Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Folly of Race: Who Is Hispanic?

I have a student who has a very Hispanic last name. If he added an accent mark to his first name (his middle name is already acceptable), he'd be about as Hispanic as one could get.

He's also about as white as one could be. And I don't just mean in skin color.

The discussion lately is: can he legitimately mark "Hispanic" on his college applications?

If you say no, then what about him is not "authentic" enough for you? What about my best friend from West Point, whose father was German (naturalized American after WWII) and whose mother was Mexican, who lived just across the border in Mexico but attended American schools each day, who speaks fluent Spanish--but has blond hair and blue eyes? Is there a skin darkness that determines who is, and who is not, Hispanic? If not, then what defines "Hispanic" beyond a Spanish-sounding name?

And what about my blond Venezuelan student? He, too, is fluent in Spanish--I'm quite sure that at least his father speaks English as a second language--and visited family in Venezuela earlier this school year.

What about the darker skinned Hispanic students I've had, whose only "ethnic" quality, by their own admission, is their last name?

When real-world situations like this arise, the absolute folly of considering race is arrayed in full view.

24 comments:

Kim said...

I have a friend who also has a very ethnic sounding name but is also very white. He admits the possibility that he was admitted because of his name (and he left the race checkmark blank).

Every semester, we had to fill out a demographics sheet to update things like our parents' address, but for some reason they also listed race on there. So every semester my friend checked off a different race box.

Joanne Jacobs said...

My daughter has a friend who got a great internship as a Hispanic. She has an Anglo-German name, pale skin and upper-middle-class parents. She lived in South America as a child; her mother is South American. She's also very smart and hard-working and will be successful in life. Disadvantaged she's not.

I just hope we outgrow this stuff in the next generation. Come to think of it, my niece is part Mexican.

curious said...

About the most foolish I ever felt was riding a city bus in Atlanta, GA and trying to say "hello" to some teenage Asian girls, I first tried Chinese, then Japanese, then Korean, then Vietnamese, then Thai. The teenage girls looked at me with very puzzled looks until out of sheer frustration one of them said in the most pronounced southern accent I have ever heard, "we don't speak none of them languages".

Race is such a made up concept.

Anonymous said...

I'm Irish, and the Irish are often called the "Latins of the north." I wonder if I would qualify.

Mike said...

I've chatted with my students about this issue. This seems a useful question: Are you a Hispanic-American or an American who happens to be Hispanic?

It helps them understand the difference between those who practice identity politics and being an American who, perhaps more than many, recognizes or celebrates the influence of their genetic culture.

Anonymous said...

One of my classmates in law school was, like Geraldo Rivera, half-Jewish and half-Puerto Rican. He'd been raised in a middle-class, predominantly Jewish neighborhood on Long Island. He had a Jewish name. He spoke no Spanish, had no contact with the Puerto Rican side of the family, and had never been even remotely disadvantaged.

And he used to laugh and laugh about how he'd gotten in on a scholarship for Hispanic students.
He was technically eligible, but he gloated over the way he'd done an end-run around the purpose of the scholarship: to give a boost to disadvantaged Hispanics.

The rest of us weren't laughing.

Mike Maddox said...

I compliment you on raising, even lightheartedly, a serious question that is rarely mentioned.
The issue of white or Hispanic designations as used by racial preferencialists would be comedy if not for the serious isuues of discrimination they attempt to mask.
When discussing crime statistics or anti-white (Euro) discrimination by AA proponents, Hispanics are always included as whites in their statistics with the explanation that socialogists classify Hispanics as a white race.
Change the subject in any fashion and suddenly Hispanics become a separate minority race with all the advantages that society should build into the system to overcome anti-brown discrimination.
It is to laugh, but their tactics work.

Mr. Lopez said...

If it helps me get into college, I have no problem using this to my advantage.

Jetgirl said...

