Racial Identity Is Changing Among Latinos

Ambrosia Viramontes-Brody, PhysOrg, December 26, 2011


Some first, second, and later generation Latinos in the United States are not identifying ethnically as Latino as they integrate into the fabric of American society, a recent USC Dornsife study found. On the American Community Survey (ACS), which is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, many people with Latin American ancestry do not identify ethnically as Hispanic.

The study led by Amon Emeka and Jody Agius Vallejo, assistant professors of sociology in USC Dornsife, examines why Latinos often do not choose a Latino ethnic identification on U.S. Census surveys. Emeka and Agius Vallejo’s paper was published in the November 2011 issue of Social Science Research.

Emeka and Agius Vallejo analyzed figures from the U.S. Census’ 2006 American Community Survey and investigated why Latinos are identifying as non-Hispanic. {snip}

Currently, the federal government defines “Latino” not as a racial group but as an ethnicity, and Latinos can be of any race. Respondents are asked on U.S. Census and ACS forms “Is this person Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino?” which is followed by the question, “What is this person’s race.” Researchers typically rely on the first question, the Hispanic ethnicity question to determine the number of Hispanic respondents and the size of the Hispanic population. However as Emeka and Agius Vallejo point out, analysts do not consider the way the question, “What is your ancestry?” is answered.

As Emeka and Agius Vallejo demonstrate, of approximately 44.1 million U.S. residents who declared Hispanic or Latin American ancestry in the survey that year, 2.5 million–or 6 percent–did not check the Hispanic box and thus do not ethnically identify as Spanish/Hispanic/Latino. As a result of some Latinos’ propensity to not check the Hispanic race box on the census, a correct analysis of Hispanic achievement and mobility in America is undermined. Data from U.S. Census Bureau surveys are used to make population projections and track the minority groups with the largest and fastest educational growths, and 2.5 million people with Latin American ancestry are left out of these analyses.


In addition, respondents’ confusion with the terms ethnicity, ancestry and race often result in inconsistent answers on the U.S. Census surveys, the study found. Oftentimes the lines among these categories are blurred. And as immigrants assimilate, their identities shift.

Their findings suggest that some Latin Americans see themselves as non-Hispanic because a racial identity has become more salient in their daily lives. So they are checking the “white,” “black” or “Asian” boxes.


“There’s still this tendency to only pick one race, especially among African Americans, when you can claim more than one on U.S. Census surveys,” Agius Vallejo said. “This power of race or this reinforcement of identity depends not only on how you identify yourself but also depends on the ways in which people identify you.”

For example, the USC Dornsife scholars added that the pressure multiracial college students can feel to get involved in campus organizations geared toward single races, ethnicities, or ancestries such as African American, Latino, or Pacific Islander groups often complicates the racial identity issue.


Non-Hispanic identification was most common among U.S.-born Latin Americans, respondents with mixed ancestries, those who speak only English, and those who identify on the race question as Black or Asian the study found.

The findings suggest that a significant number of Latino immigrants and their offspring may be thoroughly integrating into American society, but their close identification with other racial groups distorts the data. {snip}



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  • Anonymous

    I’ll say this about Hispanics: most of my acquaintance despise and want to escape the common image of themselves as gardeners, illegals, dishwashers and “cholos.” By contrast, blacks I’ve encountered relish the “thug” or “gangsta,” celebrate such in their music, and emulate them in dress and behavior. Morgan Freeman may evoke sighs of admiration from whites when he plays President or computer genius in a movie, but few if any blacks have any interest in such a model.

  • Julie

    All of the Americas south of the United States should be referred to as South America. This would include the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. If they can change the names of Bombay to Mumbai, Burma to Muramai etc., why not simplify this confusion by referring to all nations south of the United States as South America. Why should they refer to South Americans as Hispanics when they are not from Spain. Hispanic should refer to people from Spain only.

    South Americans can refer to themselves by other subcategories which would include the nation of their origin and their racial category such as Mexican-Indian/Spanish.

