Censored census: No place for Latinos

written by Love Isn’t Enough columnist Pia Guerrero; originally posted at Adios Barbie

According to the US Census form that came out this week, if your brown, you’re white. It confused us at Adios Barbie almost as much as it confused Fred Roggin of NBC LA.

Censored Census: Hispanic Isn’t a Race

Fred Roggin finds a bit of an oddity on the 2010 census form. When it comes to your race, if you’re Latin@ you have to check … White?

Check out the news piece here.

I don’t feel my brown Latino brothers and sisters will be convinced by the new census form, which says that despite their genetics, the color of their skin and the oppression that has come with it, they are white. Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa said he put on the form that he’s white and that’s accurate. Que?

Let me get this right, on the 2010 census form if I’m native Latin American or more specifically, I’m a Zapotec or Mayan Mexican, without an ounce of white Spanish blood, I put down I’m white? Talk about having an identity crisis. [Emphasis added by editor for clarification.]

The LA Mayor’s office notes:

“In the 2000 Census, it is estimated that 76,800 Angelenos were not counted. This was the second highest undercount in the nation and resulted in a loss of $206 million for the City of Los Angeles for the following ten years.”

In order to ensure the most crucial public services are funded and reach those that need them most:

“The Mayor’s campaign will be targeting the most traditionally undercounted groups such as young children in low-income homes, minorities, recent immigrants, the homeless, renters and persons living in large households.”

Census data help determine boundaries for state and local legislative and congressional districts (meaning the more folks counted in your community, the more your community gets representation in Congress). Census data also ensures that your community gets its fair share of over $400 billion per year in federal funding for roads, schools, hospitals, community services and more.

We want all folks to be counted in the census so that federal money can be allocated accurately towards services that reach those that need them most.

Given the failure of the 2000 census in counting so many Angelenos, you’d hope they’d try to make filling out this form easier? There is a lot of fear, among other barriers, that low income folks, especially immigrants who speak English as a second language, face in filling out government forms. How is changing a whole race on this year’s census form going to help people feel comfortable completing what has traditionally been foreign and intimidating?

In thinking about this, I realized it’s too late to demand that census makers take a course in Ethnic Studies. Here are some vocab words they might want to keep handy for the future:


Any of several extensive human populations associated with broadly defined regions of the world and distinguished from one another on the basis of inheritable physical characteristics, traditionally conceived as including such traits as pigmentation, hair texture, and facial features.


Identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, or cultural group and observance of that group’s customs, beliefs, and language.

I’m tired. And, I’m disappointed. I’m tired of explaining to folks that yes, I am white and yes, I am also Mexican. But that struggle pales in comparison to what my darker, more indigenous looking friends and relatives are going to have to face when they explain, “Well, despite having brown skin, according to the US census, the source of all racial truth, I am indeed white.” Jajajajaja (that’s lol or lmao in Spanish btw).

Latin@s in all our cultures, ethnicities and shades will soon be the biggest population in this country. I really wonder if the census wants to make it easy to capture accurate information on us. Or are they trying to find another way to make us invisible? Maybe this is a way to make our growing numbers seem a lot less scary. I mean if the “white” population grows to such proportions that they outnumber Latinos, what’s there for white America to fear?

Poof! With the swoop of our pens, that terrifying “Latino take-over of the United States” problem will be solved.

You know what’s also scary? That the government is starting to decide what race we are or aren’t.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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