How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Changing how the census identifies Latinos: Does it complicate an already tricky question?

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Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


As the U.S. Census Bureau attempts to simplify how Latinos are counted by proposing to make them more of an exclusive category, regardless of race, does this only further complicate the already tricky question of Latino/Hispanic identity?

Earlier this week, the bureau released the results of an experiment in which some census respondents were given questionnaires different from the standard ones used in 2010, which asked them to identify in terms of race, then choose “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin” as an ethnic category. The existing wording has proven confusing for many Latinos, with some opting to classify themselves as "some other race."

Could the proposed changes to census forms make identifying and counting Latinos any easier or more accurate? A couple of takes below, one from Victor Landa of News Taco and another from humorist Lalo Alcaraz of Pocho.com, also a contributor to NBC Latino.

From Landa:

...this doesn’t clarify anything. It merely changes one set of options for another. And some observers believe that changing the ethnic/racial options in the 2020 Census form would undercount Latinos.

From Alcaraz:
Sorting out whether “Hispanic” or “Latino” identifiers qualify as a “race” is another topic. Of course some of us look more Caucasian and some more indigenous, and some more African. And that’s in one family.

All names are artificial: even nationalities can be ill-fitting. One can be of indigenous descent and be from Mexico, or have an Irish dad and a Peruvian mom. It’s a complicated world and labels help us make sense of the nonsensical.


As Alcaraz points out, with racial heritage that ranges from white to black to indigenous to Asian, Latinos are difficult to classify. And as the Pew Hispanic Center reported earlier this year, they also prefer to identify themselves based on their family's nation of origin, versus the pan-ethnic labels of "Latino" or "Hispanic." In other words, the Census Bureau's task is not an easy one.
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