Filling out applications is stressful to me. In addition to the tedium of filling out the same answers over and over again, I have an identity crisis every time I have to check one of the race boxes. As a person of multi-ethnic heritage – both white and Hispanic – I don’t know which box to check.
While it may seem like a trivial detail, it has actually caused me to ask some big questions. When an application does not allow me to check multiple boxes and asks me to choose between the specific options “White (not hispanic)” and “Hispanic (not white),” I have to choose between two equally important sides of my ethnic identity.
If I choose “white (not Hispanic),” then I feel like I am denying my Mexican family and heritage. If I choose “Hispanic (not white),” then I feel like I am rejecting the other half of my family. If either side of my family finds out that I chose the box with the other half, will they feel betrayed?
Beyond familial betrayal, how do I even begin to choose which ethnicity defines me most? I grew up in a predominantly white region of the country, so should I go ahead and choose white? I have more Hispanic family than white family, though, so should I choose Hispanic? I don’t speak Spanish, so am I Hispanic enough? And if I choose the Hispanic box, am I going to take away an opportunity from someone who is “more Hispanic” than me?
In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau began allowing people to check more than one box on the race question, but many other electronic applications, such as an internship I recently applied for, still won’t allow me to check multiple boxes. A 2015 report from the Census Bureau predicted that over the next 46 years, multiracial people will be the fastest-growing population, so applications need to change in order to accurately reflect multiracial and multi-ethnic identities.
Adding further confusion about what box to check, the U.S. Census Bureau does not recognize Hispanic or Latino origin as a race. People of Hispanic ethnicity must choose between white, black, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander or “some other race” on the census, which is the standard for many other applications.
According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2010 census, 97 percent of respondents who checked the box “some other race” were Hispanic, and 37 percent of all Hispanic respondents checked that box. In fact, in the past two censuses, the “some other race” category has become the third-largest race group. This data shows I am not alone in the confusion: Many people of Hispanic origin struggle to identify with the race options offered to them.
Adding a more accurate race option for Hispanic people is a necessity. Pew Research indicates that two-thirds of Hispanic adults believe their Hispanic origin should be related to race, not just ethnicity. Since Hispanics are a significant percentage of the population, America should include all types of diversity.
Forcing Hispanics to choose a racial category they do not identify with is not only stressful and confusing, but can be a source of potential injustice. Among other uses, census data is used to distribute federal funding, make decisions about community services and initiatives, and determine school districts.
If significant percentages of Hispanic people are confused about which box to check, are the offered racial categories contributing to an unequal distribution of federal resources?