June 15, 2015

Is being Hispanic a matter of race, ethnicity or both?

Two-Thirds of Hispanic Adults Say Being Hispanic is Part of Their Racial BackgroundWhen it comes to reporting their racial identity, Latinos stand out from other Americans. In the 2010 census, for example, 94% of the U.S. population selected at least one of the five standard, government-defined racial categories – white, black, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander. But among Latinos, just 63% selected at least one of these categories; 37% of Latinos, or 19 million, instead selected only “some other race,” with many offering write-in responses such as “Mexican,” Hispanic” or “Latin American.”

Federal policy defines “Hispanic” not as a race, but as an ethnicity. And it prescribes that Hispanics can in fact be of any race. But these census findings suggest that standard U.S. racial categories might either be confusing or not provide relevant options for Hispanics to describe their racial identity. They also raise an important question long pondered by social scientists and policymakers: Do Hispanics consider their Hispanic background to be part of their racial background, their ethnic background or both?

A new Pew Research Center survey of multiracial Americans finds that, for two-thirds of Hispanics, their Hispanic background is a part of their racial background – not something separate. This suggests that Hispanics have a unique view of race that doesn’t necessarily fit within the official U.S. definitions.

This distinctive view of race is consistent across demographic subgroups of Latino adults. For example, 69% of young Latino adults ages 18 to 29 say their Latino background is part of their racial background, as does a similar share of those in other age groups, including those 65 and older. Similar views are held among Hispanics who use Spanish as their main language (67%) and those who use English as their main language (66%).

This finding sheds light on some of the challenges the Census Bureau has faced in asking Hispanics about their ethnic and racial background in surveys. Since 1980, the Census Bureau has asked everyone in the U.S. about their Hispanic origin separately from their race, and since 2000 it has allowed people to select more than one race in addition to their Hispanic background.

But attempts by the Census Bureau to reduce the use of the “some other race” category in the 2010 census by adding a note on the questionnaire explicitly stating that “Hispanic origins are not races” had limited impact. That year, 37% of Hispanic respondents selected “some other race,” not much smaller than the 42% who said the same in 2000.

To address these challenges in preparation for the 2020 decennial census, the Census Bureau is considering asking everyone living in the U.S. about their race or origin in a combined question. In other words, the form would ask people to identify their race or origin and would include Hispanic along with black, white, Asian, American Indian and Pacific Islander.

Preliminary results from some experiments using the combined question show that when Hispanic origin is integrated into the race question, a large majority of Latinos (81% on average) mark just the Hispanic box and no other race category.

As the total number U.S. Hispanics has rapidly increased in the last few decades, the Census Bureau has been under pressure to accurately measure racial identity of Hispanics. For example, race and Hispanic origin are used in the enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity and other anti-discrimination laws. At 54 million, Hispanics make up 17% of the nation’s population, and they are projected to grow to be 29% of the U.S. population by 2060, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1990 and 2013, the nation’s Hispanic population grew faster than any other racial or ethnic group.

Topics: Race and Ethnicity, U.S. Census, Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Hispanic/Latino Identity

  1. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a senior researcher focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    I check the box I feel like on that particular day. The US Census can try and figure out my race when I donate my body to science!

  2. Lena L1 year ago

    I am Native Californian

  3. Anonymous1 year ago

    The beauty about Hispanics and Latin America is the racial mixture that defines their common history. To force Hispanic to identify with the United States’ racial politics is to undermine the racial complexity and mixture of Latin America and Hispanics. I personally do not identify racially, as Hispanic is a part of my racial ancestry.

    1. Giaccomo Quattrocchi1 year ago

      That is why there is the mixed race option. Most latinos are not 100% white but a mixture of white “Spaniards” or “Portuguese” and American Indian “Aztecs” “Mayans” “Incas” and so forth, with different percentages in the mixtures, some are full black and some are half black, they could identify (if they elect so) as bi-racial or multiracial; many Americans who identify as Caucasians do so because they “look” white, although they have some mixture of Native American, which in consequence should put them in the multi-racial category. To sum it up, Hispanic is a background, and as far as race people should be able to elect the race they identify culturally more closely with despite they might actually be mixed race.

