As we all know, Hispanic culture has contributed much to the United States. A quick glance at the artistic, political, and social makeup of the nation confirms that Latinos are prime instigators when it comes to plotting the direction of the country.
Many of our new values have their roots in Latin America. However, there is one concept from the old world that should not be welcome here. Ironically, it is U.S. powerbrokers — people unlikely to be Latino — who are most clamoring for it to gain a foothold in this country.
I’m talking about the encomienda system, which hasn’t formally existed for hundreds of years, but which has never really gone away. Briefly, the encomienda system was set up by the Spanish Conquistadors, who divided Latin America among themselves. An encomienda was a land grant that gave a Spaniard property rights over Indian labor. Basically, the conquistador got a hacienda and indentured servants to make him rich.
I grew up in a state that was overwhelming white, in a city that was somewhat white, in a neighborhood that was barely white. The de facto segregation in my hometown meant that whole sections of the city could easily be identified as the barrio or the black neighborhood or the fledgling Asian district. It was geographically convenient to pinpoint where the white people weren’t, because they were so plentiful everywhere else.
But in the United States of 2011, it’s not so simple. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “America’s neighborhoods became more integrated last year than during any time in at least a century.” This of course means we’ve achieved the mythical color-blind society where racism and ethnic conflict have been banished forever… well, not really.
About a year ago, I wrote about the bizarre attempt by some Latino organizations to boycott the U.S. Census. As far as I know, this baffling protest never took off.
As a result, Census numbers continue to trickle in, and they offer the occasionally intriguing, often disturbing look at the state of Hispanics in America. Yes, we have fresh proof that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic, but come on; you know that one already.
But were you aware that Latinos are the most likely group to not have any health insurance (32.4 percent of all Hispanics)? Well, in that case, it’s a damn good thing I’m here to pass along these Census statistics to you, isn’t it?
Now, some of the numbers are more official than others. A few offer only a snapshot of 2010 or even 2009. But all of them are as accurate and precise as government bureaucracies can get.
The most alarming of these figures is the fact that more than a quarter of Latinos (25.4 percent) live in poverty. This compares to an overall poverty rate of 14.5 percent, and is more than double the rate for whites and Asians. But it’s still less than blacks and Native Americans (who “win” this category with a rate of 27.7 percent).
Put another way — and Census numbers are all about putting things another way — the median household income for Latinos was just 70 percent of that for whites. The lack of take-home pay is no doubt because Latinos have an unemployment rate of 12.9 percent, far higher than whites (8.7 percent) and Asian Americans (7.3 percent).
Those grotesque figures would be even more dismal if Puerto Rico, hit hard by the recession, was included in the analysis. Because it’s not a state, the island gets its own set of numbers — including the wacky stat that “massive emigration to the United States and the reduction in birth rate have caused a drop of 2.2% in the population of Puerto Rico.” Apparently, there’s a stampede of Puerto Ricans into the mainland, but that’s a whole other post.
Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Center for American Progress breaks down these figures by saying, “racial and ethnic differences have worsened or stayed the same during the recession and recovery.” These killjoys point out that unemployment and poverty rates rose for Hispanics, while health insurance coverage, retirement savings, and homeownership rates all fell.
In fact, the Center says that “Latino homeownership rates in 2010 … were again close to their levels in 2001 even though Latino homeownership rates had risen from 2000 to 2007.” But I’m going to call my bad on that one. I contributed to the statistics by buying a house in 2004 and selling it in 2009 (no, the bank didn’t foreclose on us).
In sum, the Census numbers “show widening gaps by race and ethnicity throughout the recession and recovery.” The best we can hope for is that the 2020 Census reveals more uplifting news — unless we boycott that one.
Let me thank Sanguinity for commenting on my post “It’s Not All About the Music.” I’m grateful whenever someone provides an intellectual, well-researched point to one of my flippant asides. Thanks as well to Juhem, who stumbled upon the site and is inexplicably coming back for more. And here’s some more thanks to Ankhesen for her always great comments.
As a supplement to my previous post about the U.S. Census, I have yet another demographic factoid to amaze and impress you… or alarm and disgust you, depending upon your impression of Latinos.
According to MSNBC, this year could be “the ‘tipping point’ when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites. The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years.”
