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How distinct ethnic groups became 'Hispanics'
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Cristina Mora, Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and member of the Haas Institute's Diversity and Democracy cluster, presented earlier this month on her book, Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American.
In the talk, which was a part of the Institute's Thinking Ahead lecture series, Mora explained that in the US in the 1960s diverse ethnic groups like Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and others were all classified as white by the Census Bureau.
Activists from these different groups, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, thus came together to demand that the Census Bureau create a new category that separates them from the descendants of Europeans as part of the larger struggle for equal rights.
The activists wanted to obtain data on their ethnic groups, which had been mixed with data on people who were actually white, and didn't face the same forms of discrimination as those who originated from countries south of the border.
Later, the media and businesses offered support to the push for a "Hispanic" category, as they viewed this group as a lucrative, untapped market.
Watch a video of the talk here, and download Mora's PowerPoint presentation here. A full transcript of the talk is available below.
Mark Gomez: My name is Mark Gomez and I'm with the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley. Haas is a hub for researchers and community partners who are thinking about identifying and overcoming the barriers to a more inclusive society. My project is the leaping bear, the Leap Forward project. We facilitate research and development on tackling extreme inequality, ending racial economic exclusion and promoting enduring prosperity. To briefly introduce Cristina, this is associate professor G. Cristina Mora of sociology from the University of California Berkeley.
Cristina Mora:Mark asked me to come and talk about my book which is historical but I think after … It’s much more comprehensive than a 20-minute presentation but I think afterwards, what I'm really looking forward to is our Q and A and maybe thinking about how some of these issues might still be present today or how some of these issues might sort of change the way we think about the racial political landscape in the United States, okay? Today, I'll be speaking about the book which is titled Making Hispanics and it was published by the University of Chicago Press. It's about the development of what we think of as the Hispanic or Latino category in the United States. The category’s controversial on many levels.
We often hear people say, “Well, I'm not Hispanic. I'm Mexican or I'm Chicano or I'm Cuban. That label doesn't apply to me. I don't identify with that.” It’s controversial because the wording is controversial. I don't call myself Hispanic. I call myself Latino or more recently, I call myself Latinx, right? That's less about a resistance to being grouped with other people and more resistance around labels and definitions but still, despite the controversies, the pan-ethnic Hispanic Latino, Latinx category is still around and I argue it's one of the most consequential developments in Latino political history. My book is the first to really document and show how this category ever even emerged in the first place despite all the objections and despite the controversies.
To begin, what I'm going to do is I'm going to take you back to the late 1960s. If we could peek into the field of social movements in America, we find images like this, activists in the southwest shouted Chicano power and let protest to draw attention to poverty and education issues. In the Northeast, Puerto Ricans used protests to highlight issues of Puerto Rican sovereignty and urban development in places like New York and Philadelphia. In Miami, political groups were focused on denouncing Castro and the developments of the Cuban Revolution.
What developed was for the most part, a pattern of really distinct disparate political communities. Mexicans organized Mexicans in the southwest. Puerto Ricans organized co-ethnics in the Northeast and Cubans did the same in Miami but we might think that perhaps, in other sectors, perhaps not politics but maybe media or maybe the market, we find much more connectivity, much more sort of merging of people together. If we look at commercial television in the late 1960s, we find these same patterns. TV Guide listings show that Spanish language stations in the Southwest broadcasted several hours of Mexican programming. Puerto Rican entrepreneurs in New York imported soap operas, comedies and other shows made in San Juan and since programming couldn't be purchased from Cuba at the time, entrepreneurs in Miami rented studios and they made their own shows for Cuban-American audiences. What you had was really three different really distinct Spanish language stations.
That was the late 1960s. By 1990, America looks much different. First, several of these Mexican-American organizations evolved by attracting Puerto Rican and Cuban constituents and lobbying on behalf of what they now call Hispanics Civil Rights. By 1990, Univision, the nation's large … becomes the nation's largest Spanish language television network, it consolidates programming agenda and it now delivers the same programming to Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican audiences across the country. Last but equally important, by 1990, there's this totally new census category. It's called Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin and it now consolidates all of these communities into one statistical meta group.