  4. Anonymous1 year ago

    To be historically accurate the classifications should be (1) indigenous native Americans, which in the United States are a very small minority because of the policy of extermination but in Mexico and Central and South America it represents the overwhelming majority of the populations who hold claim collectively to the land of the Americas, (2) Anglo colonizers, who historically represent the majority of the United States population together with later European settlers who assimilated into the Anglo culture, (3) African- Americans, who because of discrimination in the United States were segregated and not allowed to be included in the majority Anglo population but who integrated to some extent with indigenous native American populations, (4) Spanish colonizers, who as a minority in Mexico and Central and South America and were typically clergy or military leaders but who still held claim to a large portion of the United States southwest from whom the land was expropriated and whose language and culture were suppressed by the majority Anglo culture. So there are really only two classifications (1) Anglo colonizers and there descendants and (2) indigenous native Americans which would include the populations of Mexico and Central and South America which have large African content and which are included in this group along with African-Americans who were segregated in the United States and failed to assimilate into the majority Anglo culture.

  5. James Whelan1 year ago

    I am a 79 year old fourth generation white Caucasian of French/German/Engish. I always considered the term Hispanic as only applied to those from Spain or direct decendants from Spain, of any race, who are residing in another country.
    Those who are from a Spanish speaking country or Spanish speaking for any other reason do not automatically qualify to be Hispanic.

    It wasn’t until about the 1970’s that Hispanic has taken on this new definition in the U.S. that to be from the Spanish speaking countries of North, Central and South America you would be considered Hispanic of any race. The U.S. always seems to make an effort to “pigeon hole” people for convenience or to satisfy those who can’t wrap their brain around this not so simple category.

    1. Glenda Downing1 year ago

      I have to agree with James. Hispanic is certainly not a race of any kind. If being hispanic indicates your level of Spanish / Portuguese I and my sibs can match any Mexican yet the state of California and the federal government consider us white because of our surnames.
      They are obviously only interested in those using Mexican Spanish as a language and have a Spanish sounding surname.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        I agree with James. There are Spanish speaking people of many ethnicities.

  6. Anonymous1 year ago

    I’m native American. Not Hispanic not Latino

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Native are just just black

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        Natives don’t have black skin, black people was kidnapped from their homes in Africa, carried to America and enslaved

        1. Tunji Legba1 year ago

          Native Americans are Red if we are going to use color codes.. Amerindians are far more related to East Asians genetically, tired of Black people claiming everyone

  7. Milena Bernardinello1 year ago

    I have a sense that everybody IMPLIES that anybody knows those definitions and ASSUME that all are on the same page. I am questioning these assumptions.

    I also questioning the limitations of these UScentric and US-cultural-specific terminology.

    MANY other countries DO NOT have the ‘concept’ of race, and neither a ‘racial’ identity, because of their historical homogeneous make-up.
    Ethnicity is instead a much more ingrained concept in many cultural group identity as it was historical carried over by the tribal sense of belonging, and passed to individuals through the tribal mores of their own ethnic group.
    It could be easily understood as in ‘what is your cultural identity?’ which is different from religion, language, or the passport nationality.

    I am wondering whether it is time to clearly state a DEFINITION for RACE and one for ETHNICITY, accompanied with examples.
    Potentially, an expansion including cultural-origins would capture the real picture of the complexity of the current and future US society.

    My race: white / my ethnicity is: European.
    My race is: white / my ethnicity is American as in US

    My race is: black – my ethnicity is: Latino
    My race is: black – my ethnicity is: AfricanAmerican as in US
    My race is: black – my ethnicity is: African

    My race is Asian – my ethnicity is Latino/ Hispanic
    My race is: ‘two-races” (Black & white) –
    my ethinicty is: Latino/American or Latino/ AfricanAmerican

    Thank you for addressing the issue and been open to listen.

  8. Parrot Sarnoso2 years ago

    I am Hispanic and here is my DNA results from FTDNA:
    61% European
    20% Native American
    10% African
    7% Asian
    2% Middle Eastern

    As you can see, we are mostly europeans.

