Race Questions Cause Census Confusion

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010  |  Updated 6:15 PM CDT
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The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights says it's getting a lot of calls about about Census form questions eight and nine; the ones that concern ethnicity and race.

Doug Webber

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights says it's getting a lot of calls about about Census form questions eight and nine; the ones that concern ethnicity and race.

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Who do you think you are?

The Census is taking a head-count, but a couple of the questions are causing some confusion, especially with those in Chicago's Hispanic community.

Flavia Jimenez of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights says her office is getting a lot of calls about Census form questions eight and nine; the ones that concern ethnicity and race.

"It’s not just a problem for Latinos," she said.  "It affects Polish immigrants and Arabs in the states."

Question nine asks residents to mark their race, but The choices: white, black, American Indian, Alaska native, various Asian descents, Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders or "some other race."

Norma Reyes says the question doesn’t reflect who she is.

"On my birth certificate, it listed me as white," said Reyes, Chicago’s Commissioner for Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "As times have changed, I am asked if I am a 'white Hispanic' or a 'black Hispanic.' I say 'I am a Latina!'"

Reyes is not alone. Groups that work to ensure an accurate Census count say the classifications often don’t fit the diverse backgrounds many families have.

Elisa Alfonso of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is encouraging people to create their own category. She said it would be a messge to the Census Bureau "that we are not so easy to classify anymore."

Governor Quinn’s liaison to the 2010 Census says Alfonso has the right idea. 

"We allow people to self-classify.  And they should," said Andre Ashmore, explaining that the most important part is that everyone is counted and no one is left out.

The Census does ask about Hispanic origin, but it does so in question eight. That’s because federal officials consider being Hispanic an ethnicity and not a race.

But as times change, so should the form, experts said.

Jimenez suggests that if enough people self-classify on the 2010 Census, the 2020 form will better reflect the changing America that is filling it out.

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