That’s right: childbearing Latinas are the biggest threat to white supremacy. If demographers are correct, 2015 will be the first kindergarten class in which white kids are outnumbered by Hispanic, black, and Asian children.
Leading the charge will be Latino babies. Well, strictly speaking, they can’t charge. Come on, they can’t even walk. But you know what I’m saying.
As we all know, whites are projected to become the minority circa 2050. For that projection to hold, it stands to reason that minority babies will become more numerous right around… now… actually, now. Yes, it just happened.
Never mind, I’ll just move on to my main point, which is that I have never understood the deep mistrust of the U.S. Census. I’ve written about this before.
Apparently, a noticeable segment of the population is terrified that filing out this form will allow the government to stick them in internment camps, Christopher Lambert style (and yes, displaying a clip from “Fortress” is officially the most obscure pop culture reference to date on this site):
In any case, it seems that right-wing nuts aren’t the only ones who believe the Census is all a plot… a slow-moving, bureaucratic, cumbersome, and tedious plot, but a dastardly scheme nonetheless.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, just 57 percent of native-born Latinos believe that census participation is good for their community. This means a large number of Hispanics distrust, or at least dislike, the Constitutionally mandated exercise.
Strangely enough, it is foreign-born Latinos, many of whom may not even be citizens, who are more accepting of the process. The Pew Hispanic Center says 80 percent of them believe the Census is a good idea, adding that “the foreign born are also more likely to correctly say that the census cannot be used to determine who is in the country legally [and] more likely to trust the Census Bureau to keep their personal information confidential” than Latinos born in America.
Once again, this proves that assimilation is definitely taking place. Just as foreign-born Latinos tend to get obese and unhealthy the longer they live in the United States, so are their offspring more likely to turn into government-hating paranoids who can’t be bothered with facts. So to everyone who says Hispanics can’t assimilate – in your face!
But aside from the inherent hatred that the Census provokes, there is also the messy racial element on the form itself. As many people have pointed out, the form does not list Hispanics as a race. Instead, we are an ethnicity.
This is because, as I’ve stated before, Hispanics may be of any race. We can be light-skinned, brown-hued, or as dark as any African American (although Torii Hunter might say such individuals are imposters).
However, to say that we are not a separate race has adverse consequences. It’s very easy to find a Latino who is annoyed that he’s being forced to pick “white” or “black” for his race. This irritation is not unjustified.
Furthermore, with distrust of the Census so high, an unnecessary racial jab is not the way to increase Hispanic participation. It’s also an ineffective sidestep. For example, Time magazine reports that “more than 40 percent of Hispanics, when asked on the Census form in 2000 to register white or black as their race, wrote in ‘Other’ — and they represented 95 percent of the 15.3 million people in the U.S. who did so.”
I can personally back up this fact. Last week, when I filled out the Census for our household, I checked Hispanic for my ethnicity. But I was stumped over what to mark for race. Strictly speaking, white is my closest option. But I checked “Other” and then wrote in “Hispanic” in the space provided to explain this otherness. This wasn’t a political act. It just seemed to make the most sense at the time.
However, in retrospect, my answer was, at the very least, redundant. Why write in “Hispanic” when I had already checked it off on the ethnicity box? More interestingly, I was now insisting that “Hispanic” is a race and not just an ethnicity. Did I really mean to do that? Perhaps I should have thought it out better. But images of “Fortress” were playing through my head, and I panicked.
So maybe critics are right to say that we should do away with the whole sloppy system of assessing the racial makeup of this country. Even President Obama had to make a stand when confronted with the Census’ limited options. Witness all the tittering and twittering that accompanied his decision to checkmark the box that says “Black, African Am., or Negro.”
It’s clearly not so easy anymore to stick people into fixed racial categories. And it’s only going to get crazier as each generation becomes increasingly mixed and mingled.
I have to wonder what the options will be for the 2100 Census. Regardless, I’m sure plenty of Americans will fear and hate it.
One of the wonders of modern society is how even minor controversies can snowball into intense political and sociological debates where, apparently, the future of the country hangs in the balance. Really, even Halloween costumes are enough to create verbal fisticuffs.