The book asks, how did this shift occur? How did we get from disparate communities in the late ‘60s to suddenly this whole new category in the 1990s? Well, journalists had often argued that this change happened in sort of a shift in self-identification. They contend that as migration from Latin America increase and became more diverse, that Latinos somehow began forming a pan-ethnic outlook and just saw themselves as part of the same community but the available data that exists on pan-ethnic self-identification surveys that ask people do you feel Hispanic show that Hispanic identity increased over time but only after the emergence of Hispanic social movements, Hispanic television networks and the census category.
What my work does is it takes up this historical puzzle by examining change in organizations and I focused on, well, how did social movements, how did agencies in the federal government and how did the media even begin to talk about Latinos as Hispanics? I first thought, my initial foray into the research was that I would simply document separate changes in American institutions but as I delve into the data, I delve into the archives, I realized that these entities, the federal government, the media, social movements did not shift independently but rather in deep relationship to one another. That is the Census Bureau adopted a Hispanic category as activist groups adopted pan-ethnic agendas and as media firms began experimenting with different ways of producing pan-ethnic programming.
I began tracing these changes as they emerged in relationship to one another. The project is historical and it draws on several data sources and what my work generally argues is that Hispanic pan-ethnicity emerged from a pattern of what I call these cross-field effects wherein developments in one sector in the government or in the media or in activist groups sparked and accelerated these identity changes in other sectors. At the broadest level of the argument looks like this. First, Mexican-American and Puerto Rican activists didn’t protest with the Census Bureau demanding better data in the late ‘60s. At the time, activists were motivated by the Black Civil Rights movement undoubtedly and they wanted to pressure the government to provide them with resources but first, they needed data about unemployment, about poverty and other factors to prove their claim.
See, back then, the Bureau mainly categorized Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and others as whites, thus, lumping their data together with the descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants and several others so Latinos on their birth certificates, on census forms, on driver's license and a variety of other ways were categorized as simply white. This, of course, didn't match much of their lived reality in which Latinos were discriminated again and treated second-class citizens if we think of those that lived in Texas or the Jim Crow South where restaurants and public pools deny them services as part of a larger people of color category or if we think of the school systems where Latinos were consistently segregated into inferior and separate schools.
When census reports at those times would come out about poverty, for example, they were usually just about black and white differences. Latino data was mixed in and folded in with whites and so all of these reports, all of the data that existed for them were useless for activist causes. The bureau initially resisted activists that a separate racial category for Mexicans and then another category for Puerto Ricans would be too difficult. That wouldn't be statistically reliable because it’d be really slow in many ways. Nonetheless, activists persisted. They appealed to friends and colleagues in the Johnson and Nixon administration, then to allies in Congress.
In effect, they argued that by not separating Latinos from white, that the bureau was first and foremost, limiting a Latino fight for equality and second, they argued that the bureau was unjustly trying to fit Latinos into a schema that didn't represent them. They argued that the existing white, black, Asian and Native American categories didn't fit them, that Latinos were a separate, often mixed people with different identities. After much pushback, the bureau assessed the issue but instead of saying, “Okay, we'll create a separate Mexican or Puerto Rican category,” they instead created this umbrella Hispanic category that would cover all the Latin groups together.
Yet, there was still this very sticky issue about race. The bureau had a difficult time with this because of two main issues. First was the inconclusiveness of research. In the mid-1970s, the bureau sat down to assess this issue of whether this new Hispanic category would be a racial one and they sent out anthropologists. A group of them went out to the southwest and another group went out to Miami. Now, what do they find? In an interview with a former census official, she noted, “Well, one study deemed the Spanish origin a separate race, especially if you considered Mexican-Americans,” they largely thought of themselves as different from whites, “But other studies found them to be white, especially if you considered Cubans in Florida,” who largely at the time saw themselves as white.
