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.