What Race is a Latino? Some Mexican-Americans in California Aren't Even Sure (Neither Are We)

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Wed, May 25, 2011 at 7:08 AM

click to enlarge Latina? White? Both? - RCA
  • RCA
  • Latina? White? Both?
Have you ever looked at your light-skinned, green-eyed Latino neighbor -- or perhaps he's kinky haired and the color of cinnamon -- and asked, What the hell are you?

It's a question Latinos even ask themselves, apparently, especially when filling out a U.S. Census form, which doesn't give them a race of their own, only an ethnicity of nationality. In other words, Latinos can chose a race from white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American/Alaska Native -- but not "Latino," because it's not a race.

It's true. But it's still confusing. And so many Latinos ...

... check "some other race" when filling out Census forms, or skip the question altogether. It's all about self-identity, so there's no wrong answer. Except that ...

... most anthropologists would say that most Latinos, unless they're direct descendants of Africans or other immigrants to the Americas, are white. Except that ...

... it doesn't entirely make sense, does it? The prevailing theory about the origin of indigenous Americans is that they came to the continent from Asia thousands of years ago, which would make purely indigenous Latinos ... Asian. That's a concept that would make some Asians laugh.

And, well, most Latinos are mixed with European blood, though plenty of Jews, Germans, Austrians and Japanese (none of them races unto themselves) ended up south of the border too, particularly in the last 200 years.

And so, we skip the race box and head on down to ethnicity and nationality.

Mestizo, Chicano, Latino, Hispanic, Mexican, Salvadoran and Puerto Rican are popular. But they don't identify race, but rather ethnicity, culture and national heritage.

(We love how some Asian Americans identify themselves as Hawaiian. Really? We're Californian. But it doesn't get to the heart of the matter, now does it?).

"We don't obsess about race," Cesar Juarez, a 24-year-old community organizer in San Jose, told the Mercury News' Joe Rodriguez.

Indeed, we predict a day when that top tier identifier of race is no longer even on the Census. In 2020? Who knows.

But anthropology seems to be debunking race as a scientifically justifiable category: There's a much bigger difference between man and woman than black and white.

Where does Caucasian end and Asian begin? Where does Asian end and Arab begin? Where does Arab end and African begin?

And, for the love of God, what's Rosie Perez?

It all seems a little bit ... racist, don't you think?

[San Jose Mercury News].


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