The second issue of concern pushback from other groups. You see, when the bureau included a Hispanic category in the race question during pretenses trial and thus force individuals to think of themselves as either Hispanic or black or Hispanic or Asians, the number of other groups dropped. In an interview with a former census official, he recalled the critical meeting where the bureau discussed the issue of race, the official said, “The census director at the time spoke of the danger of including the Hispanic category as a separate race one. He knew he'd get complaints from blacks if their numbers went down overall and you had to think about the Puerto Ricans. This is a real possibility, not to mention the Native American numbers in the southwest, and there was even the fear the Filipinos in California would choose Hispanic over Asian, and we'd get it from all three groups.”
One of the things I want to point out here is that what's interesting is the issue of whether Latinos would be a separate race or whether they were distinct from white was never really systematically about how people were living their lives but much more about these broader racial politics and trends going on. In the end, activists never pushed the race or ethnicity question much further. Separate Hispanic category that was different from race emerged in the mid-70s on a variety of smaller Census Bureau reports. This data served as an important resource, not only for social movements but for media personnel alike. The Hispanic data helped media because they could now use this new data to show corporations and potential advertisers that “whoever these Hispanics were, they numbered in the millions.”
The third step, activists, Census officials and media executives work together to really popularize the idea of a Hispanic community. That is not just a category, these are people. Just to show you how important the sentence was, for many executives, as soon as the data came out, they created market reports about something called the National Hispanic Market. This was one of the first manuals published in the U.S. It came out soon after the release of the 1980 census data. These manuals and this data helped to spur a new field of Latino media marketers who would produce reports with statements like this. They would say things like, “The Census Bureau shows that Hispanics are growing population. They have larger families and other groups and their median age is younger, and since we know that they're family oriented at the very least, the numbers mean that they will purchase more diapers and more household products than other groups.”
Of course, executives jumped at the chance to help the Census Bureau popularize this new category. They created an entire media strategy around the 1980 census with commercials, talk show segments, and even documentaries that would show basically the 1980 census form and there'd be a big circle around the new Hispanic question. They would say, “If you think you're Mexican, if you think you're Puerto Rican, you're also Hispanic, check here.” As mentioned, social movement groups also helped the bureau publicize a category. They passed out flyers and town halls across the country and they would show them the new census forms and they would say, “Hey, for a 1980 census, we need to be united. We're Hispanic on this census form.”
The book makes an elaborate argument about this notion of cross-field effects for explaining how the Hispanic category became crystallized despite the fact that many didn't recognize the category or couldn't see many connections amongst each other. It argues that this new category was undergirded by three main factors. First was the emergence of census resources and the census data served as a resource in the social movement field. If you think of it, activists could now use this census data, for example, on Hispanic income and write a report on poverty in Latino neighborhoods or they could write a report on income inequality that now use Latinos as a separate category.
Second, the category was crystallized through the rise of networks because media, government officials and activists began to get to know one another and work together to further popularize the category. For example, activists eventually came on to serve as consultants to the Census Bureau and devise strategies to help them to get Latinos to fill out census forms. Over time, activists were actually hired as political commentators to start a new Univision pan-ethnic Hispanic programming.
The third sort of factor that was really important was these discursive strategies and especially the use of ambiguity. Ambiguity was important because organizations originally developed frames that suited their needs. When I think about this, I think about how were people talking about who this new group was. In their grant applications, activists depicted Hispanics when they imagined to Hispanics where they imagined them as a national minority that were disadvantaged suffered from inequality and weren't underrepresented. They lacked resources and opportunities.
However, the Census Bureau, when it talked about Hispanics, they talked about it as a group that had these quantifiable, correlative attributes, has a real statistical group that you could then plug into different equations, but marketers and media talked about Hispanics in almost an entirely different ways. They talked about them as a consumer group with identified consumption patterns and different cultural behaviors that made them so distinct from other groups, but over time, as all these disparate groups of people begin to work together, they also began to share one another's languages and use each other's frames. As activists, use media executives, as consultants, they began to also speak about Hispanics as consumers and as people with different sets of values.
