Am I Hispanic or Latino?
November 5, 2010 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for work and have a question. When it comes to which race box to choose. My father was born and raised in Panama,

wondering does that mean I can check "Hispanic or Latino? He was raised speaking Spanish and living in a Latin culture.

I found this on some census info Definition of Hispanic

It is important to understand that the definition of Hispanic varies widely depending upon the source you use. Some say that “Hispanic” refers to race, but this is not true. Hispanic defines a region of origin, not a person’s race.

The U.S. Census Bureau also concurs that Hispanic refers to region, not race, and uses the term to describe any person, regardless of race, creed, or color, whose origins are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or of some other Hispanic origin. In fact, areas conquered by the Spaniards were considered part of a region originally called Hispania.

Other definitions are much broader and try to define Hispanic in cultural terms; “related to Spanish-speaking people or culture,” rather than to either race of region.
posted by jennstra to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With the caveat that race is a social construct, no basis in biology, etc., you should answer as whatever group you identify yourself as. If you identify with no group, choose "other".
posted by downing street memo at 2:22 PM on November 5, 2010

does that mean I can check "Hispanic or Latino?"

Yes, you can but you don't have to. You are free to decide your own "Hispanic or not" status.
posted by soelo at 2:23 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: I am questioning, is it helpful to be Hispanic, instead of White?
posted by jennstra at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2010

If you're asking so you can fill out that box on job applications, you can choose to leave that area blank. Race, gender, and age questions are completely optional.
posted by phunniemee at 2:33 PM on November 5, 2010

I am questioning, is it helpful to be Hispanic, instead of White?

It depends where you are. In a large city, possibly. In a small town in the southern US, no.
posted by phunniemee at 2:34 PM on November 5, 2010

It's quite illegal to take that information into account when choosing who to hire. You're being asked so they can report that information to prove they weren't being discriminatory when they hired you, or didn't hire you. It's irrelevant to your job chances.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:35 PM on November 5, 2010

It's really a very subjective thing. Do you personally identify as Hispanic? I think that's my big defining factor as far as filling out one particular form would go. Would you introduce yourself to a stranger who might be racist as being Hispanic? Would you tell your friends that you're Hispanic? If you're not sure about that, you can go a step further. It kinda sounds like your dad's family was not natively Panamanian. Does your dad consider himself Panamanian(-American or whatever)? Do other people in your family consider themselves Hispanics? Did your dad actually grow up living like any other kid in Panama would, or was the culture primarily an external thing he didn't participate in much?

None of which is really definitive, but I think the only real problem comes if you start putting down Hispanic because you think it'll get you things even though you do not personally identify as Hispanic. It doesn't matter if it will or not. They're asking how you identify yourself. If you mark it down even though in your everyday life you consider yourself 100% non-Hispanic, you're lying.

That said, I doubt it'll get you anything much. Sometimes it supposedly helps a bit on school admissions, but most of the time employers collect that info for statistical purposes, not as a part of determining whether to hire any particular candidate. It's never had any measurable positive impact on my job searches, so.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:36 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is a complicated question... It depends on what you're applying for. Generally, most employers ask so that they can track their hiring statistics, it's unlikely (especially if you have to ask this question) it'll influence whether you get hired or not.

As to whether you should consider yourself Hispanic/Latino... do you? Have you ever had to think about your race or ethnic background?

Does your father consider himself non-white Hispanic? White Hispanic? Just white?
posted by polexa at 2:37 PM on November 5, 2010

Did you grow up in a Spanish-speaking household/culture? Does your dad consider himself Hispanic? Did you ever consider yourself Hispanic before you started applying for jobs?
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on November 5, 2010

I've always understood that question to be related to reporting for affirmative action purposes. Not that they use that info in order to, say, fullfill hiring quotas (which is what I think you are getting at).

Whether or not you are, in general, is a much deeper question, but again, I get the feeling your level of interest in this is limited to whether or not it will help your chances of getting hired.

As a big ol' Hispanic chick lady, the question of Hispanic identity is important to me and one I enjoy discussing, so if you are truly wondering about that, I'd be happy to talk about it more with you.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you to all who answered, I appreciate your comments.
posted by jennstra at 2:47 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: I have always treasured that Dad was from Panama, he is now deceased, but he was always very Panamanian to us, his family is still there and very active in community. My mom is Canadian and has always been more dominate about her heritage, so until I had kids, I never gave it much thought. We were just our parents kids, nothing more than that. Hope that makes sense, we had family traditions, from both cultures, but did not visit Panama as often, thus Canada gained in standing at the home.
posted by jennstra at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2010

DrGirlfriend wrote what I came to say. In the US, this is not being asked (or should not be asked, and is illegal to ask) as part of the hiring process. It is being asked for affirmative action reasons. You can choose to not answer the question. The affirmative action information is never kept with your application or resume; it is kept separately from it.

