More Hispanics are declaring themselves white. I know, it surprised me too, but that was the title of a New York Times piece I read this week by Nate Cohn.
My first thought was, really? When I think of Hispanic minorities, the first adjective that pops to mind is ethnic pride. The many subgroups in this demographic have fought vocally and with dignity to preserve their language and customs. Yet according to the 2010 census many of these Americans had different answers for census questions about race and ethnicity. Since the 2000 census some 1.2 million of the 35 million who identified as “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” switched to “white.”
It suggests that if the need to assimilate was stronger than increasing economic and demographic strength and a good 10 years of debate over immigration, will America actually become a minority-majority nation?
We’ve all been operating under the assumption that was a given because of the growing numbers in the Hispanic demographic, but that assumption turns terribly leaky if this group decides to self-identify as white instead.
According to the article, the lure or comfort of assimilation may be stronger among second- and third-generation Hispanics, who are more likely to identify as white than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics. But it’s notable that these white identifiers also tend to have higher levels of education and more income.
“In that regard,” Cohn said, “the census numbers are not new: There is mounting evidence that Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”
So there you have it. It could mean one of two things. One, Hispanics are offering some mixed public messages. Why we’re left to speculate over. Or, bear with me, you know I like to poke the bear, is it easier to get ahead when you align yourself with the dominant group, one that has a history of wealth and the education to acquire wealth?
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s something worth emulating about almost everyone, especially when a high standard of living is one of the rewards. But the question is, why are Hispanics in particular identifying with another group?
Somehow I doubt the primary motivation is wealth. I suspect it’s a bit more complicated. It’s too bad the 2010 census questions didn’t dig a little deeper. I’d love to know why more than 1 million Hispanic Americans switched to white in 10 years when their numbers suggest they should be doing the exact opposite.
This piece also appeared in Diversity Executive magazine online.