A recent analysis of data from the 2010 census has found that more Hispanics are identifying as white. Since 1980 the U.S. Census bureau has classified Hispanics as an ethnic group who can belong to any race--white, black, Native American, etc. But for decades the bulk of Latinos chose to identify as "other." The 2010 census form, however, directed Hispanics to choose a specific racial category.
The outcome has been a 6 percent rise in the U.S. white population, with the amount of Hispanics identifying as white jumping from 48 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2010. Most of the Latinos who self-categorized as white lived in California, Texas, Florida and New York. Meanwhile, the amount of Hispanics who checked the "some other race" box declined from 42 to 37 percent. Of these shifts, the Census Bureau noted:
"The white population has become more diverse as evidenced by the growth of the Hispanic white population and the multiple-race white population."
The Census Bureau is contemplating changing its questionnaire to allow individuals with Latin American heritage to categorize themselves exclusively as Hispanic, the Great Falls Tribune reported. I'm not sure if this is the solution. Hispanics are a very diverse group. The term includes everyone from Argentine Jews with mostly European lineage to black Cubans who practice Santeria. Moreover, many Latinos are of mixed European and Native American heritage, with those who have Caribbean ties descended from West African slaves. Given this, it's difficult to see how categorizing all Latinos as the same would be more accurate. Then again, some of the Latinos who are self-identifying exclusively as white may be overlooking their indigenous heritage. Unfortunately, being an "indio" is still a source of shame in Latin American countries.
Some Latinos check the white category because they feel the only choices they have are white Hispanic and black Hispanic. Such was the case of a Latina acquaintance of mine who said she categorized herself as white simply because she wasn't black. With her black hair and skin tone the deep brown of George Lopez's, she admittedly looks far from "white." But she checked that category because she didn't know the alternatives. One alternative would be to select the Native American category, which I've known other Latinos with pronounced indigenous features to do.
The New York Times reported earlier this year that there's been a spike in the percentage of Latinos identifying as Native American, an indication that more Hispanics are celebrating their indigenous heritage. On the flip side, not every Latino who claims indigenous heritage actually has a significant amount of it. Actress Eva Longoria grew up in Texas thinking of herself as an Aztec princess, but when she had her DNA analyzed in 2010 for the show "Faces of America," she discovered that she was 70 percent European, 27 percent indigenous, and 3 percent African.
More than any other U.S. ethnic group, Hispanics show how arbitrary racial categories are.