Creating a “Latino” Race

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-20 04:17Z by Steven

Creating a “Latino” Race

The Society Pages: Social Science That Matters

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia
(Author of Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race)

Editors’ Note: The author prefers to capitalize Black and White along with other socially constructed racial categories.

For much of American history, race has been a dichotomous, Black-White affair where the “one-drop rule” dictated that people with any amount of racial mixture were defined legally and socially as Black. In recent generations, however, with the rise of intermarriage and the entrance of new immigrants from all over the world, American racial categories and conceptions have become much more complicated and contested. Latinos provide a particularly revealing case of the new complexities of race in America.

Persons of Hispanic ancestry have long had mixed racial identities and classifications. The history of Latin America is characterized by the mixing of European colonizers, native Indigenous groups, and Africans brought over as slaves. As a result, the diverse Latino group includes people who look White, Black, and many mixtures in between. In the mid-20th century, it was assumed that as they Americanized, Latinos who looked European would join the White race, while those with visible African ancestry would join the Black race, and others might be seen as Native American. For fifty years, the Census has supported this vision by informing us that Latinos could be classified as White, Black, or “other,” but not as a race themselves. “Hispanic” remained an ethnic, not a racial, category.

To answer this question, I studied Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, two groups whose members span the traditional Black/White color line. I interviewed sixty Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants in New York City, and another sixty Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who have never migrated out of their countries of origin. We spoke about how they understand and classify their own and other people’s races, their perception of races in the mainland United States and their home country, what race means to them, and the migrants’ integration experiences. Their interviews revealed that most identify with a new, unified racial category that challenges not only the traditional Black-White dichotomy but also the relationship between race and ethnicity in American society. In other words, the experiences of these groups help us to better understand how immigrants’ views of collective identity and the relationship between color and culture are reshaping contemporary American racial classifications…

Read the entire article here.

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