Turns Out I'm White (Not that There's Anything Wrong With That)

Hispanics Find a Way Out of the Race Conundrum

By Published on .

Laura Martinez
Laura Martinez
A few days ago, fellow Big Tent blogger Bill Imada reminded us of the importance of filling out our Census forms and get our voices heard -- and our numbers properly counted. I couldn't agree more. So as soon as the questionnaire arrived at my two-person household, we sat down to fill the form and expected to be done within 10 minutes or so.

Everything went smoothly . . . until I reached Question 9 in which the Census officials inquired about our race.

My boyfriend, who is French, promptly checked the box for "White," but the choice didn't look so straight-forward to me. I had plenty of options to choose from: White, Black, African American, Negro, American Indian or Alaska native. Finding no comfort in any of those, I could then pick from a longer, colorful list that included "Japanese," "Korean" and even "Vietnamese" (which I never really thought of as being races). Confused, and feeling none of the above could possibly apply to me (already self-described on Question 8 as a Hispanic person of Mexican origin,) I ended up following my boyfriend's advice and checked the box for "white," since that is – apparently -- the race I belong to. "Just check White," he said. "That's what you are, right?," he added, trying his best to help his distressed, confused domestic partner out of a racial jam. I did.

I have nothing against with being "white." After all, the Census allows me to identify myself first as a Hispanic, then as Mexican -- and I was damn sure I didn't belong to the "Vietnamese" or "Korean" race.

However, upon checking the "white" box, I realized how highly charged that term can be, or how being "Hispanic" is more often than not considered a race among many U.S. Hispanics (It isn't.) A Puerto Rican man in the Bronx even refused to fill out his Census form because the term "Hispanic" was not considered a race, something he considered plain offensive. (And Hispanics aren't the only ones taking issue.)

Happily, talking to some fellow Hispanic white, brown and dark-brown friends, I learned that many of them found an easy way out to deal with Question 9: Taking advantage of the 19-character free space box under "race," many chose to spell out the word "mestizo," indicating the mixed nature of our heritage.

What a wonderful idea. Alas, by the time I considered the mestizo alternative, my form was already completed and popped into the mail. I guess I'll just have to wait another 10 years.

Laura Martinez is a freelance journalist living in New York. Read more from Laura daily at Mi Blog Es Tu Blog
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