How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Latinos and race: How racial identity varies by generation

Source: Pew Hispanic Center


Today on KPCC's Patt Morrison Show, I'll be among the guests talking about the nuances of the pan-ethnic labels attached to people of Latin American origin in the United States, people like yours truly who are asked to identify on census forms as "Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin."

It's been roughly forty years since the "Hispanic" category was introduced by the U.S. Census Bureau, but a recent Pew Hispanic Center study indicates that all these years later, a majority of people described by the Hispanic/Latino label still prefer to identify according to their family's country of origin. There are differences, depending on where people live, which immigrant generation they come from, and so forth.

And there are other interesting wrinkles in the report, including how Latinos/Hispanics/lo que sea (which loosely translates to "whatever") identify in terms of race. Other research has found similar generational differences, but it's fascinating: While second-generation Latinos are less likely to describe themselves as "white" than their immigrant parents are, the grandchildren of Latino immigrants are the most likely to describe themselves as white. They are also the least apt to refer to themselves as Hispanic/Latino. From the report:

Findings from the Pew Hispanic survey show that, when asked which term describes their race—white, black, Asian or some other race—51% of Latinos say their race is either “some other race” (26%) or volunteer that their race is “Hispanic or Latino” (25%).

Meanwhile, one-third (36%) say their race is white and the remainder, 10%, identify their race as black, Asian or mixed race.

...The Pew Hispanic survey also finds that racial identification among Latinos varies by immigrant generation, with third-generation Latinos the most likely to identify as white. Among immigrant Latinos, 51% say their race is “some other race” (21%) or “Hispanic or Latino” (31%),2 36% say their race is white and 9% say their race is black, Asian or mixed race.

Among second-generation Latinos, a similar pattern is evident—55% say their race is either “some other race” (36%) or “Hispanic or Latino” (20%), followed by 30% who say their race is white.

Among third-generation Hispanics, the share that identifies as white rises to 44% and the share that says “some other race” or “Hispanic or Latino” falls to 43%.


The first-second generational split isn't surprising one. First-generation parents come to this country steeped in the Latin American hierarchy of color, in which even olive-skinned people are often considered white. Meanwhile, their children learn quickly that in the United States, the cultural definition of "white" goes beyond skin tone.

Interestingly, the Pew survey's findings didn't match those of the 2010 U.S. Census, which showed even more Latinos identifying as white. According to the report, 2010 census data showed that 37 percent of Latinos overall identified as “some other race” while a majority, 53 percent, identified their race as white. Then again, the census asks respondents to check the "Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish Origin" box as an ethnic category, not a racial one.

We'll be talking about ethnic labels, identity, race and more this afternoon. The show airs between 1-3 p.m. Pacific time on KPCC 89.3 FM.

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