That’s why I’m not surprised that the 2010 census has people tossing around accusations of nefarious intentions, with counteraccusations of idiocy flying back. The fear and hatred of this tedious government exercise has a long history. And with the loathing of the current administration so potent among right-wingers, it’s no wonder that the tinfoil-hat crowd insists that filing out the form will somehow end up with you in a government-run gulag.
But I expected the neocons to get upset over the census. What surprised me is that some Latino groups have joined people like noted nutjob Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in calling for a boycott.
The thinking among some Hispanic organizations is that skipping the census is a great way to protest the lack of immigration reform. The Rev. Miguel Rivera, head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, says that his group has talked 2.5 million Hispanics into refusing to be counted. Rivera hopes that some states will lose representation in Congress due to the undercounting. He believes that “If politicians don’t see the need for immigration reform, then we don’t need those politicians anyway.”
I can’t be the only one who sees the ineffectiveness of this take-my-ball-and-go-home approach. The census only reapportions congressional delegation. It doesn’t add or eliminate anything. So I don’t see how giving, say, Kansas more votes at the expense of California is going to speed up immigration reform. If anything, this strategy increases the odds of a spectacular backfire.
Then there are those who don’t necessarily want to boycott the census, just alter it beyond recognition. A Republican-sponsored proposal calls for a freeze on Census Bureau funds if it doesn’t reprint its forms to ask respondents if they are citizens. I, for one, can’t imagine who they are targeting or attempting to intimidate with such a question.
We’ll ignore the fact that the party of fiscal responsibility is demanding that the government throw away the 400 million forms that have already been printed and start over, at no small expense. Instead, let me point out that presidential administrations of both parties have repeatedly agreed to count everybody, not just citizens. It’s pretty much settled law.
I’m also wondering about those conservatives who supposedly want government off our collective backs, and think it’s unconstitutional for the census to ask how many bathrooms you have. But it is ok for the bureau to throw in a last-second intrusive question designed specifically to frighten people. I see; it all makes sense now.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that I was once one of those dreaded Census workers (it was a temp job on my summer break from college). I spent three months going door to door in the most wretched parts of my hometown, asking bored or annoyed residents how many people lived in their crumbling shanty of an apartment.
It was a pretty miserable experience, but it paid better than fast food. At no point did I swell with pride that I was helping continue the vital work of Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, etc. Neither did I worry if I was assisting the government with its final preparations for the mass arrest of citizens. It was all rather dull.
I know what you’re thinking. Exactly what is the U.S. government’s definition of a person who is “Hispanic”? Come on, we’ve all wondered about it. Well, look no farther for edification.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget first defined a Hispanic to be “a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.”
The U.S. Census Bureau included the term on its 1960 form, but this, the government’s initial attempt at a definition, wasn’t published until 1978.Apparently, nobody was Hispanic before then.
Now, it’s far too easy to take shots at a nameless bureaucracy that pathetically attempts to corral the messy realities of the world. But I’m going to do it anyway.
The first thing we notice in this definition is the phrase “regardless of race.” This is problematic, because I thought we were talking about race. How can it be irrelevant when it’s the whole point?
Well, if you’ve ever worked for the U.S. Census Bureau (I did, as a teenager for one horrific summer, but that’s another post), you know that Hispanics are not considered a race. We are an ethnicity.
What does that mean? I really don’t know, because the only answer I’ve ever heard is “It’s political.” Perhaps a sociologist, cultural anthropologist, or government worker out there can clue us in (please post if you know the official answer, seriously).
Clearly, any attempt at defining a large group of people who come from vastly different cultures is doomed to be incomplete, sketchy, vague, and possibly insulting. But we need to cut the government some slack here. They have to define Hispanics. Otherwise, we would have no way to measure how badly we’re doing on the economic scale, and we would have no idea who’s being acknowledged during Hispanic Heritage Month (it’s in September, by the way).
Ultimately, perhaps you’re just Hispanic if you say you are. It’s not like there are any ceremonies to induct you into the lodge or anything (although that would be cool if there were).
As I mentioned in one of my first posts, many people would not consider me (I’m half-Anglo) to be Hispanic. So I should feel validated because I fit the government’s definition. After all, my family is originally from Central America.
But slipping easily into a government-built box means nothing, of course. Independent of some red-tape organism, all of us develop our own definitions and self-images and myths and creation stories – everything we need to say, “This is me.”