How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Self-identification v. what the Census wants to call Latinos

Latinos for Obama

Alice Walton/KPCC

Or should it be "Hispanics for Obama?" A sign posted at a South Los Angeles campaign office before the November 2012 election.

Last August, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it had been experimenting with its questionnaires to create a better way of counting the people it asks  to identify on census forms as being of "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin."

This could involve creating a mutually exclusive group or a category that combines race and ethnicity on census forms for 2020. The process has picked up steam as the bureau gathers public comment. But it's still a challenge to categorize such a diverse group of Americans. 

When the Pew Hispanic Center released a thought-provoking report last spring about the ways Latinos and/or Hispanics identify themselves, the resulting coverage sparked a national conversation about ethnic labels. The report pointed out that most survey respondents bucked pan-ethnic labels like "Latino" and "Hispanic," and preferred instead to identify by their families' countries of origin.

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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:

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