loveman's new book "National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America" comes out later this summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment