Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Philly Moms: How do I count?

How do I count?

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

PassportsTime online wrote about it. The tweeps I follow on Twitter have been buzzing about it for weeks. It’s even been Facebook fodder. How do Latinos identify themselves on the census forms? There’s no box to check under race for mestizo/a which is how a number of us are configured -- being blends of African, Caucasian and/or First Peoples from across the Americas. Equally confusing, under the Hispanic ethnicity categories there is no box to tick for those of Puerto Rican heritage.

The census may only be ten questions, but answering them is not so easy.

Take my family, for example. My husband’s no problem -- his ancestry is all Welsh, French, English. White bread, as I like to tease him. I’m a corn tortilla, and surprisingly, there was a box appropriate for me under ethnicity (Hispanic of Central American origin) though not under race (White? No -- but none of the other options fit me either). Many Latinos/as in the same quandary as me checked “other,” and wrote in “mestizo/a.” In retrospect I wish I had thought to do this. Still, I wasn’t the census problem in our family.

It was my daughter.Where does my girl fit in -- my white flour tortilla kid?

Turns out, nowhere.

The problem, of course, is that the more specific we get about what kind of Latinos we are, the more impossible it becomes to fit ourselves into any one category. Is my daughter part Latina? Certainly. Is she part Central American Latina? Much more debatable -- despite the indisputable blood she shares with me. Much has been written about cultural identity being keyed to specific traditions, customs, regional religious practices and language. My daughter has a pan-American Latina version of all of the above -- not the Central American version I had. There was no category appropriate for her on the form I filled out.So as far as the census is concerned, my daughter doesn’t share my genes at all -- she’s non-Hispanic.

I suspect a number of children of Latino/a-Anglo marriages are going to end up in the same category. Which is a shame and makes the count, well, inaccurate. There are going to be a lot of 1/2 and 1/4 Latinos out there passing for "non-Hispanics."And, yes, I know this need to self-identify as a minority or person of color is something that drives Anglos crazy. I’ve had friends give me grief about it -- insisting that the American ideal is a color- and culture-blind society. My response has been (and continues to be) that until we reach that ideal, I’ll be representing, thanks very much. Plus, I’m not so sure I want to inhabit an America without Chinatowns, without Little Italys or French Quarters; without self-identified Creole and Cajun and Desi. It’s a little like contemplating an America with one aesthetic or -- God forbid -- one cuisine.

For the next census I’m proposing something more savory than what we faced this time around. Let’s take our cue from bakeries. Give us boxes to check off with 7-grain and multi-grain white; cornbread, nan, pita, babka and soda bread; bagels and scones; brioches and frybread. And tortillas -- both corn and flour, please.

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