My husband is a white African immigrant who looks black/hispanic/native American/Greek depending on his hair length and how much time he's spent in the sun.

He amuses himself when encountering someone who claims to be African-America by asking them where they were born. In Chichewa or Afrikaans.

"Hey, I was born in Lilongwe and grew up in Sudan, where are you from? LA? Oh. But you said you were African....*looks innocent*"

Anonymous said...

Didn't the antebellum south have this all worked out? Black, white, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, etc.

We could just revive these terms and make the forms more precise (so, not "Are you hispanic?" but "How hispanic are you?"). This should go a long way towards helping us to end racial discrimination and profiling.

-Mark Roulo

Ellen K said...

A girl I went to school with married a guy with a last name deemed Hispanic. Imagine the surprise of the interviewer, expecting to see a typical Hispanic-American teacher and ending up with a red haired, green eyed six foot tall from Boston. She didn't get hired, but before the face to face interview, the HR department told her it was just to "sign papers and virtually a done deal." Now this same district is moving long time experienced and successful teachers to replace them with novice teachers from Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries. The joke is that while many can pass the written English test, if you call some of the schools, only the administrators and secretary can speak English. How is someone who doesn't speak the language supposed to teach a student and help their fluency in that language? But it's not about ethnicity...it is about public perception and politics.

Nigel said...

If Nick sees himself as a minority, then by all means.

Or if he just wants a leg up for getting into college. Unfortunately, not ALL that many colleges look at race. At least, not above the table. The quota system is dead, and seriously dude (to Nick), how many hispanics are there in California? Hella. Unless you were raised by a single mother, and worked every day for 6 hours after school just so you could afford to your bus pass, and you basically raised your 6 brothers and sisters——I really don't think it's going to make a difference.

And since your situation is REALLY not that exemplary (seriously, you live in Gold River. Nothing is exemplary about that place.) then I double it'll make much of a difference.

Hell, if I could put Ashkanaji Jew (Eastern European), then I totally would.

Go for it, Señor López. I certainly won't hurt—unless they decided to check up on your family history.

Darren said...

Nigel, how would *you* define an "authentic" Hispanic if the student in question isn't one? And "unfortunately" most schools don't look at race? Two things wrong with that. Yes, most do--and they're trying to get around Prop 209 to do it--and the fact that they do leads to the absurdity I wrote about.

The only "unfortunate" part here is that they still *do* look at the color bar.

Scott said...

Wow, my life, I am ½ Spanish/Hispanic/etc., there is also a lot of Tiwa and maybe some Tewa blood on that side and ½ hillbilly mutt, including Caddo, Cherokee, many European nationalities, Irish and if family tales are to be believed African, on the other. Almost 400 years ago my mother’s (many greats) grandfather settled in the northern region of New Mexico and I am one of those descendents. I say use it, authentic is ancestry, nature if you will. Culture is nurture, I know there is not much in common with the 18yo cowboy from Montana I used to rodeo with and the 23yo from New York I roomed with in the army, other than they were both Black.

Piper in Reno

Anonymous said...

in my opinion, race has two aspects to it: how one perceives himself, and how others perceive him. if nick believes himself to be hispanic, all the power to him. "hispanic" is such a broad term anyway, incorporating indigenous, mestivos, europeans and anyone in between that was affected by spain's colonial past. but nick also has to recognize that to a stranger who does not know his name, he is white and hence subject to all the benefits that being at least perceived as white entails in our still-very-racially-biased society.

as far as getting him into a good college, his test scores and grades plus the fact that he has recieved an outstanding (and it really is outstanding:) ) education at one of CA's predominantly-white public schools are going to carry more weight than being hispanic ever would. in fact, look at the distribution of underrepresented racial minority students at a place like berkeley in comparison to the large pecentages of CA's population to which they contribute, and you will see how easily universities really are evading prop 209. the discrepancies are appalling.

furthermore, what happens if we do ignore race as a factor, which is pretty much what prop 209 does. the divisions that result from racial discrimination in the past and unfortunately in the present, all seem to disappear. how very convenient. but after all, race doesn't really exist, does it?

sorry mr. miller, just felt like habla-ing :)

Darren said...

