On The Census, Who Checks ‘Hispanic,’ Who Checks ‘White,’ And Why

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-06-18 17:16Z by Steven

On The Census, Who Checks ‘Hispanic,’ Who Checks ‘White,’ And Why

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Gene Demby, Lead Blogger

We’ve been talking a lot lately about how who fills out the Census in what way. It’s an ongoing preoccupation of Code Switch, and one shared by Julie Dowling. Dowling, a University of Illinois sociologist, whose book, Mexican Americans and the Question of Race, came out earlier this year. (As the daughter of a Mexican-American mother and Irish-American father, Dowling knows all about the complexities of filling out the race question on the Census form.)

I interviewed Dowling about her research, and she shared some fascinating insights about the gap between how people fill in Census forms and how they think of themselves.

On the history of ‘Hispanic’ on the Census Questionnaire

In 1930, “Mexican” was put on the Census [questionnaire] as a race. This was during the Depression and it was a time period when [the government was] rounding up people. They used the Census in the 1940s to locate Japanese-Americans for internment camps. So people didn’t want to be identifiable on the Census because they were afraid of the government.

Today, everyone wants to be counted. Now everyone wants representation. But at that time period, people did not want that. And they also did not want to be racialized. This was a time where the best avenue for people to fit in was to claim whiteness.

In 1929, the League of the United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Mexican-American organization, formed in Corpus Christi, TX. One of their main organizing efforts was to get “Mexican” off the 1930 census. They protested: we are white race, we are Americans.

The Mexican government itself protested the category, because the entire Southwest used to be part of Mexico, and when it was taken over by the United States, they promised Mexico that the Mexican residents there would be treated as full citizens. Well, at the time, you had to be white to be a citizen. So that’s where the whole issue came about of Mexicans, specifically, identifying as legally white but socially not-white.

It worked against them in some ways, because they claimed segregation and discrimination, the parties being accused of discrimination could say, Well, no, you’re white. So this history of claiming whiteness has been a strategy that Mexican Americans and other Latino groups have used to try to lobby for acceptance — claiming Americanness, claiming whiteness…

Read the entire article here.

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