  • America First

    These terms (Hispanic and Latino) have never been adequately defined. I always assumed that Hispanic meant Spanish-speaking, and had no idea what “Latino” signified. Hispanic, particularly is a ridiculous basis to determine a specially favored or entitled group: if speaking a language puts one in association with others, then most Americans, regardless of national origin or race, would be lumped with Jamaicans, New Zealanders, Nigerians, South Africans, Brits and Scotsmen etc. We’d all be “Anglics,” or somesuch. What really is galling – and divisive – is giving Hispanics special treatment. Why?

  • Anonymous

    Tell a man he is hispanic and qualifies for government benefits, and he is there. Mistake a Cuban for a Puerto Rican, and you are in for a fight.

  • DF

    Hence the need for the racially accurate word “mestizo”.

  • Anonymous

    Well I work around a LOT of ‘latinos.’ Some are as white as you and me. Others are indians right off the mountaintops of peru or central mexico. Most are mixed with white, black or indian to varying degrees.

    How those people can put themselves under one big umbrella tent is beyond me. Among themselves they do segregate by not only skin color but also nationality and class. Their activists do a good job of keeping this invisible. I am of the opinion that in my lifetime spanish will be made the official language of this country. And it will probably be a republican president who will spearhead this effort, at least based on how many of them seem to pander.

  • Anonymous

    A lot of “white” criminals in the southern US are actually light-skinned mestizo hispanics. They identify themselves as “white” because they aren’t as dark as others in their underworld. You can confirm this by viewing mugshots.

  • Anonymous

    I believe it, don’t you?

    The truth of the situation, as opposed to the Fabian Marxist lies, is that 2nd and 3rd generation Mexicans become Chicanos who are extremely militant and angry radiacal haters of Anglo-Americans. They have a huge chip on their shoulder and they are constantly playing the aggrievement card. They are far worse than the first generation of Mexicans who are actually from Mexico. I have immense experience with both groups.

  • Anonymous

    Hispanic or Latino is only for their European tongue they were forced to learn after the Spanish Europeans conquered them 500 yrs ago.

    There are mixtures and Spanish caucasoids who are mostly of the upper class rulers and leaders but for the most part the 30 million peasants Bush allowed to come to the USA are pure red mongoloid race Asians whose ancestors crossed the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia.

  • Jeddermann.

    Fifty or sixty years ago the Spanish speakers almost always, 95 % of the time identified themselves as “white”. And no one had a problem with this. Even thought most of them were of mixed blood, white and American Indian in varying degrees.

    That all changed when “Chicano” power became all the rage.

    NOW this! These folks just can’t decide!

  • Anonymous

    “In addition, respondents’ confusion with the terms ethnicity, ancestry and race often result in inconsistent answers on the U.S. Census surveys, the study found. Oftentimes the lines among these categories are blurred. And as immigrants assimilate, their identities shift.”

    Great, just what America needs — millions of immigrants too dumb to fill out a simple survey form. Does that mean they’ll also be incapable of reading a sign in the restroom that says “All employees must wash their hand before returning to the kitchen?”

  • Michael C. Scott

    I am 3/16 Amerind – Cherokee and Tuskarora – but at the age of 45 I continue to identify myself as white.

    If significant numbers of racially mostly-European Hispanics have assimilated into US society to the point where they consider themselves white, is this really a bad thing?

  • La Santa Hermandad

    A “Latin” is anyone who is descended from Southern Europeans who speak a Romance Language that evolved from Latin, the language of the Romans; Italy, Spain, Portugal, France.

    In Spain Catalán from Cataluña (or Catalunya in Catalán) is classified as a Romance language. It is related to Castillian which is what we call “Spanish”. Castillian or Castellano was the dialect of the Kingdoms of Castilla and León both of which were unified by the marriage of Fernando & Isabel who by 1492 had expelled the Muslims ( THAT was a wasted effort on their part) and united the rest of the country and Castellano became the official language of Spain although the various dialects still exist.

    But I digress. So Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and French people are “Latins”. Actually the Rumanian language although from Eastern Europe is also classified as a Romance language.

    An Hispanic to me is one who who is from a country whose language is Spanish. So the term applies to anyone from Mexico or a South, Caribbean or Central American country whose official language is Spanish. Therefore Jamaicans are not Hispanic nor are Bahamians, Trinidadians etc. Portuguese for example are Latins but not Hispanic. Hispania was Spain and Lusitania was Portugal.