For example, this is from the archives. It's a copy of a solicitation letter that an activist group used and it says, “Everybody's talking about it. The Hispanic market, enough talk, stand up and participate, contribute to us, a contribution to us is an effective way of reaching Hispanics and building good will for your product or service.” There, what you have is an activist group that generally engages in change of hybrid quality using the language of, yes, Hispanics are also a different consumer market. Media organizations use Hispanics as a disadvantaged minority frame to convince the FCC to provide them with special market exemptions.
This is an example from a set of FCC hearings about minority ownership. You'll see that the head of Univision says, “Spanish language audiences are one of the most underserved and isolated groups in America. Their communities lack resources, including serious news and information. We serve the public interest by providing for the needs of this population.” Okay. There's different ways of speaking through this group, what this group is about, but we must think that managing these different frames and representations is difficult. If we think of activists, on the one hand, they argued to state agencies that Hispanics are poor and disadvantaged. On the other hand, they also use this language that corporations use that Hispanics are young, untapped, lucrative market that's up and coming. The only way that it's possible, I argue, to reconcile all of these different images of who this group is, is by appealing to a broader, more ambiguous understanding of pan-ethnicity. One sort of much more vague broader argument that can link the competing frames together by emphasizing culture.
Over time, as organizations interact and work together, they develop a narrative about Hispanic culture. They argue that Hispanics are religious, that they're all hard-working, that they have family values, vague concepts that really can be applied to most any group in America. For example, like other organizations, in fact, the Census Bureau never provided an exact definition of who exactly is Hispanic. Instead, they describe what made Hispanics Hispanics in abstract terms.
This is an excerpt from a 1985 census report. It states, “Hispanics can trace their roots in the Americas back five centuries. They share a common heritage, common values and a common mother tongue. These and other ties unite them from east to west, north to south.” We see that pan-ethnicity and what binds these people together is really vaguely defined but as the organizations continue to work together, what emerges is a sort of new plot plausibility structure where organizations develop an interest in maintaining the notion of pan-ethnicity across social arenas. Activists and the Census Bureau together come together to petition Vital Statistics offices across the country to eventually make sure and create a Hispanic category on birth certificates. This doesn't happen, not all 50 states have a Hispanic category until about 1992.
Social movement groups then starts speaking about Hispanics like as consumers and this sort of becomes a popular norm amongst many other activist groups. Additionally, the language of Hispanics as a minority becomes available to other media firms but these otherwise contradictory representations, these different ways of talking about who Hispanics are can hang together because the idea of Hispanic pan-ethnicity over time becomes much more vague, abstract and taken for granted. By 1990, what emerges is a collection of diverse organizations from state agencies to a variety of activist groups to media firms that all become invested in maintaining Hispanic pan-ethnicity largely because they're interested for law. They claim Hispanics are minority, they are consumer, they're statistical groups because above all, what unites them above all is some kind of shared ambiguous common culture.
I think what is at the core and strength of the category is its broadness because the category has never been completely defined, it could be expensive and cover as many people. Hispanics can be of any color, speak any language, hence, someone with an Argentine grandma is Hispanic if they want to be just as someone who just crossed the border from Central America, but this ambiguity is also its weakness. It makes it weak and not really able to look unified. Hence, when the category is too broad, it can lose its ability to really focus and work on and carry through an agenda.
These internal contradictions notwithstanding, it's important to note that the development of the Hispanic category was both an important fight for recognition in American political history. It was consequential for relabeling America's largest minority.
Mark Gomez:Thank you. Let's go straight to you guys and gals, folks that have questions.
Cristina Mora:It’s definitely not going to be together. One of the reasons it was not going to be together is that that was associated much more with the Mexican-American group, the Mexican identity. Even though Mexicans were at that point and continue to be the largest subgroup in the pan-ethnic category, there was always … I mean, if you ever looked at these early conventions of activists coming together, Puerto Ricans were almost always consistently worried that Mexican-Americans would take over the agenda. They said if we get together, it's just going to be Mexican. We need to be able to stand out. It's not going to be Chicano.
