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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A new way of counting poverty finds Latinos to be the poorest Americans

The Pew Hispanic Center has interpreted the U.S. Census Bureau's new alternative measure of poverty, which is intended to better reflect the cost of basic living expenses, along with the resources that people have to live on. Called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), it uses additional factors to measure poverty than does the official federal measure.

Counted in are medical expenses, tax credits and government benefits such as food stamps, housing subsidies and school lunch programs, according to Pew's report on the new numbers today. Geographic cost-of-living adjustments are also factored in.

The result? There are even more poor people in the U.S. than previously counted, and more of them are Latino, Asian, and foreign-born. Latinos make up the biggest group of the poor under the new measure, compared with black Americans, still the poorest as counted by the official measure.

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Latinos and population growth: Five interesting tidbits

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


News about the nation's growing Latino population has been rolling out almost continuously since the results of the 2010 Census were announced late last year.

First there was the speculation about who was driving population growth in some of the nation's most politically influential states. When ethnic and racial data was released earlier this year, it was revealed that Latinos in the United States now number more than 50 million.

The last few days have brought a fresh crop of Latino population growth headlines, these stemming from new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week. The gist: The Latino population in the U.S. rose by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010, growing four times faster than the nation's overall growth rate and accounting for half the nation's population increase of 27.3 million since 2000.

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Creating race: How the 'Hispanic or Latino' category came to be

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


An interesting article published by the Migration Policy Institute examines the racialization of those who make up the “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin" category on census forms.

Written by UC Irvine sociologist Rubén Rumbaut, a veteran chronicler of the immigrant experience, the piece delves into the history of racial and ethnic classifications, and on the impact that what began as an administrative move to classify people of Latin American ancestry has had on how they now define themselves in terms of race.

Rumbaut writes:

Are Hispanics a "race" or, more precisely, a racialized category? In fact, are they even a "they?" Is there a Latino or Hispanic ethnic group, cohesive and self-conscious, sharing a sense of peoplehood in the same way that there is an African American people in the United States? Or is it mainly administrative shorthand devised for statistical purposes; a one-size-fits-all label that subsumes diverse peoples and identities?

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