Saturday, December 18, 2004

Census Pushes for Indian Removal

COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

Years of U.S. governmental assimilationist policies have succeeded in convincing about half of all the people within the "Latino/Hispanic" census category to see themselves racially as white. Now, for the 2010 census, the U.S. Census Bureau wants the other half.

On its face, this move to eliminate the "other race" category appears to be neutral. Yet if the bureau gets its way, by 2010, the people within the category of Latino/Hispanic will essentially become a subcategory of "white."

The bureau should not prevail. And it probably won't, because Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., has blocked the bureau's move to eliminate the "other race" option through language in the recent omnibus bill. However, keeping "other race" is not a solution either, but is the problem.

The bureau's perceived problem is of its own making. About 97 percent of all those who checked the "other race" category (10 million and 15 million in 1990 and 2000, respectively) are Latinos/Hispanics.

The bureau has long believed that those who exercise this option are racially confused. Thus, without their consent, it has traditionally re-categorized virtually all of them into the white category. The bureau's 2010 proposal would have the same funnel effect of corralling them into the white category because they don't perceive the other categories as being designed for them. It's a bureaucratic way to arrest the browning of the nation.

Anyone who reads a biology book knows that racial categories are unscientific. But if we play along with the bureau's fiction of forcing everyone into black/white/Asian and American Indian categories, what's undeniable is that the vast majority of "Latinos/Hispanics" are not white. Those who choose the "other race" category have long been sending out this message.

Most within the Latino/Hispanic category in the United States are what some term "mestizo," or racially mixed. Most people with Mexican and Central American roots are primarily indigenous or indigenous-based mestizos. A better part of their ancestry includes people who've been on this continent for thousands of years, and they have African, European or Asian roots, as well.

This covers nearly 75 percent of this census category. Of the remaining 25 percent, many of the people from South American and Caribbean nations are even more indigenous or African. And, of course, within all these populations, there is also a (minor) European element.

In effect, debates may rage about how to label or define Latinos/Hispanics, but what is certain is that the vast majority are not white. Thus, to steer virtually all of them into the white census category is tantamount to what we've long termed demographic genocide.

Since the issue is essentially limited to Latinos/Hispanics, one option that has been proposed is adding a mestizo racial category. That may not be accurate, but that's how many see themselves, and it would dramatically reduce the number of Latinos/Hispanics checking the "other race" category.

Perhaps therein lies the problem: Government bureaucrats may not want to officially condone the "browning" of the nation -- and many of those who can will opt for the white category and indeed do not want to be seen as brown. (Eliminating affirmative action for Latinos/Hispanics who identify themselves as white would reduce the number of Latinos/Hispanics who would choose white.)

The truth is, none of this is news. Jack Forbes, author of the book "Aztecas del Norte," has been writing about this for more than 40 years, warning about the efforts to de-Indianize the continent. De-Indianization is but another word for genocide -- a project that commenced in 1492.

The best solution is for the bureau to get out of the identity business altogether. One only needs to see the bizarre nature of how the government determines American Indianness by blood quantum. It will not be long until all other groups go down the same path. (Currently, the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund has created a similar formula for eligibility purposes.)

The bureau's effort runs contrary to thousands of years of history and is but another form of Indian removal. Beyond that, it's taking the nation back to a time before the advent of the civil rights movement and ethnic studies (where one learns ones history, when shame and embarrassment in being brown -- in having Indian blood -- was the norm.

This should be a clarion call for every artist, writer, scholar, elder, danzante, journalist, historian, demographer, professor, student, librarian, filmmaker and storyteller (people and organizations charged with keeping the memory) to inform their community and oppose any governmental effort to wipe brown people off the map. If given no option, indigenous (as Forbes has always suggested) is a fine choice.


* Perhaps it is high time for national organizations such as the National Association of Chicana/Chicano Scholars to discuss this issue and send this message to the Census as the bureau seems to be ignorant about such matters.

* The writers can be reached at or 608-238-3161, PO BOX 5093, Madison, WI 53705. Column of the Americas is posted every Sat at: If you would like to see it in your local newspaper, please call/your local editor and direct them to Universal Press Syndicate at 1-800-255-6734.

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