April 12, 2010 | Chicago Now | Original Article

According to the U.S. Census, I can be Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, Mexican-American. But I'm also "some other race."

I am "some other race."

That's what I checked on the U.S. Census form I mailed in last week.
You see according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the races you can select from on the form are white, black, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, (for which they provide a long list, including Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Guamanian, Samoan and other Asian) and Pacific Islander.

Hispanic and or Latino are not listed as a race.

It perplexes me as to why then the Census allows Asians to self-identify a country of origin, such as Japan, as a race. If the Japanese are considered a race then why aren't Mexicans?

Aren't these really national origins or one's nationality? You also could call it your ethnicity.

There's a governmental explanation. After the question, "Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?"  it says this data is used by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Acts. State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin.

But this particular question doesn't ask if the person speaks Spanish or not. Not all Latinos speak Spanish or are bilingual.

I'm sometimes confused by so many labels and so are a lot of other people out there.

One of my students asked me the other day, what's the difference between Hispanic and Latino?

I could write a book about that but the most important thing is to ask people what label they prefer to use to define themselves.

Here's a brief explanation.

It was in 1970 when the Census first started using the term Hispanic. This could include people from anywhere in Latin America or Spain.

Some people don't like the word Hispanic because it has been institutionalized by the U.S. government and they prefer to use Latino.

Chicago-born writer Sandra Cisneros dislikes the word Hispanic, according to an Hispanic Magazine article.

"The term Hispanic makes my skin crawl," Cisneros has said. "It's a very colonistic term, a disrespectful term, a term imposed on us without asking what we wanted to call ourselves."

Hispanic is seen by some as a conservative term, and for some the word Latino is a more liberal term.

So there are some Hispanics who don't like the word Latino and Latinos who hate the word Hispanic.

Still confused?

As a journalist I have used both words interchangeably when talking about the general population.

But I am careful not to put a label on any person without asking first.

I know that I prefer to be called Latina or Chicana, a word of pride born out of the civil rights movement. I'm also OK with Mexican-American.

Getting back to the race question, I can't define myself at all by the categories provided by the Census.

I'm not white, although some Latinos do identify as such.

I'm not black but there are Latinos with African heritage.

I know I have some indigenous from Mexico. My father once told me we had Aztec ancestry but there's no way I could prove that. I didn't grow up with the indigenous culture so it would be inaccurate for me to call myself American Indian or Native American.

My grandparents were born in Mexico but came to the United States at a young age, and my parents were born in Texas.

So I checked "some other race," and in the write-in box I filled it in with the word "mestizo"

That means of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry, which describes the majority of the Mexican population.  

It's hard to define oneself by checking a simple box. So the good thing about the Census is you can check as many boxes as you like or write in how you define yourself.

Also the Census doesn't ask about your immigration status and they don't share information with other government agencies. So people should not be afraid to fill it out.

The most important thing is that you do fill out the Census form so that we are all counted.