Analysis | Census error reveals surprising details about American Hispanics and Latinos (2023)

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Analysis | Census error reveals surprising details about American Hispanics and Latinos (1)

Analyze poAndreas van Dam

Staff writer|

May 19, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

Analysis | Census error reveals surprising details about American Hispanics and Latinos (2)


8 min



If "Hispanic" were a common ancestry, it would easily be the most common in America, way ahead of German. But it's not. It's a fantastically broad term that changes meaning depending on who - and where - you ask.

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Analysis | Census error reveals surprising details about American Hispanics and Latinos (3)

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Since 1997, the US government has defined Hispanic (or Latino) as "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Hispanic culture or origin, regardless of race.” In most of the United States, the largest Hispanic group is Mexican.

Of course it is! Mexico is by far the most populous Hispanic country in the world, sharing a 3,000-kilometer border with the United States. More importantly, a third of the mainland United States --parts of 10 stateswhich are now home to at least 1 in 4 Americans - were once part of Mexico.

But a significant portion of Hispanics are also from Puerto Rico, especially those who live in Northeast and Central Florida. Puerto Ricans, of course, also dominate Puerto Rico - although the Puerto Ricans are currently on the mainlandin minoritythose in the Caribbean.

And then there are large groups of Hispanics from elsewhere: Central Americans dominate the D.C. area. People from South America and the Caribbean predominate in Florida and the urban corridor from New York to Boston. And in New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is a significant population of Hispanics - descendants of people who settled there centuries before Mexico gained independence from Spain and whose roots go directly back to that European country.

Despite their diverse origins, these Hispanic groups have many similarities, both with each other and with the nation as a whole. For example, most Hispanics were born in the United States (68 percent). And while many speak Spanish at home, a third speak only English (32 percent).


These stats are marked with a big asterisk: it turns out they don't include everyone who considers themselves "Hispanic or Latino." We know this thanks to the demographic demigods at the Pew Research Center, whichdiscovered a revealing anomalyin the recent release of census data.

For years, Census Bureau figures have shown that only about 3 percent of U.S. residents born in Brazil claim to be Hispanic or Latino. But as many as 70 percent of Brazilian-born Americans reported "Hispanic, Latino, or Hispanic ancestry" in the Bureau's 2020 American Community Survey.

(Video) This author traveled across the country to ask: What does it mean to be Latino?

Jeffrey Passel, a thoughtful demographer whose neat white beard attests to a long career at Pew and Census, noticed this huge shift last year. But what does that mean?

"Latino" is typischcertainlike someone from Latin America. Considering that Brazil is the largest nation in Latin America - home to about 1 in 3 inhabitants,This is according to data from the World Bank— it seems reasonable that Brazilians are considered Latin Americans.


But as a former colony of Portugal, Brazil has no Spanish heritage. Therefore, he does not meet the government's definition of "Hispanic or Latino". Thus, Passel and his Pew colleague Jens Manuel Krogstad found, for decades, people from the census excluded Brazilians who claimed to be Hispanic or Latino from official censuses.

Brazil was not the only country affected. People from Belize - a former British colony where English is the official language - and several other non-Hispanic places, mainly in the Caribbean, also failed.

Few have noticed this behind the scenes accounting until 2020 when amazingly diligent and almost infallible people are on the censusfailed to reclassifyanswers. As a result, the 2020 survey provides insight into how Brazilians and other people see their identity before the list overwrites their choice.


To the extent that Brazilian Americans consider themselves Latino, their acceptance of that identity has been gradual. As Claudia Barcellos Rezende of Rio de Janeiro State University told us, you don't often come across the notion of Latin American identity until you leave the region. In Brazil, people just think they are Brazilian.

However, when he finds himself in the United States, the situation changes. Mark Costa, a psychiatrist and researcher at Yale School of Medicine who grew up in Brazil, once considered himself what the Census Bureau might call "non-Hispanic white." But then he came to the United States and learned - from Americans - that he was "Latino".

Today, Costa told us, "I don't like identifying as white because I'm not perceived as white."