The Census Bureau really, really, really wanted it to be and it stayed that way for a couple of decades. They really wanted it to be something that they called Spanish origin but there was a lot of pushback from that, technical pushback and just sort of … This is at a time of an emerging Chicano Movement in California in which there was a really sort of reclaiming of an indigenous identity and pushing back against sort of something that was overtly Spanish but in many ways, arguments about labels become reflective of the people that sit at the decision-making table. There were, at the time, people in the Nixon and Johnson administration that really liked the term Hispanic. They saw themselves Hispanic, Hispano was the term in New Mexico that many family used to differentiate themselves from Anglos and some argued from the indigenous population there as well.
They argue that Hispanic would be the most recognized, most encompassing term. They argue this. There were no other real studies that show that this label was the best. There were strong arguments for not having other labels like for example, the label Latin American was considered but this was at a moment of American ratio of political history in which Latinos had just had, if you look at the history of the Southwest in the 1930s, there were a lot of repatriation campaigns in which sort of even Mexican-American citizens were taken back to Mexico. There was a real fear of any label that would make them sound too foreign. Latin American, just like Latino, for many, we're considered to sound too foreign.
I like to say no label was ever perfect. No one ever sort of fell on this label that was just this is it. I think today, still no label is perfect which is why you have organizations that will call themselves Hispanic/Latino and now we have arguments about to whether it's Latinx or not, but I think it all just speaks to the inherent real contradiction and inherent politics of category labels.
Because it’s a separate question, we generally think that who we think are Hispanics are using that question because it's separate, because it's not, as of right now, it's still not in a combined race and ethnicity question. This and since around 2020 will tell. I mean, all signs point to the fact that it's now going to be a combined race and ethnicity question and so the Hispanic will be seen or perceived not technically but will be perceived as mutually exclusive. You'll be able to say, “Are you black or Hispanic or white?” Things like that. Because it was a separate question for a long time, we generally think that the vast majority of people were answering the question.
Because it was real when it came out in 1980, there was a real publicity campaign around it, I mean, there was a whole telethon where Univision took over their airways for two days and brought stars. The way they did it is like how do you appeal to the most diverse group and convince them like this new label. Some people had never really ever heard of this before. Some people, to the extent, they saw themselves as broader thought, “Okay, well, maybe I'm Spanish speaker or something but maybe not.” The way they did it was they brought out television stars and musicians from Colombia, from Cuba, from Central America, from these different places and they all sort of made appeals to their own group and said, “Trust us. This is what we are. This is important for us.”
What we do know about self-identification trends is that a category has to be made and established before it's really studied. We actually don't have the first survey that asked people, “Do you feel Hispanic? Do you even like this term,” until 1990. That's well over like 15 years since these intense negotiations were taking place but in 1990, you had about 25% of people of Latino say, “Yeah. I see myself as Hispanic.” By 2012, it's really close to 90%. That shows to me really the power of organization said it's not just the media driving this and it's not just political interest and it's not just a narrative of the state is ramming this down my throat, it's really this combined infused effort in which you're getting this messages from all over.
History, world history is about migration flows and movements and borders are relatively … They go in all of history with that. With migration flows and movements comes these arguments of who are we giving the resource to and who are you and arguments about who belongs and who doesn't and then ways of trying to understand them. When I think of what states do, I think one of the first thing a state tries to do is categorize its people. That's the way it knows what it's doing. It categorizes and sort of reaffirms a hierarchy. These categories are not neutral.
I think it is happening and I think it happens on all kinds of levels. On a more abstract level, I work in the realm of pan-ethnicity, just how does a category form on smaller categories but you have that working both in the United States with categories, with people in the United States, but if we think of Indian, like the national category of Indian, like I'm from India, that's a pan-ethnic category for sure. It's people of all kinds of linguistic cultures and cultural backgrounds. I think that process is almost fundamental that most of our national categories are pan-ethnic categories.
Often, we have pan-ethnic categories that traverse national boundaries. There's a lot of tension and fighting around them. If we think of Mayan for example, Mayan sort of people sort of traverse the boundaries of Guatemala and Mexico and things of the sort and fights for recognition of us as a community despite whatever national boundary there is certainly present so, yeah.