The way I think of it is, do you feel that your life has been representative of the traditional Hispanic life in the US? If so, mark Hispanic. If you feel that your life has had the privileges of a White person, mark White. This is how we know if people of different groups are being treated fairly, or if programs and incentives need to be adjusted to ensure fair treatment.

My thought is that in a way, it hurts a minority group if you claim that race (in the affirmative action paperwork) and yet have had the privileges of a White person.
posted by Houstonian at 3:29 PM on November 5, 2010

(I have no idea if my comment is true for Canada. You mentioned the US Census, so I assumed you were in the States. If you are in Canada, your country's laws and programs may be vastly different.)
posted by Houstonian at 3:31 PM on November 5, 2010

I have a similar heritage, but my dad was Cuban, instead. I grew up with a mix of Spanish and generic American traditions. My mom was white, but lived many years in Puerto Rico, so both my parents spoke Spanish at home. My dad was very proud of being Hispanic.

I identify as Hispanic, despite not being fluent in the language (I can get by). I think it's important to remind people that Hispanics come in many variations. I like to remind people I'm only 2nd generation American and this is still a nation of immigrants. I like the focus on family in my culture. I think it's important to know a second language. What goes on in Cuba matters to me; I have family there who lost so much when Castro came to power. I think a lot about the positive and negative aspects of machismo. I look forward to Three King's Day every year so I can visit my niece and nephew and set out our shoes full of hay for the magis' camels.

And so on.

I claim Hispanic for these reasons, despite being "stealth" and enjoying White privilege*. But, on the flip side, I've also never gone out of my way to seek benefits solely because of my race.

If your company is small, your racial designation may qualify the company for some minority business considerations. If you live somewhere like Miami, claiming Hispanic has certain assumptions -- fluency, for one. And that is probably about it. Identify the way you identify - don't treat this like a min/max game.

* And absolutely despising baked beans and cilantro. From a culinary standpoint, I am a very bad Hispanic.
posted by Wossname at 4:42 PM on November 5, 2010

Just as a point of reference: I have some cousins who grew up in the south-eastern U.S., and they are pretty damn "white-looking." I mean, actually they are of Irish ancestry pretty much through and through. BUT. I think at least two of them speak pretty fluent Spanish (maybe they all do, I'm just unaware, I should ask...), which they were raised to speak...their mom is of Irish ancestry, but Argentinean! One of the cousins, the most blond, blue-eyed southern belle you could meet (who can imitate a few different Southern regional accents with exacting hilarity), speaks fluent Spanish and got some sort of Latino scholarship in college. I have to admit it kinda cracks me up whenever I think about it.

So, you know, I'm not sure what you should take from that but there ya go. As far as this specific circumstance, it doesn't seem to matter so much what you put on the application. But it's part of your cultural heritage just like it is for my cousins. I'm probably reading too much into it but it almost sounds like you feel awkward claiming your rightful heritage (if I'm off-base here apologies).

As far as "does it help..." I don't know, does it help? I don't think it matters one way or the other for this job application, as others have pointed out. But if you want to identify as Hispanic do so.
posted by dubitable at 4:49 PM on November 5, 2010

In general, I think that Hispanic/Latino is used to refer to people of Spanish and/or native origin, also including people of African descent whose ancestors were "brought" to Latin America. You're being very vague about your dad's ethnic origin, but if he doesn't belong to one of the "accepted" categories, most people wouldn't consider him to be Latino. I'm half Mexican, and consider myself Latina - but my mom is unambiguously Mexican...
posted by shrabster at 4:50 PM on November 5, 2010

but if he doesn't belong to one of the "accepted" categories, most people wouldn't consider him to be Latino.

That's pretty much BS and this is one reason why there are a lot of tensions and divisions even among Latinos themselves, judgments on who is a "real" Latino or not, and so on. The beauty of the thing is that since Latinos are an ethnic group and not a race, we are pretty damn diverse. We look like everybody. Seriously. And I love it.

There are also many people, generations and generations of them, whose origins may once have been in say, China or Japan, but who are residents, born, raised, culturally and linguistically Cuban, Peruvian, or any number of Latino identities. Same with other cosmopolitan places such as Argentina. Another example comes to mind --- all the hubbub over singer Luis Miguel that has been said for being born in Puerto Rico to a Spanish father and Italian mother, but he identifies (and rightly so) as Mexican. Is he ambiguously Mexican to you?

Another aspect is that due to various aspects of history, there has been lots and lots of mixing of ethnicities and races among Latinos. My Dad is Puerto Rican, and our family is descended from Spain and France, but people in a few towns over are often descended from the Irish and yet that doesn't make them not Puerto Rican.

What I'm trying to say is it's more complex than that, and personal to me (if that weren't obvious).

So, to the OP, it's up to you to choose how you identify.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:30 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't deny that her father is Panamanian - I'm just saying that it's possible to be Panamanian and not Hispanic. Being from a certain country does not imply a certain ethnic/cultural origin.
posted by shrabster at 6:46 PM on November 6, 2010

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