Costa's wife, Graziela Reis, coordinator of the project at Yale School of Medicine, said it was shocking to learn that Americans saw her as someone of a different ethnic identity. She said she goes through an existential crisis every time she is asked to tick a box to indicate her race and ethnicity.


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In a new review in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Costa and Reis teamed up with Elizabeth Brisola of the University of St. Edward's and Chyrella Bellamy of Yale to examine the mental health implications of ethnic "invisibility" in most U.S. data and administrative records. examine data. program. They argue that this cloak of invisibility may help explain why Brazilian immigrants are twice as likely to report anxiety than other immigrants.

The huge Brazil-shaped hole in our data encourages systematic discrimination, Costa said, adding that Brazilians are often overlooked by all sorts of endeavors, including in healthcare. That would change, the researchers told us, if they were officially categorized as Latino, one of America's most influential demographics.

"I'm glad we're embracing identity," said Cileine de Lourenco, a Brazilian immigrant and professor emerita at Bryant University in Rhode Island.


If these questions about identity sound extraordinarily complicated, you don't even know half of them. For 30 years, starting in 1970, the Census Bureauearlyjust whether you considered yourself Spanish. The "or Latino" part was added in 2000, after officials noticed that some people of Hispanic descent did not identify with that particular term.

In a 2013 survey asking Hispanics or Latinos how they described themselves, Pew Research found that"Hispanic" was twice as popular as "Latino"..” But words that describe a specific national origin -- "Cuban," "Mexican" or "Dominican" -- outperform either term, said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew.

(It's worth noting thatpractically nobodychose Latinx, a gender-neutral form of Latino that became especially popular in academic and media circles. "It's a term that the public itself is relatively unfamiliar with," Lopez said.)


Part of the complexity stems from the government's decades-old decision to treat ethnicity (Hispanic or Latino) as segregated and different by race (Black, Native American, White) and even ancestry (German, Egyptian, American). This unusual tripartite division of America's messy melting pot prompts people to ask a series of questions that overlap with prejudice when they fill out a census survey. Census workers then jump in to untangle the results.

Attempts were made during the Obama administration to consolidate race and ethnicity into one category and expand that category to include options for people of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) descent. Proponents argued that the move would provide a clearer and more useful view of the population.

That was the ideasuspendedduring the Trump administration. In researching her book on baby boomers,"The aftermath”, our colleague Philip Bumpof interviewed peoplewho said they suspected Trump officials feared the move would further servereduce the already shrinking white population. Most MENA Americans count as white and do sorecent changes have increased the number of people of mixed race, as well as about two-thirds of Hispanic Americans.


(Video) The 10 Most Hispanic Cities In America

Under President Biden, the proposal was to consolidate race and ethnicityrevivedby the White House Office of Management and Budget, and nowseems to be on the right trackadopt next year. As currently proposed, the changes would remove the need for Hispanics or Latinos to select a separate race, such as "Caucasian", though they could still choose to designate multiple ancestry.

As it stands, the proposal wouldn't change the government's definition of Hispanic or Latino, which Pew's Lopez says could be scaryLaw from 1976looking for statistics on "Americans of Hispanic descent or descent".

This may mean that, despite the frustration found in at least a fewOver 20,000 public commentswho roared, Brazilians still cannot be considered Latin Americans.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Luciano Tosta, a Brazilian-American professor at the University of Kansas who identifies as Latino. "They didn't do their homework properly."

Hello! The data department craves quantitative questions.What makes you wonder: What would our country of origin maps look like to the Asian or African population of the Americas? What is the low point of most people's day? What places are the most animals named after?Just ask!

If your question prompts a column, we will send an official button from the Ministry of Information and an ID card.

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(Video) Education Policy Workshop on Latinos and Colorism: Dr. Mark Lopez


What are some statistics about Hispanic Americans? ›

According to 2020 Census data, there are 62.1 million Hispanics living in the United States. This group represents 18.9 percent of the total U.S. population, the nation's second largest racial or ethnic group after non-Hispanic whites. In 2020, among Hispanic subgroups, Mexicans ranked as the largest at 61.6 percent.