The other fun fact is when categories, I think, are developed and crystallized and made real either because a state agency like the Bureau seasons, solidifies and justifies it, it becomes its absolute own reality. Soon after the Census Bureau creates this Latino category, there's all kinds of pushback. People still don't know what it is to this day. People will still tell you, “I'm Mexican, not Hispanic.” As Latinos come to see themselves as Latinos and they migrate back to Latin America, for example, or go home to visit, the Latino category becomes much more popular over there.
My favorite tidbit is over time, Univision created this whole slew of pan-ethnic programming. It was unique. It did not exist anywhere in Latin America. This was a type of programming that was specifically tailored to attract Hispanics as Hispanics. An example of this would be, there was a talk show that was the equivalent, it was called Spanish-language Oprah. Her name was Cristina, she had a long-standing talk show. It was strategic. Her strategy was like, let's say the topic was how to talk about … Let's just say the topic was how to talk about drugs to my kids. She would strategically have a Mexican family, a Colombian family, a Cuban family. It was all these sort of strategic ways of how do you create this image.
This show became the number one show in Peru, in Lima. It becomes the number one show in Mexico City. It is then sort of thrown back out to the world and it reshapes the way people start thinking. I think these identity categories are continuously changing in large part because human movement changes. As much as we try to create these borders and arguments, that doesn't withstand to the way people are constantly being categorized and slotted into hierarchies.
I'm going to start with saying this. When I think about racial politics, I hate projection. I hate projection because it's really political. The way we think about whether trends are going to endure or not are based on what arguments of who we think deserves what or what not. Projections are really important and they create backlash. I mean, there's a whole sort of new literature right now in how sort of the rise of Latinos in the United States and they increase although immigrations at net zero since 2007 but the perceived sense that Latinos are taking over has created a backlash in America.
I think part of that is projection. When people say, “We're going to be a majority, minority by 2050 or 2025,” that creates a backlash. That projection is a political statement I think that we're saying. With that said, I also think that identities and the categories in many ways are sensitive to political development. It's not inconsequential that Trump calls Latino immigrants especially those from Mexico as criminals and rapists and bad hombres. I think that in many ways, that sort of reaffirms for many people the fact that they're seeing a second-class citizen so that might have an effect at sort of booing the sense of we're all in this together, we need to fight for much more, the inclusive discourse in the country, but I would not have projected Trump winning. I would not have projected that in the first place.
At the same time, the Latino population is fueled by migration. It’s fueled even though it's at net zero. That means many people are leaving as are coming, people that are still coming come with a whole different set of needs. They come with sort of a different language that they're speaking and they're generally inserted to the economy in a way that they're making much less and they're suffering much more than other people. That sort of phase and continuous characterization of who comprises the Latino population, you can't get away from that. As long as our global inequality continues, as long as sort of they're not all kinds of amazing new economic opportunities that emerge in Latin America, people will still continue to come. That sort of means that Latinos will still be characterized by this inflow of people that are discriminated against that, face all kind of disadvantages. That will need to be contended.
At the same time, we do know that there is certainly social mobility within the Latino population. You do definitely have Cubans that came in the 1960s and now, they did very well for themselves. They've always seen themselves as white. They think of themselves as white and that's a real sort of and … They have many more resources to establish themselves as speakers on behalf of Latinos or insert themselves in racial politics. When I think about Latinos and racial political discourse around them, it becomes this sort of tug-of-war between sort of the disadvantaged narrative that covers real sort of the sense of disadvantage and sort of speaks to how Latinos are incarcerated at extremely high rates so they have high levels of poverty, but also this sort of discourse that wants to be there but we're also becoming … but we’re also homeowners but we’re also doing this.
There's a fantastic anthropologist, her name is Arlene Davila that has this wonderful book called Latino Spin. It's all about how these sort of narratives of who Latinos are just really highly politicized in this way. Sorry, I laughed a little bit. Yeah, where do I start with this? I will start by saying I generally incredibly dislike the comparison between Italians and … It's generally made like our Mexicans just like Italians is in this just like 50 years later. When groups come in and the conditions under which they come in and the way they're slotted into the American economic and political landscape really matters.
