I'm still not White, but am I American Indian?

A few months ago when a bunch of us Latinas and Latinos were discussing which box to check on the Census we came up with a good way to express our desire to be seen as Latino to the government. Not white. Latino. We would check yes for Hispanic/Latino and then write in Latino for other.

The Department of Education ain't gonna play that game.

Last month my daughter came home with a note asking us to re-identify her (our) ethnicity for school records [Link is not to her school, just an example]. There was no "other" option (see below). OK, I"ll just leave the second question blank and check the yes for Hispanic/Latino. Then I read further on that if I did that, someone at her school would check a box for us. WTF? The U.S. Department of Education is requiring this of all students, staff, faculty/teachers across the country. As someone who works in education, I had to do this for myself.

Part One: Is this person Hispanic or Latino? (Must choose one)
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Not Hispanic or Latino
Part Two: Select one or more of the following categories that apply to this person.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White
See how in part two, one can be any or all of these, but none of them reflect my heritage as a Mexican-American. The lack of Hispanic/Latino in part two is moving researchers to look into how we see ourselves. Yet, I fear that the researchers aren't quite getting it either. In a recent article about Latinos seeing themselves as White they said:

However, in the New Immigrant Survey used in this study, participants were not given the option of choosing “some other race.” 
As a result, in the New Immigrant Survey, more than three-quarters of respondents (79 percent) identified themselves as white, regardless of their skin color.

“This shows that Latino immigrants do recognize the advantages of a white racial identity. Most are attempting to push the boundaries of whiteness to include them, even if their skin color is darker,” Frank said.

About 14 percent of the sample refused to identify with any of the listed races, even though this was not an official option in the survey. (emphasis mine)

Excuse me? Really? As someone who had to fill out a survey just like the one studied, lemme tell ya how I thought my way thru it. Definitions come from the sidebar on this page. My judgment is in bold & italics.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native:: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. Close...
  • Asian:: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. No.
  • Black or African American:: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Um, technically we all do, right? But no.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander:: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. No.
  • White:: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. No.
I'm left with reaching waaaay back into Conquistador history to check off white. I've also been told that somewhere on my maternal side, a stubborn and in love Spanish girl ran off to Mexico (now Texas) to marry her beloved and start a ranch. Still have to verify this logical* part of my family history. But I kept going back to the American Indian definition. Yes, I have origins in the original peoples of North America, specifically the mountains of Durango and Baja. Many of my family elders look a lot more like Navajo than Spanish or European.

My decision? I marked American Indian. And I feel terrible.

I feel terrible because I believe that American Indian should be reserved for American Indians...Navajo, Cherokee and Alaskan Natives. I was not going to let someone chose my heritage for me. I don't think that White reflects my history either. But there isn't a straight up Latino box!

So going back to the study that said Latinos chose White for the advantages. No. I'd gather to say that Latinos chose White (when other isn't available) because we are practically forced to choose it. For those of us who don't have Hawaiian, Black or Asian ancestors, what else are we supposed to do? Either option I was left with wasn't authentic. I also know that these counts feed into policy. Do I up the Native numbers or the White numbers? What's the implications for that?

I'd love to hear from other Latinos who have had to make this DOEd decision. I'd also welcome comments from the Native community, even if you want to tell me I screwed up.

*This would cement my line about raising the latest in a long line of stubborn women.

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