A change in a census question will allow Latinos to more accurately define their race and ethnicity

Maria Palma, KUNR Public Radio

What is your race? is a question we often see on the census and other federal documents. For some, it’s an easy question to answer, but for others, it means thinking more than twice when trying to accurately select their racial background.

Currently, the census has five racial categories: white, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

There’s also an option to select whether a person is Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish, but only after the person has selected a race.

This has long been a problem for many Latinos when it comes to answering a question about race. While some Latinos struggle with whether they are white, others simply choose to leave it blank.

Carolina Rocha was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and moved to the United States five years ago. She’s one of more than 26 million Latinos who selected “some other race” on the 2020 census.

“I always just put Hispanic or Latino, because I think it’s a little weird the way that that is structured,” Rocha said. “When I fill out a form it says Hispanic or Latino. And then for the rest, I’m like, ‘Ooh, I don’t know.’ Because it just feels like it’s still really new for me to try to figure out how I still see myself because if it was for me, I would still say Mexican, instead of all these other things that we have to choose from,” she said.

Now the Biden administration is changing the way federal agencies collect data on race and ethnicity. The new policy combines the race and ethnicity questions into one.

So, in the next census in 2030, people will see “What is your race or ethnicity?” instead of two separate questions. In addition, two new options will be added to the list of boxes: Middle Eastern or North African and Hispanic or Latino.

These are the first significant changes to these questions since 1997.

This is a step in the right direction, Rocha said, but these types of questions will always be confusing to some people.

“So now, knowing that I can only just say Hispanic or Latino makes me happy, relieved. But also I think about all the other people that they don’t really know what they’re supposed to be,” Rocha said.

But the census isn’t the only form that will reflect a change. Other federal forms will also have the option to “select all that apply,” which could be beneficial for people who identify as Afro-Latino and Indigenous-Latino.

Federal agencies, state and local governments, and private entities that participate in federal programs will have until 2029 to update their forms and databases to meet the new standards.

The change will potentially reduce the number of people who select “Some Other Race,” said Patricia Guerrero, research education and outreach coordinator with the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“If you’re going to collect that data, especially from a research perspective, we’re missing out on collecting data for a specific community, because they don’t know how to fill it out. So people sometimes don’t even fill it out at all. So then there goes an opportunity to collect accurate data,” Guerrero said.

This step is important as the country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse and more people identify as more than one race or ethnicity, Guerrero said.

“I think, if you were to compare 2020 versus 2031, and how the differences are the way that these results will come forward. Are we going to see an accurate representation of multi-race individuals? How does those percentages change, like over time over this next census? So I think it’d be interesting to do the comparisons,” Guerrero said.

Cover Photo: U.S. Census

Publisher’s Notes: Latino News Network and KUNR Public Radio are partners in best serving the public. A change in a census question will allow Latinos to more accurately define their race and ethnicity was first published on KUNR. Para leer el artículo en español haz click AQUI.

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