Immigration and Ethnicity Essay

Submitted By juarezrafa
Words: 1456
Pages: 6

Who's Hispanic? by Jeffrey Passel and Paul Taylor
Is Sonia Sotomayor the first Hispanic ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or does that distinction belong to the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the court from 1932-1938 and whose ancestors may or may not have come from Portugal?
Unscrambling Cardozo’s family tree is best left to historians and genealogists.1 Here we take a stab at a more daunting question. Just who is a Hispanic?
If you turn to the U.S. government for answers, you quickly discover that it has two different approaches to this definitional question. Both are products of a 1976 act of Congress and the administrative regulations that flow from it.
One approach defines a Hispanic or Latino as a member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil).
The other approach is much simpler. Who’s Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.
The U.S. Census Bureau uses this second approach. By its way of counting, there were 46,943,613 Hispanics in the United States as of July 1, 2008, comprising 15.4% of the total national population.
But behind the impressive precision of this official Census number lies a long history of changing labels, shifting categories and revised question wording – all of which reflect evolving cultural norms about what it means to be Hispanic.
Here’s a quick primer on how the Census Bureau approach works.
Q. I immigrated to Phoenix from Mexico. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My grandparents were born in Spain but I grew up in California. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. I was born in Maryland and married an immigrant from El Salvador. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My mom is from Chile and my dad is from Iowa. I was born in Des Moines. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. I was born in Argentina but grew up in Texas. I don’t consider myself Hispanic. Does the Census count me as an Hispanic?
A. Not if you say you aren’t.
Q. Okay, I get the point. But isn’t there something in U.S. law that defines Hispanicity?
A. Yes. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the only law in this country’s history that mandated the collection and analysis of data for a specific ethnic group: “Americans of Spanish origin or descent.” The language of that legislation described this group as “Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America and other Spanish-speaking countries.” Standards for collecting data on Hispanics were developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1977 and revised in 1997. Using these standards, schools, public health facilities and other government entities and agencies keep track of how many Hispanics they serve (which was a primary goal of the 1976 law).
However, the Census Bureau does not apply this definition in counting Hispanics. Rather, it relies entirely on self-reporting and lets each person identify as Hispanic or not. The 2000 Census form asked the “Hispanic” question this way:

That question wording will be tweaked slightly in the 2010 Census, but the basic approach will be the same: People will be counted as Spanish/Hispanic/Latino if — and only if — that’s what they say they are. These self-reports are not subject to any independent checks, corroborations or corrections. Theoretically, someone who is Chinese could identify himself as Hispanic and that’s how he would be counted.
Q. But the Census also asks people about their race and their ancestry. How do these responses come into play when determining if someone is Hispanic?
A. They don’t. In the eyes of the Census Bureau, Hispanics can be of any race, any ancestry, any country of origin. The…