Erika Prosper, who is Mexican American, remembers not being sure how to fill out the census forms for her family.

“I had never felt like I belonged to what was supposed to be the white population,” said Prosper, 48. “I had the responsibility of completing paperwork for my family when I was young. I remember consciously putting ‘other’ because we had been treated like another.»

When the last census survey was taken in 2020, she checked multiracial to reflect a mix of what she said was her Latina (a word some Latinos use to be inclusive) and her indigenous roots. «I don’t think she’s alone,» she said. Prosper’s husband, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, is of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish descent and has Filipino, Malay, Indian and British roots.

Both may have many more specific options to select from when the next census survey is released in 2030.

The Biden administration is working to update how it identifies the race and ethnicity of Americans for official use. is collecting public feedback in his Jan. 27 proposal to change the election to people who identify as Hispanic or Latino or a version of them. Comments can be submitted through the website until April 12.

The federal government has been struggling for decades to capture the complexity of the growing population of people with Latino or Hispanic roots. The ramifications of the proposed changes are wide-ranging, from how people are asked about their identity in the census to how a local police officer identify a person cited for a traffic violation.

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and the lack of data from some states and places to show their rates of illness, hospitalizations, vaccinations and deaths demonstrated the need for precision in the collection of such information.

“The states adopt what the federal is doing. Their schools, their law enforcement, all of these… follow the example of what the government does,» said Julie Dowling, author of «Mexican Americans and the question of race».

The federal government has long wrestled with how to capture the increasing complexity of the American population. Baby Matthews/AP File

The Biden administration’s Office of Management and Budget proposes asking people «What is your race or ethnicity?» and follow that with «Select all that apply.»

In an abbreviated question, there would be check boxes next to «White», «Hispanic or Latino», «Black or African American», «Asian», «American Indian or Alaska Native», «Middle Eastern or North African» . , and «Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.»

An alternative proposal is a longer question that provides details below each option. For example, after Hispanic or Latino, a respondent might check a box for Mexican or Mexican American, a box for Puerto Rican, etc. A writing box is also provided.

Under current government standards, the 2020 Census asked people to first select whether they were Hispanic or non-Hispanic, and for “yes” answers, what origin: Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc. They were then asked to choose their race. , but Hispanic or Latino is not among those options. Nearly 26 million Hispanics, 42%, marked «some other race» in the census.

“The problem we have now is that people get confused and end up not even completing the race question. People think, I already indicated that I am Mexican, so why do I have to mark another or another race? said Arturo Vargas, executive director of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials or NALEO.

“People also get confused because they consider their Latinity to be their identity,” Vargas said.

That confusion about identifiers is reflected in the evolution of census forms, which did not have a Hispanic identity question on the short form until 1980. «Mexicano» was included in the census in 1930, but was later dropped before the next census. amid protests by Mexican-American activists and Mexico, said Julie Dowling, author of «Mexican Americans and the question of race».

In recent years, “people saw data as a source of power. Having data was a way for them to argue and advocate for their community,” Dowling said.

Jathan Melendez, 24, is a leading youth organizer in Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles group that works against systemic racism and to improve relations between Blacks and Latinos. Growing up as a biracial black man with family heritage from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, Meléndez said he feels “locked in” with today’s limited racial options.

“It was always difficult to choose: there were times when I would identify as black and there were also times when I would identify as Central American,” he said. “I had to put ‘other’ and just specify that I was Central American just to feel comfortable at the time.”

When asked how he would respond with the proposed options, Meléndez said that “I would continue to choose black people because I fear that my identity as a Central American on paper will limit the opportunities or the resources or the voice of the black community because I chose not to.” identify as black.

Two young children hold signs through a car window referencing the 2020 US Census, at an outreach event in Dallas on 25, 2020.
Two young children hold signs through a car window referencing the 2020 US Census, at an outreach event in Dallas on June 25, 2020.Tony Gutierrez/AP File

The identifiers are critical to enforcing civil rights, Vargas said, noting that the first use of the new census data is for redistricting. «We need to know where Latinos live, where African Americans live, essentially so we can draw districts that are compliant with the Voting Rights Act.»

“If we have 40% of Latinos who say they are of some other race, that doesn’t help you … to find out racially what these Latinos are, since they are identifying themselves in a non-existent category,” he said.

Mark Hugo López, director of research on race and ethnicity at the Pew Research CenterHe explained that for some Hispanics or Latinos it is a race, for others it is a different identity, derived from their countries of origin, their ethnicity and the origin of their families and not linked to race.

“Race and ethnicity are viewed differently and are viewed differently than here in the United States,” Lopez said. “One of the concerns with this particular change is not only identifying the racial and ethnic distribution among Latinos, but also whether or not we might lose something in the Hispanic count.”

There has been disagreement among Latinos about whether the one-question format was the best way to go. Vargas said NALEO had to be persuaded, and he did, through research showing that the combined question yielded more comprehensive data on Latinos.

But Nancy Lopez, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, says the proposal is problematic. She suggests a box for the «Brown» category.

«If we collect Hispanic data only as racial data, we erase black Latinos because what we’re saying is, well, there’s a Latino race, and you’re mestizo or something like that. It’s ridiculous,» said Lopez, a daughter of a Dominican. immigrants

The proposed single question will prohibit seeing different levels of segregation among Latinos and will dilute the data on Latino diversity, he said. López pointed to the example of actress Anna Taylor-Joy, who is Scottish-Argentine, and corrected her reference to her in an article as woman of colorwhen she identifies as a white Latina.

«When you have five boxes checked, who knows what they’re going to do?» Lopez asked.

Benjamin Casar, 30, grew up in Houston and speaks Spanish. His family immigrated from Mexico in the mid-to-late 1980s and has heritage from parts of North Africa, Spain and Hawaii.

Like Meléndez, Casar had trouble choosing which breed to select on the paperwork. He remembered asking his mother «What are we?» and «Which one do I choose?» when he was younger.

If the proposal to include Hispanics or Latinos in the choice of race and ethnicity were approved, she said she would try to represent all of her family’s cultures and would check all that apply.