The Monster vs. The Census
By Caitlin Watt J.D., Kirwan Institute, Race-Talk contributorI did my patriotic duty a week ago and filled out my census form. Well, my boyfriend Robert filled it out for me when I was at work. Well, he filled out most of it for me. I know what you’re thinking. What part did a person you live with not know about you? He didn’t know how I was supposed to fill out questions 8 and 9. You see, I’ve still got that monster under my bed. Robert didn’t want to go ask it a bunch of questions so he let me deal with it.
So I walked right up and I looked at the form on the table. This should be easy.
Question 8: Is Person 1 of Hispanic Latino, or Spanish origin? No. Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am. Chicano. Yes, Puerto Rican, Yes, Cuban, Yes another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin (fill in below). Easy. Yes. Mexican (Am.). I waved to the monster under the bed. The monster rolled its eyes at me.
Question 9: What is person 1's race? Mark one or more boxes. White; Black, African Am, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Other Asian (fill in); Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander (fill in); Some other Race (fill in). Well, first of all, isn’t it nice that you can be biracial on the census, I thought to myself as I checked the White box. Oh. Wait. Just kidding. I used up all my Mexican under the origin question. So I sat there for a few minutes and thought. And thought. And thought.
Then I called my mom. I asked her what she did. “I put Mexican and then I put White.” I thought that was weird, but she always said that when she was young there was only white and black (now there is Negro too! Options are so nice, Mr. Uncle Sam.). So no help there. And on top of that, if my Mexican mother is both Mexican and White, and I am biracial and also Mexican and White, then what happened to the European White part of me. Maybe this is how my Irish-British relatives felt after the Irish got to be White. I’ll call them in 2020 I guess.
The real point here was that the census at once racialized me and deracialized me. I thought for a minute about how race is socially constructed anyway and how, as I said, the Irish were White after a while. I thought about how my mom said “you know, there are more interracial marriages. White people marrying Italian people and so on” and how to me, that seemed ultra strange because I thought Italians were in that broad White category too. Maybe this is part of the deracializing that happens when you become White. Eventually you are just in the club. You move out to the burbs and raise a family and go to the charter school where your kids get to learn to grow and harvest local vegetables (just like their great grandparents did for low wages!) and respect the cultures of native peoples (Who apparently don’t include Mexicans, but let’s forget that for a minute). So maybe this is all part of that. Mexicans (and Latinos) are going to be a majority minority and we’re going to take the sting out of that as a nation by making them fit into those other boxes.
Still, I felt like I lost something when I checked the White box and nothing else. All social constructions aside, I’m not just “Mexican-White Variety.” I’m Mexican and White. And my mom is Mexican. And my father was White. And White apparently means something other than what I thought it meant in the first place.
Frustrated, I ran over to the bed and dragged the Monster out. I looked the Monster in its eyes. “What are you?” I shouted at it. “Pick a box!” I yelled. “You are freaking out America and weirding the census!” The Monster looked at me with large frightened eyes and said “Don’t ask me, I’m just an ethnicity. I’m not a race like you.” And it disappeared into whiteness.
Robert came out of the kitchen. “What was all that shouting?” he asked. “Nothing, dear,” I said as I scribbled “Mexican” into the “other” box. “Let’s go watch Seinfeld and eat burritos. I’m tired.”
Caitlin is a Legal Research Associate who joined the staff at Kirwan as an intern during her second year of law school in 2008. Before working at Kirwan, Caitlin worked as a political organizer for the Michigan Democratic Party in the 2004 election, as an assistant to the State and Local policy director at the AFL-CIO, and assisted with the United Auto Worker's organization of the Foxwood Casino dealers. She received her B.A. from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and her J.D. from Ohio State's Moritz College of Law, focusing her studies on civil rights, criminal defense, and employment law.