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Are Hispanics A Racial Group, Ethnicity Or Both?

The cover for "Manifest Destinies" by Laura Gómez.
NYU Press
The cover for "Manifest Destinies" by Laura Gómez.
Are Hispanics A Racial Group, Ethnicity Or Both?
Are Hispanics A Racial Group, Ethnicity Or Both? GUEST: Laura Gómez, author, "Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican-American Race"

>>> This is KPBS Midday Edition . According to the senses, more than half of Hispanics view themselves as white. Laura Gómez says she would rather see the census include Hispanic as an option on the questionnaire. Laura Gómez is author of the book anifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race. . A new edition of the book is out now. She recently spoke with Midday Edition, Michael Lipkin. >> Reporter: Who were the first Americans who became Mexican-Americans? >> The first were those 115,000 people who lived in northern Mexico 1 day and then overnight, that became, part of the United States where we are right now. >> In the mid-1800s? >> In 1848 at the end of the war. Those Mexicans, but not the Indians in the territory, the Mexicans who live there, had federal citizenship in the United States unless they affirmatively went and said, no, I reject your citizenship. Very few of them did that according to the records we have. What was interesting was at that moment, only whites could become citizens of the United States under the U.S. laws. That was changed after the Civil War and the 14th amendment to the Constitution. That legal fiction of whiteness is part of why we still have that conversation about who is white and who is not. >> There are instances in which Mexican-Americans were considered white by the white establishment. There is a major Supreme Court case about this. Tell me about it. >> It is an interesting case. The case was decided in 1954 by the Supreme Court. That was a big year for civil rights cases. Earl Warren wrote this opinion. The lawyers, Mexican-American lawyers first argued before the Supreme Court. They argued that because Mexican-Americans and 1 County in Texas had never been called to jury service, they were not in the jury pool, and they argued that was a violation of the equal protection clause. The state of Texas said 2 things. First, they said the equal protection clause does not apply to anybody but Blacks and whites. Secondly, they said members of the defendants race, Mexican-American, were on the jury because the defendant is white and there were whites on the jury. The defendant was this port Mexican-American who was accused of killing another Mexican-American. The bind to the attorneys found themselves and were there a lot of people wanted to stay in the 1950s -- say in 1950s that they were white because of how Blacks and Mexicans were being treated. There were still signs that said no service to Mexicans, Negroes, or dogs, for example. The Supreme Court ruled that the equal protection clause did not just cover Blacks and whites. They ruled Mexican-Americans were depending -- on the local context subject to discrimination. >> Does this lead you to call Mexican-Americans and off-white race? That off-white category you say can be applied to Jewish, Italian, Irish immigrants and also around the same time period in the 1800s and 1900s but most people would consider them white now. Why did they become white but Latinos have not? >> Let me make clear we are talking about in the aggregate groups. We are talking about large expanses of time. Over generations. Over a couple of generations. Even though Southern Italians, when they came to the United States, there were lynchings in the South, there was a lot of discrimination. Over time, Italian-Americans came to be seen as white. With Mexican-Americans, although there was that kind of in between us at the time, up to the earliest -- 20th century. We have continued to have ways of Mexican immigration. The population has been refreshed with new immigrants. In the Italian-American case and Irish-American case, while there have continued to be some immigrants, it was not an immigration that there was historically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That was an easier transition. It is also because Mexican-Americans have faced more intense discrimination. We look at things like rates of assimilation. We can see that very clearly with American Jewish people, Italian-Americans, Irish Americans. With Mexican-Americans there is a more complicated story. There are ways in which they look more like African-Americans on a lot of dimensions. That is even after three or four generations. It has been a different dynamic. >> The census does not include Hispanic as an option when you're asked about what race you are. There is a separate question at that asks whether you are so Hispanic are not. There was talk that that might change and Hispanic Mike become an option for race. That was put on hold. Why do you think Hispanics should be a separate race? >> I think it is important as a measure of how people are seeing themselves. It is the trend over time. About 50% of Mexican-Americans and about 50% of Puerto Ricans, that makes up 80% of all Hispanics, say they are not white, they're not black, they're not Native American and they are not Asian American. They say that they are other. That reality is not being captured by the current framework. It begs the question, why is it that Latinos are increasingly resisting those categories? It has to do with the increasing racism that they are experiencing. They see people in our communities and neighbors experiencing this. We see it at the larger legible -- level of politics. >> Your book came out a decade ago. What made you want to come out with a new addition now? What do you think has changed? >> When I first wrote the book, Obama had just been elected president and there was a lot of buoyancy in terms of Latino politics. Nobody is arguing that we are in a post-racial America anymore as they were when Obama was first elected. Nobody is saying, we are past all of that, we live in a colorblind society. In fact, trumps campaign and some of the campaign of the other candidates during the campaign, but Donald Trump campaign and his presidency have put the spotlight on divisions along racial lines. In fact, the growth of the white nationalist movement, the anti-somatic, the racists, the pro-white movement, has really grown. We all understand that now in a different way than we did 5 years ago. Port -- >> A new addition of her book, manifest destiny's is out now.

Are Hispanics a racial group, along with white, black, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander?

According to the U.S. Census, no. The census currently asks people whether they are Hispanic and then separately asks for their race, without Hispanic as an option. Federal officials considered changing that for the 2020 Census, but scrapped the potential revision last month.

About 45 percent of Hispanics self-identify as white, according to UCLA law professor Laura Gómez, but that is not likely how others see them.


“These ‘white’ Mexican Americans are not generally recognized as white by others,” Gómez wrote in the new edition of “Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race.”

Gómez’s book traces the history of the first Mexican Americans—Mexican citizens living in what is now the American Southwest and suddenly became Americans after the U.S. took control of the area following the Mexican-American War. Mexican Americans became a sort of “off-white” race, according to Gómez, noting they faced discrimination but were given U.S. citizenship, something only available to whites at the time.

Gómez joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on whether Hispanic should be considered a race.