What is the difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic? ›

OMB requires federal agencies to use a minimum of two ethnicities in collecting and reporting data: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

What impact has the Hispanic culture had on the United States? ›

Latinos continue to contribute to American culture as musicians, small business owners, chefs, veterans and many other professions. The sounds of Latin music have permeated U.S. airwaves and influenced American artists.

What does it mean to be not Hispanic or Latino? ›


WHITE (No- Hispanic or Latino) All persons having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the. Middle East.

Are Hispanic and Latino the same? ›

The short answers to these questions are “yes,” and “it's complicated.” Hispanic refers to a person with ancestry from a country whose primary language is Spanish. Latino and its variations refer to a person with origins from anywhere in Latin America (Mexico, South and Central America) and the Caribbean.

Who are the Latinos and Hispanics in the United States? ›

Most Hispanic and Latino Americans are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Spanish, Salvadoran, Dominican, Guatemalan, Colombian, or Venezuelan origin. The predominant origin of regional Hispanic and Latino populations varies widely in different locations across the country.

Why is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino? ›

Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably though they actually mean two different things. Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations, while Latino refers to people who are from or descended from people from Latin America .

What's the difference between Mexican and Hispanic? ›

Mexican refers to an inhabitant or a native of Mexico which is a Latin American country. Hispanic refers to a person who speaks Spanish, one of Latin American descent and resides in the USA.

What is the difference between Latino and Latina? ›

Latino: The second most widely used term, Latino represents individuals who live in or descend from the Latin American region. While Latina is used to represent women, official U.S. documentation only uses Latino as an ethnic descriptor.

What is the most important thing in Hispanic culture? ›

The biggest tradition in Hispanic culture is familismo, or familialism, which is the concept that family should take priority over all other aspects of one's life.

Why are Hispanics important in the US? ›

Hispanic workers make up significant shares of some of the most important industries in the U.S. economy. In agriculture and construction, Hispanics make up more than 3 in 10 workers. In hospitality and food service, almost 1 in 4 workers are Hispanic nationwide.

What are Hispanics known for? ›

Hispanic families instill in their children the importance of honor, good manners, and respect for authority and the elderly. Preserving the Spanish language within the family is a common practice in most Hispanic homes. Spanish speakers tend toward formality in their treatment of one another.

What defines someone as Hispanic? ›

OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

Is Latino male or female? ›

Latina is the feminine noun and Latino is the masculine noun. Individuals have begun to challenge the word because we have folks that are part of the Latina/o community, yet prefer not to be associated with masculine or feminine nouns.

Why can't we say Latinx? ›

In December 2021, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Hispanic and Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., and Congressman Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., stated they would no longer use the term "Latinx" because it was offensive to some and failed to prove it had a wide acceptance.

Are Italian people Hispanic? ›

Thus, Latino refers to France, Spain, Italy and other regions where these languages are spoken. Nowadays, though, the definition has come to refer to Latin Americans, although its origins can be traced to the former Roman Empire. “All Hispanics are Latinos, but not all Latinos are Hispanics.

What is the difference between Hispanic and Latino and Chicano? ›

In the same way that “Hispanic” identifies someone with Spanish roots, “Chicano” refers to Americans of Mexican ancestry. These folks do not identify as Hispanic, which they feel would not account for their Mexican mestizo (a mix of Spanish and Indigenous) heritage.

What language do Latino people speak? ›

Because of the heritage of these nations, Spanish and Portuguese are most commonly spoken, but there are many other languages in the region as well.

Does Latin America still exist? ›

Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language.

Where do Hispanic people come from? ›

Hispanic or Latino origin includes people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, and other or unknown Latin American or Spanish origin. People of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

What culture is Latin? ›

Culturally and linguistically, Latin America is defined as nations in the Americas and the Caribbean whose residents predominantly speak Spanish or Portuguese—two of the many languages descended from Latin.