Italians and Irish came in at a time in which sort of … I have a colleague that has a phenomenal book called Three Worlds of Relief. Her name’s Cybelle Fox. You should check this out. It really looks at the American social welfare landscape and who was given benefits and who was given opportunities to succeed in many ways. If you look at history, you really see that the incorporation of Italians and Irish immigrants was really incredibly different from the incorporation of Mexicans. I mean Italians were never rounded up and deported. Irish weren’t either. They might have been certainly denigrated on the street. There might have been ethnic slurs shouted against them but they were never systematically rounded up in many ways. They were never victims of sort of land seizures that were taken away, things like that.
I think when we make these comparisons, we should be incredibly mindful of the different context in which groups come in. There's also a fantastic book called Generations of Exclusion by Ed Telles and Vilma Ortiz that really tackles this question because it's actually really prominent in American politics like, can't all just immigrants be like the Irish and Italians? What's going on there, right? They used a really fascinating data set. When they’d follow, they can see how Mexican-Americans have fared across generations and really show there are real effects of discrimination, there are real effects of under-representation that sort of play in in ways that they didn't play in perhaps with other groups. I want to be mindful of that.
I do want to say that I don't want to also downplay the realities of race. Colorism is incredibly important to contend with. Think about the darker you are, and there are a lot more studies being done about this, more so in Latin America than I've seen in the United States but this is one of the most complex parts about the pan-ethnic category. It holds people with different skin tones too. One of the things that Univision really tried to do when it thought about like, “Well, how are we going to create a one news program that can really speak to Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Mexicans alike?”
One of the things they really tried hard is what does the Latino look like? They settled on this sort of abstract sense of like olive colored skin and almond shaped eyes as if they all look like this, right? These are the politics right down to what is the tone that they're going to use, how can they de-accentize their Spanish in order to get at everybody. I just think it speaks to how amazingly complex the category still is and yet, with the complexity, it holds. It holds and it's been durable at least for a while.
This was a negotiation and so what was lost often with this push of saying, “Okay, we're Hispanic,” was a loss of a much more organized identity that was based on the fact of like we've been colonized. We're a group of people that lost their lands, so if you think of Puerto Ricans, if you think of Mexican-Americans, that could have really mobilized on themselves that we're definitely not white, we’re definitely distinct. There were other possibilities that could have been open, like other ways of thinking about racial difference that were open but that were closed in many ways because this was a negotiation at the end of the day with bureaucrats and then there was definitely this commercial element to that.
Now, is there a way of … The only reason, I guess, [inaudible 00:40:26] is because I think that's the million-dollar question but I'm not sure I know what to answer other than many back then saw this as a really critical fight for recognition. Many back then said the fact that we don't exist in your studies, in your reports is negatively affecting us. We cannot fight for monies, for job training programs, bilingual education. We can't fight for this if we don't exist as a separate group. I think that was a time in American history where it was about recognition politics and how big the categories were. I don't think we're at that moment anymore in which how big the categories were are translate into … In fact, people are now so anxious and scared about how big potentially minorities in general are and what that means for the values and directions of the country and things like that. Back then, this is the only way you can make these arguments.
I think the question would be then, can we have a set of movements focused on combating racism and inequality in a way that isn't just about recognition and stops at recognition, isn't just about creating a new category or not? I think that’s a question I don’t know the answer but something that I could definitely … that's worthy of stopping to think about. I think also, though we've moved beyond recognition politics. Right now, for example, we're debating whether … The Census Bureau is debating whether to insert a Middle Eastern, North African category. This is not the first time they thought about this. Actually, around the first times they were debating it, 9/11 happens and then, all the activism towards saying we need to be a new category because we're discriminated against, we have these systemic inequalities backtracked in the face of extreme repression, extreme discrimination vis-à-vis this group.
Now, it's surging again and now, it's something that's debated right now but I think you're right. In many ways, fights for equality generally evolve into fights for recognition and then, we stop there. Once you have a category, you think of what are the boundaries of the categories. One of my sense is that categories are never really defined just like Latino. It’s so broad. I mean Mark is half Latino or Latino just like I am, just like someone else with an entirely different reality might be. I think, yeah, we stop there and I think the argument about what is the social reality that actually brought us here to the table in the first place could be included.
