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The Census Recognizes "Hispanic or Latino" as a Unique Ethnic and Racial Category for the First Time

The Census Recognizes “Hispanic or Latino” as a Unique Ethnic and Racial Category for the First Time

A new proposal to change how the Census and other federal agencies ask about Latino identity is generating mixed responses, including concerns that the multiraciality of Hispanics may no longer be reflected in the data.

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Photo: NBC News

Latinos were massively undercounted in the 2020 Census, which experts attribute to low mobilization efforts to encourage Hispanic participation during the pandemic, as well as fear and confusion about former President Donald Trump’s (later abandoned) plans to ask about immigration status. The information collected on these forms is crucial for determining issues such as political representation and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funds.

Proposal to change the Census proposes merging race and ethnicity in federal questionnaires

The proposal made last week by an interagency group working with the Office of Management and Budget (which oversees federal agencies) would combine the two questions into one: “What is your race or ethnicity?” Under the “Hispanic/Latino” category, there will be fields to specify the country of origin. Respondents could also theoretically select more than one category, such as Hispanic and “Black or African American.”

The proposal suggests that the government recognizes it has not been effectively and accurately counting people. Starting March 28th, new standards have been implemented, marking the first change to the U.S. Census in 27 years. Going forward, “Hispanic or Latino” becomes a unique category for race and ethnicity. The next census will take place in 2030.

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Photo: Altadena Libraries

This initiative began during former President Barack Obama’s administration, was halted during Donald Trump’s presidency, and resumed under current President Joe Biden. The need for change arose from a growing issue: most Hispanics believed that questions about race and ethnic origin were similar and tended to choose the “some other race” option.

In fact, from 2010 to 2020, the population identifying in the census as “some other race” increased by 129%, surpassing the Black or African American population. A total of 49.9 million people chose this option, demonstrating that the classification has caused confusion and incorrect responses for decades.

Under this new approach, respondents can select multiple categories to reflect their racial/ethnic identity, but marking the single box for Hispanic or Latino is considered a complete response. Although the new standards are already in place, agencies have 18 months to design plans to implement them, followed by up to five years as the final deadline.

Hispanic vs Latino differences

Knowing the difference between these two terms is important because they refer to two different terms: language and geographic location. Because of this situation, in the Census before, there was a lot of confusion in the answers. Here you can find out what each term refers to.

Hispanic refers to the language and applies to anyone from a Spanish-speaking country. The term Hispanic comes from Hispania, the ancient name for Spain. Therefore, Spaniards are Hispanic, but Brazilians are not. The U.S. administration of President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) was the first to use the term Hispanic, which was later introduced in the 1980 Census.

On the other hand, Latin American refers to geographic location and includes all people born in Latin America, so it includes Brazilians but not Spaniards. However, Latin Americans, Spaniards, French, Italians, Romanians and Portuguese can be considered Latinos, since they all speak languages derived from Latin.

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Photo: The Washington Post

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 47% of respondents identify specifically with their country of origin compared to 39% who identify as Hispanic or Latino, illustrating the complexity of using a single category for this group.

Although the recent change does not delve into these nuances, the primary goal is to identify all Hispanics or Latinos as a single collective. While some see this as progress, various organizations express concerns that the category “Latino or Hispanic” does not identify race, further contributing to the invisibility of the already underrepresented Afro-Latino population in the Census.

Do you think that this change to the questions could help to have a better quality count in the following census?

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