The Politics of the Census
By Roberto Rodriguez
The genesis of this nonsensical “misconception” goes back to the era when the United States militarily took half of Mexico in 1848. At that time, the Mexican government attempted to protect its former citizens by insisting that the U.S. government treat them legally as “white,” so they would not be enslaved or subjected to legal segregation. That strategy only partially worked, because most Mexicans in this country have never been treated as “white,” or as full human beings with full human rights.
That era is long over, yet the fear, shame, denial, and semi-legal fiction of being “white” remains, perpetrated primarily by government bureaucrats.
Despite the bureau policy of racial categorization, the Indigenous Cultures Institute in Texas, a Census 2010 partner, has advanced an alternative: It asserts that Hispanics, Mexican Americans, and Indigenous people of Mexico are native or American Indian. After answering Question 8, regarding whether one is Hispanic or not, the institute suggests: “If you are a descendant of native people, you can identify yourself (in Question 9) as an American Indian in the 2010 Census… If you don’t know your tribe, enter “unknown” or “detribalized native.” If tribe or identity is known, fill it in, i.e., Macehual, Maya, Quechua, etc.
So yes, it isn't correct to automatically classify these people as brown-skinned Natives. But it also isn't correct to pretend they're equally likely to be of any race.
Census takers and everyone else should be aware of this. That's why I don't get too annoyed when Latinos get Native roles in movies and TV shows.
I gather many Latinos prefer to consider themselves "white" or "European" because it's more socially acceptable. If I were them, I'd embrace my Native roots.
For more on the subject, see Latinos Told to Anglicize Names and "Hate the Mexicans (and Indians)."
Below: Robert Beltran as Chakotay.