There are definitely meetings and negotiations that are happening right now about this. Part of this is who should come to those negotiations. This is not inconsequential. I've sat in meetings myself about the MENA category in which different maps of the world are shown and some renditions of the MENA category would cover places like Sudan within the MENA category. If you think of a Sudanese in the same category as Israeli, for example, what did that category mean then? What does it mean? This is always the gist of it. It's like where do you draw the boundaries of who's in and who's out and how do you manage drawing the boundaries with a real need like often, the arguments from these categories spark from a need, whether it's like we need to be identified so that we can track racist act against MENA versus … Well, then, how do we do it? The politics of how do you do it are meaningful.
In the case of Latinos, it's really going to … You think that they might be inconsequential but over time, they become real. They become real. We might think of the MENA category now and label it as just sort of something that the state made up but in 15 years, when there's a MENA category everywhere, when your driver's license says MENA, where organizations for MENA rights come about, when companies start trying to make money off of the MENA people, it becomes real. I don't know. I don't know how far we go in race politics like this.
I don't know and I'm not sure if how unique the United States is on this. There are fights for recognition across Western Europe right now that are meaningful and they've been around for a while that have tried to resist the fact that the state doesn't see difference because if the state doesn't see difference, then it’s denying that there's a racial hierarchy that has existed for a long time across many states in many places. I just know that what's happening is not just about science and it's not just about what people think and how they feel. It's really about negotiations and what gets lost with those,
I think what racial difference has meant has certainly changed over time. I think the biggest shift in terms of the Bureau was when they shifted to using enumerators and then telling you who you are to self-identification. With the shift to self-identification came this sense of much more messiness on their perceived in. When an enumerator came to your house and saw you and didn't even ask you and just sort of checked it off or if you told them something different, they would recode you, shift to when the Bureau started saying, “Well, if we're going to let people self-identify, then we're going to loosen up our idea that race is actually a real scientific difference. It just sort of call it a social construct and let it be what it is and let it be understood as it is.”
I think colloquially, ethnicity has been thought of as national difference or some sort of sub racial difference in which people can be then slotted into the racial taxonomy. For example, Polish ethnicity, right, but then you have some sort of Hispanic pan-ethnicity or something like that. I think colloquially, it's understood but most, for sure, 100% the Census Bureau haven’t totally definitely understood that the idea of what is race and what is ethnicity in people's mind is not clear. It's confused but what is clear is … What is often clear to them is that they will fit in one of these labels even if on their everyday basis, they might think of themselves different.
I think there's a sense that identification is different from identity and that sort of gap that exists there has always been difficult for any researcher like what you’re actually saying if you're using the category and that might be different from what people are living and think of themselves at. That's the reality and the gap that's there for sure. In that identification, that because it's self-identified, it’s so messy that I don't think they even try to go in and sort of make this distinction.
I mean, I think that depends on the other possibilities that were forgone. I mean, I think you would not have the wide array of institutions lobbying on behalf of Latino rights that exists now had that not been in play. The way I think that, and the way people certainly criticized it, is the way it hurts is that within the Latino category, there are huge differences, stark differences. Some people might be free-riding. Some groups that may not be as disadvantaged are free-riding on the disadvantage of others or it creates possibilities for a real hierarchy that exists within the category. Some groups just do much better than others and that hierarchy is occluded because we just think about the group as a whole. It has hurt and benefited. I think overall though, we wouldn't be talking about Latino politics if we didn't have it. We'd probably still be … There'd be these disparate groups and their ability to fight for recognition or have rights would be depending on the region or the country where they’re at and how they do it.
Some of the benefits is that it did allow groups to work together nationally and it did allow small groups. If you think of like the emergence of Latino LGBT organizations, that might emerge in Minnesota. Well, there might not be that many Latino LGBT there but they could say that they are part of a national community, a national community that's important, a national sort of sense of people that are out there that have the same interests as they do. Without having a category that's national, they would not have been able to do that in the first place.
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