Phillipian Commentary: Give Us a Choice

In the United States census, a number of possible answers are listed for the question “what is this person’s race?” However, no option is listed for people of Latinx descent. Instead, it states that “for this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

When I participated in the Social Justice Leadership Institute in November of 2019, all the students there were divided into affinity groups. Being a first generation Brazilian-American, I went to the Latinx affinity space. There, many of us learned for the first time that Latinx identity is considered an ethnicity, not a race. After learning this, we were asked to go around in a circle and say which of the races included in the US census most applied to us. As I am white-passing, I answered Caucasian. Saying this out loud left a strange feeling in my gut. 

Yes, I am white-passing, and while I do have inherent privilege because of it compared to other Latinx men, it was difficult to label myself as something with a connotation so vastly removed from my cultural upbringing. Forcing Latinx individuals to identify with a specific race minimizes latinidad’s beautiful diversity. In my experience, the perception that all Latinx people are tan-skinned limits the experiences of white-passing and Black Latinx people; without our own named ‘race’, non-Latinx people are able to further latch on to this stereotype and other preconceived notions of what it means to be Latinx.

I have never grown up like a white person. I have grown up listening to Brazilian artists in the car and speaking Portugese with my parents and grandparents. Culturally, I was raised like most Latino boys, and my upbringing differs greatly from the way my white classmates were raised. At my core, I am not white, so being forced to identify myself as a white person is not only disingenuous, but it takes away from the culture I was raised with. 

We are made up of a mix of European colonists, indigenous peoples, enslaved peoples from the Atlantic slave trade, and countless immigrants that have since moved to South America from around the world. It is this mix that results in the diversity that we have in our wonderful community. No, not all Latinx people look like Enrique Iglesias or Sofia Vergara. And the fault for these implicit biases are not just directed towards white people. In my personal experience, I have dealt with just as many microaggressions about the way I identify from other people of color as I have from white people. 

I have never been white enough to fit in with the white kids, but I am also too white to fit in with the other people of color, and this has led to many identity crises. My mom’s descendants are the products of nonconsensual sexual encounters between Portuguese colonizers and enslaved Africans, while my dad’s family is made up of immigrants from Lebanon who moved to Brazil in the early 1900s. This combination has given me the skin-tone that I have today, and while I have no shame in my appearance, being unable to identify as Latino and having to choose a race I am not makes me uncomfortable, and quite honestly, angry. 

Although it would not prevent any future identity crises that most people who identify as Latinx experience, being recognized as our own separate group in the United States census and national standardized tests that ask to state our race would be a step in the right direction. It would show those of us who identify as Latinx that the United States government is attempting to recognize us as the unique group that we are, and if those in power can do that hopefully the rest of the world will as well.