How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Should the census change how Latinos are counted?

Screen shot 2012-08-08 at 4.37.52 PM

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


The U.S. Census Bureau has long struggled with how to count Latinos, or more accurately, those described on census forms as "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin.” It's always been tricky.

Latinos, the term I'll use for now, range from white to black to indigenous, with all variations of mestijaze in between. Thanks to generations of migration, some of us have Asian roots. We're a mixed bunch, so much we don't even agree on a pan-ethnic label.

For quite some time, census forms have provided "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin” as an ethnic category, not a racial one. Respondents identify their race, then also identify themselves in terms of Latino/Hispanic ethnicity. In recent years, a growing number of Latinos have opted to identify as "some other race," another choice given.

Today, census officials announced the results of some experiments they've been conducting on questionnaire design, using experimental questionnaires to determine whether Latinos might respond better to being counted and identified differently. From the bureau's statement today:

The results showed that a higher number of individuals were more likely to respond to a combined race and Hispanic origin question than to separate questions.

There were fewer people who left such a question blank, basically. The general idea would be to have respondents first choose their Latino/Hispanic identity, then move on to race.

The proposed changes are just that, and there's bound to be considerable back-and-forth before the bureau settles on new questions. As it was put in a Fox News Latino piece today:

While individual Hispanics have expressed dissatisfaction with census forms that don't count Latino as a race, Latino political groups have been reticent about pushing for a change. The main reason: past research has sometimes shown that treating Latinos as a mutually exclusive group on survey forms leads to a lower Hispanic count.

A series of other changes are being floated, including removing the term "Negro," which was still on the forms used in 2010. Read more about the proposed changes here; there are also examples of the suggested new designs for census forms here.
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