Are Latinos “White”?

Are Latinos “White”?

Jesus For Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Robert Chao Romero, Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Hundreds of years of cultural politics underly the current debate over the proper racial categorization for Latinos.   For the greater part of U.S. history, Latinos argued for legal “whiteness” as a means of shielding itself from racial discrimination.  At the same time, up until the present day, many Latinos have consistently identified as “white” based upon the influence of colonial notions of race in Latin America.  Such identification with whiteness has the dual negative effect of disassociating the Latino community from the contemporary civil rights struggle in the United States, and perpetuating Latin American racist ideology.

Following the Mexican American War of 1848, Anglo American politicians struggled with how to incorporate more than 115,000 former Mexican citizens into United States society.  Many politicians argued vehemently, and publically, that they did not wish to confer the full rights of American citizenship upon the Mexican population which they viewed as an inferior cultural group.   The compromise, articulated in Article IX of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, was that Mexicans in the conquered territories could choose to become U.S. citizens, but that such citizenship would not take effect until an undetermined future date to be decided upon by Congress.  More than two decades after the signing of the treaty in 1848, the citizenship status of thousands of Mexicans remained ambiguous and unresolved.

Mexicans in California were finally declared to be American citizens in 1870 as part of the famous case of People v. De la Guerra.  Since U.S. citizenship at that time was reserved for those defined by the law as “white,” Mexicans at that moment gained not only citizenship, but also an implicit judicial declaration of whiteness.   Despite their legal whiteness, however, Mexicans, and other Latinos continued to experience explicit, and pervasive, racial discrimination in housing, education, and every other facet of American life…

Read the entire essay here.

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