Hispanics who identify themselves as “white” tend to be better educated and less likely to be in poverty than those who consider themselves “some other race,” according to a report released Monday by a private research group.
The Pew Hispanic Center analyzed data from the 2000 census and its own survey in 2002 and found foreign-born Latinos who became citizens were slightly more likely to consider themselves white than noncitizens.
"A measure of belonging"
“White” also was more popular among the U.S.-born grandchildren of immigrants than among the U.S.-born children of foreign-born Hispanics.
Sonya Tafoya, the Pew research associate who wrote the report, said, for Latinos, “race goes beyond physical characteristics and skin color.”
Tafoya did not offer reasons on which Hispanics base their choices of race, although she noted that intermarriage between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites may play a factor in the how second- and third-generation U.S.-born Latinos view themselves.
The census results showed that race among Hispanics appeared “to be a measure of belonging or of political enfranchisement. ... Those feeling more belonging to the American mainstream are more likely to feel white,” she said.
The government considers “Hispanic” an ethnicity instead of a race; people of Hispanic ethnicity can belong to any race.
The 2000 census counted 35 million Hispanics. Since then, Hispanics have passed blacks as the nation’s largest minority group.
The last census found the two most popular responses to the race question among Hispanics were white (48 percent, or 17 million people) and “some other race” (42 percent, or nearly 14.9 million).
Among Hispanic subgroups, Cubans were most likely to identify themselves as white (85 percent), while Dominicans most often selected “some other race” (58 percent).
In most groups, naturalized citizens were slightly more likely to choose white than noncitizens. For instance, 47 percent of naturalized Mexican-Americans said they were white, compared with 44 percent of Mexicans who were not U.S. citizens.
“As an immigrant becomes more incorporated into the mainstream U.S. society, they have a higher tendency to identify themselves as white. In some ways, it’s intuitive,” Tafoya said.
Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Washington-based advocacy group, urged caution in interpreting the census results because “there isn’t a true opportunity for Hispanics to put down what their race really is.”
"Some other race"
A large number of Latinos have backgrounds that include combinations of white, African and indigenous ancestries, the Pew report stated.
“Some other race” Hispanics typically have lower socio-economic status than white Hispanics. For instance, among Latinos age 25 and older, 54 percent of the “some other race” group had less than high school educations, compared with 44 percent of whites.
Hispanics who chose “some other race” were more likely than white Hispanics to be in poverty (24 percent to 20 percent).
According to the Pew center’s 2002 “National Survey of Latinos,” 23 percent of white Hispanics spoke only English, compared with 16 percent of “some other race” Hispanics. That survey also found that more white Hispanics (81 percent) than “some other race” Hispanics (66 percent) had ever voted.
Roughly 1 in 5 white Hispanics reported they were Republican, compared with about 1 in 9 “some other race” Hispanics.
The Pew findings were released as the Census Bureau ends testing into whether to delete “some other race” as an answer to the race question in the 2010 count. The test had rankled many civil rights groups, who felt the government was trying to force Hispanics into uncomfortable racial descriptions.
One rationale presented by census officials was that Americans in 2000 had more options than ever to identify their racial background since respondents, for the first time, could check off more than one race on their forms.
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees census financing, inserted an amendment into the 2005 congressional budget agreement several weeks ago to prohibit the elimination of “some other race.”