NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hispanics Resist Racial Labels

January 10, 2002

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni contends that immigrants from Latin America remain more likely to see themselves as Cuban Americans or Mexican Americans rather than to be defined as "Hispanics" by leftist politicians or the Census Bureau.

U.S. race relations typically are cast in terms of black and white, but Hispanics have already overtaken African Americans as the nation's largest minority. African American leaders, some Hispanic politicians, and white left-wing leaders urge Hispanics to see themselves as victims of discrimination and racism.

Etzioni sees a decades-long effort by the Census Bureau to define Hispanics as a distinct group and race.

  • The Census Bureau in 1970 sampled 5 percent of households to determine those of Latin American origin.
  • In 1980, "Hispanic" became a distinct category when all households were asked whether they were of "Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent."
  • Subsequent censuses, including the 2000 enumeration, treated Hispanics as a separate race even though until recently they were considered as multiple ethnic groups who were racially white.

The National Latino Political Survey found that three out of four respondents chose to be labeled by their country of origin rather than by "pan-ethnic" terms such as Hispanic or Latino. Even on the 2000 Census, 47.9 percent of Hispanics identified their race as "white" and 42.2 percent declined to provide a racial categorization.

Etzioni's book The Monochrome Society shows the overwhelming majority of Americans of all backgrounds have the same dreams and aspirations as the white majority. Traditionally, U.S. society has allowed for assimilation of new immigrants without them losing their own distinctive cultural identity. Americans celebrate differences in cultural items from music to cuisines even as they share the commitment to the Constitution, democratic government and tolerance for differences.

Source: Amitai Etzioni, "Inventing Hispanics: A Diverse Minority Resists Being Labeled," Brookings Review, Winter 2002, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 797-6000.


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