    Arguably Alberto Fujimori a former President of Perú could qualify as Hispanic although his ancestry was Japanese.

    I’m of Italian descent and am Latino but not Hispanic although I speak the language.

    The whole thing is one big pain in the butt because Hispanic has incorrectly become a racial designation and it isn’t. Forms that ask one to check White, Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian are flawed. You can be White or Black and be Hispanic. Pacific Islander is another joke. A native of Tahiti is a Polynesian and looks nothing like a native of the Soloman Islands who is Black or someone from Papua New Guinea.

    It always amuses me that the people who are always claiming to be race blind are the very ones who need to classify everyone. It’s really just a technique to single out Whites so that we can be more easily marginalized.

  • Anonymous

    “Hispanic” means of the language and culture of Spain. Latin means of the culture and language of any country speaking a Latin derived language. This includes Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Sardinia, Corsica and others. There are also other languages such as Catalan, Aragones, Gallego (close to Portuguese), etc. that are Latin and Iberian in some cases.

    As usual, the Fabian Marxist mandated politically correct terms are imprecise and misleading. A Mexican is a Mexican!

  • The Bobster

    If significant numbers of racially mostly-European Hispanics have assimilated into US society to the point where they consider themselves white, is this really a bad thing?


    Would you mind if I put a drop of gasoline in your drinking water?

  • Anonymous

    “I am of the opinion that in my lifetime, [S]spanish will be made the official language of this country.” Anon # 6.

    You had sure better hope not friend. A Canadian who knows…

  • Great White Observer

    Some 20 or so years ago the NYPD was suffering from a shortage of Sgt’s. This shortage was caused by litigation about the promotions due to a lack of enough black’s & hispanic’s being eligible to be promoted from an existing civil service list. What caused this minority shortage? If you guessed not enough of them passed the test go to the head of the class. As the shortage got worse a compromise was reached in order to make Sgt’s. A ratio of black & hispanic promotions to whites was worked out. The best part of this fiasco was White guys of Italian or German background proving that either a grandmother or grandfather had been born in Argentina thus making them a HISPANIC. I think this is one time that two wrong’s did make a right.

  • Wulfstan

    For America First

    Much as I agree with your point of view,you are wrong to speak of “Brits and Scotsmen”. Britain is an island and its native peoples are the Scots, Welsh, and English.

  • Greg

    “Latinos” are a big umbrella. Are we talking about Mexican (mestizo) barrios of E. Los Angeles? The wealthy (mostly white) Cuban enclaves of Miami? Migrant workers from El Savador? Black Dominicans in the Bronx?

    From where I grew up, most people of brown skin came from Mexico, and many were well assimilated 3rd or 4th generation. They at times may have had some similance of “brown pride” but only spoke English and were decently assimilated and more tolerable than blacks. The problem is that with the explosion of immigration to the SW, any assimilation is harder and harder to realize. Strict immigration enforcement should be the number one political goal on any AmRenner’s mind, as at least some assimilation can occur from the Hispanics who are here once they forego their connections to their native land.

  • America First

    To Wulfstan at 318: You’re right – I meant to state “Brits and Irishmen.”

  • Jefferson

    “If significant numbers of racially mostly-European Hispanics have assimilated into US society to the point where they consider themselves white, is this really a bad thing? ”

    Most Hispanics in the U.S are not White. Unless you consider Mestizos like Jennifer Lopez to be White.

  • Bardon

    Jennifer Lopez is, of course, white. As are many other “Latinos” in the US, perhaps 50% of them, or more. The real problem with white Latinos is that they are not very willing to culturally assimilate in the American mainstream culture.

    As for Mestizos- even they (OK, a part of them) can be assimilated, as we see in the example of many white people who have native American ancestors.

    It’s blacks who are so visibly different & virtually unassimilable.

  • Jefferson

    Jennifer Lopez is not White, her facial features clearly show Native American admixture. Jennifer Lopez definitely does not look pure European. Hence why in movies she never gets cast in White roles. She always plays Puerto Rican and Mexican roles.