Why are they called Hispanic? ›

The term Hispanic derives from the Latin word Hispanicus, the adjectival derivation of Hispania, which means of the Iberian peninsula and possibly Celtiberian origin. In English the word is attested from the 16th century (and in the late 19th century in American English).

What does being Latino mean to you? ›

Being Latino means a connection to the Spanish language, although, in Latin America there are also a multiplicity of other languages spoken by various groups, e.g., the indigenous peoples. Each Latino group coming to the U.S. spoke Spanish, but each country has its particular way of speaking Spanish.

What is considered Latin America? ›

Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language.

What is a Mexican born in America called? ›

Chicano, feminine form Chicana, identifier for people of Mexican descent born in the United States. The term came into popular use by Mexican Americans as a symbol of pride during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.

Am I Mexican if I was born in us? ›

Nationality by birth

The Mexican Constitution states that Mexican nationals by birth are: people born on Mexican territory regardless of their parent's nationality. people born abroad to at least one parent who is a national of Mexico. people born on Mexican vessels or aircraft that are either for war or merchant.

Is there a Hispanic flag? ›

The Flag of the Hispanicity (Spanish: Bandera de la Hispanidad) is a flag sometimes used to represent the Hispanic people or Hispanic community. A white banner with three purple crosses pattée and the Sun of May rising from behind the center one.

What does a Latina girl mean? ›

plural Latinas. Britannica Dictionary definition of LATINA. [count] : a woman or girl who was born in or lives in South America, Central America, or Mexico or a woman or girl in the U.S. whose family is originally from South America, Central America, or Mexico — compare latino.

What are people from Spain called? ›

A person who is from Spain or has origins from Spain is Spanish.

Who are called Latina? ›

: a woman or girl who is a native or inhabitant of Latin America. : a woman or girl of Latin American origin living in the U.S. Latina adjective.

What are the 5 values of Latino culture? ›

Traditional Latino values include familism, respect, religion, and traditional gender roles while mainstream values include independence/self-reliance and competition/personal achievement.

What is the most important Hispanic influence in our community? ›

Cuisine. 90% of Non-Hispanics think that the greatest Hispanic influence on the U.S. is food.

What do Hispanic like to do? ›

Latinos of Mexican, South, and Central American ancestry tend to favor fútbol (soccer). Latinos from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean favor the sports of pelota (baseball), boxeo (boxing), and baloncesto (basketball), and the game of dominoes is their favorite pastime.

How are Latinos shaping America's future? ›

Latinos in the United States are reaching new heights in educational attainment, making significant economic gains, and dramatically changing the political landscape. Within the next two decades, these developments will have profound implications for the United States, Mexico, and the rest of the Americas.

Where are most Hispanics in the U.S. from and why? ›

Some of the nation's largest Hispanic populations are in the four states that border Mexico – California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. In fact, the two states with the most Hispanics, California (15.6 million) and Texas (11.5 million), alone account for 45% of the nation's Hispanic population.

Where do most Hispanics work? ›

The sector with the highest concentration of Hispanic workers is farming, fishing and forestry at 43.0%. In second place is building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, at 37.9%; followed by construction and extraction at 35.7%; food preparation and serving at 27.3%; and transportation and material moving at 23.9%.

Why is family so important in Latino culture? ›

The family unit is the single most important unit in the Latino culture. It influences the perception and behavior of its members as to how they see the outside world. Latinas/os see themselves as representing their family in outside contacts. (Implicit control by the family.)

What is the background of the Hispanic culture? ›

Hispanics/Latinos can trace their ancestry back to the indigenous people of North America as well as to Spanish/European, Asian and African roots. The heterogeneity among these groups is significantly based on their historical existence in this country.

Why is food so important in Hispanic culture? ›

Traditionally, food represents a strong symbolic component in latino communities. It brings connections to their roots, cultural heritage, and identity. Food brings families together in unison as eating with family is valued in the latino culture.

What are the different Hispanic races? ›

Following Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are Salvadorans, Cubans, 2 Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Spaniards, Hondurans, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Argentineans. Together these 14 groups make up 95% of the U.S. Hispanic population.