Still very racially biased? I'd say race obsessed, but not so much race biased--except those who continue to use it as an excuse for whatever social ill they choose to focus on.

Anonymous said...

Just because people are unable to tell what race you are does not make race a "made up concept." Get a DNA test. People can't tell what blood type you are either, does that make it "made up"?

Racial preferences are supposed to benefit hispanics in general, not be fair in each and every individual case. Obviously racial lines are continuous mixtures, rarely is someone 100% anything. But a policy designed around exact racial makeup would be very strange.

ibmom said...

Actually, the College Board has an official definition as it applies to the National Hispanic Recognition Program. Per their web site,
"To qualify for this program, the student must be at least one-quarter Hispanic, according to the following definition: A person of Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish cultures or origins. For purposes of this program, this does not include persons from Brazil or Portuguese culture/origin, or persons from the Philippines. Hispanic is an ethnic category not a racial category and Hispanics may be of any race."

radar said...

Of course, I am nearly 100% one of the smallest minorities in the US. My great-grandparents came over to the US on a boat when they were teenagers, and my grandparents learned English in elementary school. I celebrate my heritage in my hometown every year and I'm very aware of how my ethnicity affects my personality, family, educational goals, and work ethic.

Problem is, I'm not diverse by any educational standards.

I'm Dutch - and Dutch people are white.

Too bad for me...

Anonymous said...

Hispanic is obviously not a race but a cultural and linguistic category. The Spaniards from Spain are mediterranean cuacasians just like Greeks and Italians. Many in Latin America are a mixture of races Indian, European and Black. But in the end it should be obvious that that someone like Gloria Estefan can't be the same race as Celia Cruz. Having a certain last name or speaking a certain language is not what makes a "race".

melchior6 said...

Hispanic is obviously not a race but a cultural and linguistic category. The Spaniards from Spain are mediterranean cuacasians just like Greeks and Italians. Many in Latin America are a mixture of races Indian, European and Black. But in the end it should be obvious that that someone like Gloria Estefan can't be the same race as Celia Cruz. Having a certain last name or speaking a certain language is not what makes a "race".

melchior6 said...

Hispanic is obviously not a race but a cultural and linguistic category. The Spaniards from Spain are mediterranean cuacasians just like Greeks and Italians. Many in Latin America are a mixture of races Indian, European and Black. But in the end it should be obvious that that someone like Gloria Estefan can't be the same race as Celia Cruz. Having a certain last name or speaking a certain language is not what makes a "race".

melchior6 said...

Hispanic is obviously not a race but a cultural and linguistic category. The Spaniards from Spain are mediterranean cuacasians just like Greeks and Italians. Many in Latin America are a mixture of races Indian, European and Black. But in the end it should be obvious that that someone like Gloria Estefan can't be the same race as Celia Cruz. Having a certain last name or speaking a certain language is not what makes a "race".

James said...

Melchior6 is absolutely correct.
"Hispanic" is not a racial category. Hispanics may be of European or "white" origin, African or "black" origin, Native American or "Indian" origin, or even of Asian origin. Large numbers of Hispanics however are of mixed ancestry. In the Hispanic country closest to the United States, Mexico, the majority of the population is "mestizo" or "mixed" Native American and some European blood. Puerto Ricans on the other hand are mainly a mixture of Africans and Europeans ("mulato"). This does not mean that there are no Puerto Ricans or Mexicans who are white, just that they are a minority. On the other hand, countries like Uruguay and Argentina are predominantly European in origin and therefore "white." It is absurd that when people from any of these countries come to the U.S., they are suddenly remade into a separate race. "Hispanic" is no more a race than "Anglo" is a race.