For Leani García Torres, none of the boxes really match.
In 2010, she answered U.S. Census questions on her own for the first time as an adult. Is she of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent? It was easy. She marked, “Yes, Puerto Rican. “
But then came the stumper: What’s his race ?
“Every time this question is asked, it raises a bit of anxiety,” García Torres explains. “I actually remember calling my dad and saying, ‘What are you wearing? I don’t know what to wear.’ “
The categories used by the once-per-decade count – “White,” “Black,” and “American Indian or Alaska Native,” as well as those for Asian and Pacific Islander groups – have never resonated with it. .
“It’s tricky,” says the Brooklyn, NY, resident of Tennessee. “Both of my parents are from the island of Puerto Rico, and we are historically quite mixed up. If you look at someone in my family, you wouldn’t really be able to guess a breed. We just look vaguely tanned. , I would say. “
In the end, for the 2010 and 2020 accounts, García Torres just checked a box labeled “Another Race”.
And last year, Frank Alvarez of Los Angeles followed suit, who says when people ask, he identifies as a Guatemalan American.
“I just identify with my ethnicity. Growing up we were in a very traditional Guatemalan house,” says Alvarez, who adds that he was disappointed not to see “Hispanic” or “Guatemalan” as an option for the family. racial issue. “I almost wanted to skip that question, to be honest.”
Nationally, some 45 million Latinos did not identify with what the federal government considers last year. the main racial groups, and they were recorded as “Another Race” after simply checking that box or writing in a response that the office classified as that category. In recent decades, many immigrants have also come to regard ‘Another Race’ as their preferred checkbox, especially people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa (that the US government calls “white”) or Afro-Caribbean groups.
Totaling nearly 50 million – or more than 1 in 7 people living in the United States – their numbers have helped the tote category move up the ranks in the census results.
What was once the country’s third racial category in 2000 and 2010 surpassed “black” last year to become the second largest after “white” – and a major data glitch that could hamper progress towards fairness racial over the next 10 years.
The “Another Race” group wasn’t supposed to be that big
When the Census Bureau first used an “Other” race option in 1910 for the national count, it was not intended to generate large numbers.
Enumerators – who attributed people to their race by observation – were educated to note those that did not fit into the categories provided with an “Ot” shortcut on the forms and spell out their race. According to one of the 1910 bureau census reports, which ultimately produced a tally of “5,012 Koreans, 3,249 Filipinos, 2,545 Hindus and a scattered representation of other races.”
When the office began allowing all U.S. residents to self-declare their racial identity in 1960, forms used by households asked people to write down their responses and suggested a list of groups that ended with “(etc.)”
By 2000, a checkbox for “Another Race” made its first appearance, and it was almost the last. The office had proposed to remove it from the 2010 census form because it had become “a source of non-comparability” between census information and survey data from other government agencies that do not use an “Another Race” category. Getting rid of it, office officials hoped, might help more Latinx answer the racial census question.
“For a long time it felt like there was nothing wrong with the question, but rather Hispanics didn’t understand the question. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow’,” says Clara Rodriguez, sociologist at Fordham. University and author of Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States. “‘Another race’ was something to be taken seriously, not to be dismissed as a misunderstanding on the part of the Hispanic population.”
In 2004, a mandate from Congress requiring the census to include an “Another Race” category was introduced by then-Rep. José Serrano of New York, who was the first Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the office. The move was defended by Latin American civil rights groups fearing that removing the option would lead to inaccurate counts of other racial categories used to redraw electoral districts and enforce anti-discrimination laws.
“This will ensure that Americans are not forced to racially identify in a way that makes them uncomfortable,” Serrano said. said in a press release who noted support from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “and will produce census results that better reflect the realities of race in America today.”
Growing “Another Race” group obscures identity of many Latinos
Part of that reality, however, is that a growing population of “another race” remains a “huge data problem,” says G. Cristina Mora, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies how race and ethnicity are categorized and is concerned with how this category obscures the racial identities of many Latinx people.
“It’s a red flag. It’s a red flag that has been around for a very long time,” adds Mora, the author of Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Media Built a New American. “If we are not represented in the data, we will never have a true sense of racial justice.”
And the implications touch almost every aspect of people’s lives, including their health, says Luisa Borrell, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy at the City University of New York.
“We can’t really identify who these people are,” Borrell said of the “another race” population. “This will be a group that will be left out when it comes to tabulations on mortality, for any health outcome.”
The Trump administration stalled on approving a solution
The Census Bureau had found a solution for the 2020 count.
And under this combined question, the list of checkboxes would include “Hispanic, Latin, or Spanish” (as well as “Middle East or North Africa, “or MENA) among the main racial groups designated by the Office of Management and Budget of the White House, which sets the standards for how the office and other federal agencies collect data on race and ethnicity.
This change, office research revealed, would have decreased the share of Latinos who chose “Another Race” as a category while making no significant change in the share of Latinos who also identify as “Black” or “White”. (Adding a MENA category would also have reduced the number of people identifying as “Another Race.”)
But what the office concluded was that the “optimal” way to collect data required OMB approval. When asking people to identify themselves, the OMB currently requires that a question about Hispanic or Latino identity, which the OMB considers to be an ethnicity and not a race, be asked before a question about identity. racialism of a person.
Under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the OMB has not made any public decision on proposed changes to its standards.
“Ultimately, the No.1 faction that was against the combined issue was the Trump administration,” Mora said.
Asked by NPR to what extent the office is now concerned that “Another Race” is the second racial category in the country, Nicholas Jones, director of the office and senior adviser on race and education research and awareness. ethnicity, said they were “not surprised by the results. “
“While the Census Bureau tested an alternative question design in 2015, we must ultimately follow the OMB 1997 standards and use two separate questions to collect data on race and ethnicity,” Jones said. . highlighted at a press conference in August. “Our tests, however, showed that we could make improvements to the 2020 census race and ethnicity questions within the OMB guidelines.”
The Biden administration OMB told NPR it is still reviewing these proposed changes to government standards and whether they help gather “the data needed to inform our ambitious equity agenda.”
There could be changes in the weather for the 2030 census
As the office ramps up its planning for the 2030 census, some researchers are asking the federal government to consider adding another type of racial question, including Nancy López, a sociologist at the University of New Mexico whose research has emerged. focused on the “street race”, or what foreigners think their race is.
“Not all Latinos are dark-skinned Latinos. There are white Latinos, there are black Latinos like me, and there are Latinos who are also street Asians,” says López, who adds that she is concerned about the limitations of data on how people identify themselves. “What would be the use of this data by civil rights when we recognize that most people are racialized by others when they look for housing, vote or look for a job? “
Current OMB Standards note that “self-identification is the preferred means of obtaining information about an individual’s race and ethnicity, except in cases where observer identification is more practical”.
For the office’s race and ethnicity research leading up to the 2020 census, he says in a statement to NPR that while he asked some participants how they were viewed by others, the data was “not suitable for dissemination “since they were” for exploratory research purposes. “
Whatever questions end up on the 2030 census forms, Julissa Arce of Los Angeles says her only hope is to see a “Latino” category under a racial question.
Last year, instead of marking “White” as she previously did on forms asking for her racial identity, Arce, an immigrant from Mexico, said she selected “American Indian or native of Alaska,” ” Chinese “and” Another race “.
“It’s important to be able to click on a box that says who we are, instead of what we are not,” says Arce, author of the next book You look like a white girl: the arguments for rejecting assimilation. “We’ve been here since before it was called the United States. And I think we deserve to be accurately represented.”