Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Florida shooter Zimmerman's ethnicity illustrates how Latinos don't 'fit neatly into a box'

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in Florida, was originally described in reports as "white." The more recent revelation that he's half Latino, the son of a Peruvian-born mother, has little bearing on the case itself. But it has prompted a national discussion about how we perceive and assign race and, in cases of racial profiling - which many believe this to be - whether the color or ethnicity of the shooter matters.

It's also prompted questions about what constitutes "Latino," as the Associated Press' Suzanne Gamboa writes today. Just within Peru itself, she writes, there is a racial-ethnic mix: There are descendants of the indigenous Peruvians, mestizos of partial Spanish descent, whites, blacks and Asians. And like many people of Latin American descent, Zimmerman doesn't "fit neatly into a box." From the story:

On Twitter, there was genuine confusion about Zimmerman's race. Is he Latino or white? Is Hispanic a race, or not? Shouldn't he, a Latino, have known better than to engage in racial profiling? Might he be Jewish, based on his last name? Many said his Hispanic lineage had nothing to do with the fact that the justice system had failed Martin, while some said Zimmerman's identity was very important.

"I'm actually happy that George Zimmerman is Hispanic so the usual white people are all guilty by virtue of their skin color stuff won't work," said a March 22 tweet by John Hawkins, who described himself as a professional blogger at Right Wing News.

Hispanic people can be black, white, Asian or mixed. Some 18 million Latinos checked the "some other race" category on their 2010 Census forms " which admonished in bold letters that Hispanic is not a race. So many Hispanics identified themselves as white, the overall number of white people in the United States increased.

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