How many Hispanic countries are there? ›

Formally, Spanish is the official language of 20 countries and one dependent territory: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

What is Hispanic food? ›

Hispanic cuisine refers to dishes from Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico and Spanish-speaking South American, Central American and Caribbean countries. It encompasses unique regional recipes as well as popular foods enjoyed throughout the world (crispy cinnamon churros, we're looking at you!).

What is a male Hispanic called? ›

For example, a group of females would be called "Latinas" and a group of males would be called "Latinos." However, a group of males and females of Latin American descent would revert to the masculine "Latinos."

Who made up Latinx? ›

While there's no one group or individual responsible for coining Latinx, its popularity has snowballed in tandem with conversations around gender.

Are Brazilians Hispanic? ›

Officially, Brazilians are not considered to be Hispanic or Latino because the federal government's definition of the term – last revised in 1997 – applies only to those of “Spanish culture or origin” such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American or other origins, regardless of race.

What is the plural form of Latinx? ›

Latinx noun. plural Latinx or Latinxs. The 2010 Census had separate categories for racial identity and "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin." The text notes, "Latinx is not a race.

Is Ecuador considered Latin America? ›

But again, as Britannica confirms, Latin American countries include over 20 in North, Central and South America as well as in the Caribbean: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, ...

What are five facts about Hispanic Heritage Month? ›

Hispanic Heritage Month Facts
  • National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15.
  • The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.
  • It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.
  • It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988.

What is the U.S. census of Hispanic population? ›

The data show that the Hispanic population reporting one race decreased from over 81.6% in 2010 to less than 57.8% in 2020. Meanwhile, over one-third of the Hispanic population reported two or more races, up from 2.6 million people in 2010 to 18.6 million people in 2020.

What are the characteristics of Hispanic culture? ›

Hispanics come from a collectivistic culture where group activities are dominant, responsibility is shared, and accountability is collective. Because of the emphasis on collectivity, harmony and cooperation in the group tend to be emphasized more than individual function and responsibility (Gudykunst, 1998).

What part of the U.S. has the most Hispanic population? ›

Some of the nation's largest Hispanic populations are in the four states that border Mexico – California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. In fact, the two states with the most Hispanics, California (15.6 million) and Texas (11.5 million), alone account for 45% of the nation's Hispanic population.

What are 5 facts about Latin America? ›

Fun Facts About Latin America You Probably Didn't Know
  • They Speak More than 370 Languages Throughout Latin America. ...
  • South America Has the Shortest Coastline and the World's Largest Salt Flats. ...
  • Latin America is Very Urbanized. ...
  • It Rains Fishes in Yoro. ...
  • Combined, There are 17 Different Ways to Say 'Popcorn'
Apr 7, 2022

What is an interesting fact about Hispanic culture? ›

Hispanic Americans have fought in every war.

According to the Minority Veterans Report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 1.2 million vets in the US are of Hispanic or Latino descent. However, the military sacrifice and service of Hispanic Americans stretch back to the Revolutionary War.

Are Mexicans Latino or Hispanic? ›

OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

What defines Hispanic? ›

Hispanic or Latino origin includes people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, and other or unknown Latin American or Spanish origin. People of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

What percent of the US is white? ›

As of 2020, White Americans are the racial majority, with non-Hispanic whites representing 57.8% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans are the largest ethnic minority, comprising 18.7% of the population, while Black or African Americans are the second largest racial minority, making up 12.1%.

What is the growth rate of Latinos? ›

The U.S. Latino population reached 62.5 million in 2021, accounting for 19% of the U.S. population—up from 13% in 2000. Since then, Latinos have been the largest contributor to U.S. population growth, accounting for 54% of the growth.

Where do most Hispanics live? ›

The 10 states in the United States with the largest Hispanic populations are: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, Georgia and New Mexico.

What state has the least Hispanics? ›

Maine, West Virginia, and Vermont were among those with the lowest Hispanic population shares, at 1% each.

Which state has more Hispanic? ›

The state with the largest Hispanic and Latino population overall is California with 15.6 million Hispanics and Latinos.


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