Latino Whiteness? They’re Asking the Wrong Question

Victor Landa, NewsTaco

Here’s a fact: In the 2010 Census many Latinos, given the option, chose to identify as “white,” as opposed to black or Asian. Other Latinos chose to identify as “other,” then wrote-in a more specific identity based on their (or their family’s) country of origin. The Pew Research Center took a deep-dive into these choices and earlier this month released a study that parsed the numbers and took a stab a some conclusions.

Whiteness dazzles

Since then, the idea of Latino “whiteness” has captivated demographers, social scientists, writers and pundits.  Each has approached the Latino Census choice as if it were a phenomenon to be observed at arm’s-length, a snapshot to be critiqued. They all seem to be dazzled by the idea that  2.5 million Latinos changed their identity from “some other race” in the 2000 census to “white” in 2010. About half as many, 1.2 million, changed in the opposite direction.

The back and forth switch from white to other and back to white again has generated a stack of theories about why Latinos do what they do: assimilation, education, citizenship, generational differences – all delivered, more than likely, with the appropriate furrowed brow and authoritative air.

Has anyone bothered to ask Latinos? 

For Latinos, though, there’s nothing dazzling about it, and if  the writers and demographers were to ask Latinos why, they’d be much closer to the real story behind “Latino whiteness.”

Latinos have been thinking about this for decades, but not because we have identity issues. Latinos think and talk about identity because marketers and politicians have been hell-bent on stuffing us into a box for their purposes, and official Census forms keep asking the question. In this sense, Latino identity is not about how we see ourselves, but about how we think we fit into prefabricated boxes, because we’ve been asked to decide. These are not choices we’d make for ourselves.

The fact that 3.7 out of the 35 million Latinos in the U.S. (in 2000) changed their minds from one decade to another tells me more about the available official options than it does about Latino identity. There’s an intent in the Census race question to fit everyone living in the United States into a tired black-white paradigm, the tricky thing is that the intent is disguised in an attempt to define diversity.

The idea is “you can be Hispanic, but you must decide if you’re white Hispanic, black Hispanic or other Hispanic.”

Latino identity is a living thing.

It changes, if you ask, because it’s many things at the same time.

Maybe that’s the problem. Diversity, all men being equal and all that, by definition defies strict parsing. It makes little sense to those being parsed, but feels important to the furrowed brows doing the parsing. The findings are only good until 2020, when a new batch of choices will spark a new batch of dazzled writers and pundits and scientists.

The Future is Meztizo.

In 1984 Virgilio Elizondo wrote a prophetic book titled “The Future is Meztizo.” It was republished in 2000 with an introduction by David Carrasco. If you want a better idea as to why Latinos change their minds about identity, read how Carrasco began his introduction:

We are entering the Brown Millennium. By Brown millennium I mean the type of hopeful and complex change summoned by the poet Paul Celan when he wrote

But keep yes and no unsplit
And give your say this meaning
Give it the shade

No more the color line as the only defining symbol of race and culture in this country. No more the border line as the primary defining political scar between Latin America and the United States.

The problem isn’t that Latinos change their minds. The truth is that Latinos are opening a new way of thinking, and it doesn’t fit the official forms.

 [Photo by supercalifunkysexy/Flickr]


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