Posted on March 11, 2010

Census Bureau Only Concerned With Some People’s Nationalities

Meghan Cox Gurdon, San Francisco Examiner, March 11, 2010

Questions we ask reveal where our interests lie. What we don’t ask about, we probably don’t think about. And if the subject is something we don’t think about, we likely don’t regard it as important.

This statement of the self-evident is partly, I think, what underlies the objection of so many Americans at being asked, by the U.S. Census Bureau, to declare their race.


This year, the census has just 10 questions, ending with: Where do you come from and what is your race?

If you are “white,” that’s it. You might be from Zimbabwe or Iran or Ireland, but that’s of no interest. Your white skin makes it so, so please skip Question 8 because the bureau does not care where you or your forebears come from.

If you are “black, African Am., or Negro,” you’re done too. You might come from Haiti or Malawi, or have ancestors from Ghana, but it’s not germane.

But if you are a Pacific Islander? Please, go into detail! Are you native Hawaiian? Guamanian or Chamorro? Samoan? Or “other,” such as Fijian or Tongan?

And goodness, but the census is fascinated with persons of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin.” Hispanics have a question all to themselves: Are you Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban? Or a write-in: Are you Argentinean, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran or a Spaniard?

This obsession with the geographic origins of some Americans and the utter indifference to the geographic origins of other Americans flies in the face of the constant assurance of census officials that by filling out our forms we are doing a wonderful service for genealogists. {snip}