    1. Mr Krabs2 years ago

      “mostly European” is 100% non-white. You are Hispanic, not European. Embrace your race.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        Hispanic is not a race. It is an ethnicity. You can be a black Hispanic or a white Hispanic.

      2. Anonymous1 year ago

        Hispanic actually means from Spain, the Spain that is in Europe. Latino is the term coined to refer to Spanish speakers. People who speak Spanish come in all races and many ethnicities. Embrace knowledge!

  9. Ben Dover2 years ago

    This is article was helpful. I live in Texas and the State Troopers pull over Hispanics that are from Mexico, but their race is marked as white.

  10. 8th Grader from North Cal2 years ago

    I believe that these selections are ancestral and White refers to people of European decent. Therefore people who consider themselves Hispanic I would consider them white as most are of Spanish decent.

  11. Danaija Robinson2 years ago

    Zoe Saldana, latina actress… Is black…

    Latino is not a race.
    Americans are very stupid people, and apparently latinos born and raised in America are not exempt from that stupidity. I know an Argentinian guy I went to school with…. He’s white.

    So speaking a language makes you a race now? Hell, then by that logic, all English speakers are white.

    People are just really stupid.

    1. Parrot Sarnoso2 years ago

      People from Jamaica speak english, therefore they are whites…..LOL

      1. Anonymous1 year ago


    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      So right, you are!

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      It’s not just about language, it’s about culture as well. I’m Latino, and I’m suppose to identify myself with a race, that in today’s America, aren’t really fond of MY people or their culture? Please. Your logic is a joke, and so are these “scholars”.

  12. Asian Spanish Speaker2 years ago

    Jesus Christ folks. This survey you’re speaking of was flawed because it involves Spanish speaking U.S. residents. Living in the United States, in and of itself, changes a person’s perspective. It means to be bombarded nonstop with the message that speaking this God forsaken language IS A RACE. Therefore, it’s no surprise that long term residents of the United States would consider themselves to be racially “Hispanic.” Moreover, you can’t make a race out of a culture. Did you know queen Maxima of Netherlands was Argentine? This quest to invent a race needs to stop. NOW.

  13. Jeff Forbess2 years ago

    This is very interesting on both a personal and professional level. My children were born in Bolivia and speak Spanish and are Bolivian citizens. Yet they have a Scottish surname and are “white”, my son in fact has red hair and freckles. Does this make my children less Bolivian, less Hispanic? On a professional level I teach my students that Hispanic is not a race. It isn’t just a language thing either. Many people who consider themselves Hispanic do not speak Spanish or speak only a little. EN REALIDAD CREO QUE NOSOTROS LOS QUE SOMOS DE ESTADOS UNIDOS PONEMOS DEMASIADA ENFASIS EN DETERMINAR LA RAZA DE UNO. When I returned to the United States after living in Bolivia for seven years I found it very grating that my students were constantly talking about being a quarter this and a quarter that, and being mixed, etc… It is as though all we still see is just race. Am I Hispanic? Are my kids? To most people probably not. But have they grown up speaking Spanish and being surrounded by worldviews and cultural experiences that are more common in Latin America than in the United States? Yes, so where does that put us? We don’t belong anywhere according to these narrow racial and ethnic categories. Espero con ganas el dia cuando ya no estemos obsesionados con colocar a cada uno en categorias inventadas por el hombre, cuando nos veamos tal como Dios nos ha creado, como seres individuales, cada uno con una historia valiosa y distinta.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Thank you !!!, I myself have never considered my self hispanic. I was born and raised in California, my parents were born in California. Now my grand parents on both sides were born in Mexico.

      I am a Mexican/American. I am bi-lingual English/Spanish. I also read Spanish. I am 65 years old. I have NEVER liked to be called Hispanic,Latino. To me that is alot of different people(raza).

      Well I just know that I am a Mexican/American , punto y ya!

  14. Becky D2 years ago

    I think the questions should be seperate.
    what is your primary language? English? spanish? German?

    what is your race? white, black, asian, mixed. i grew up knowing there were only 3 races in the world defined by how your hair grows, so the rest should be considered mixed.

    my father has mexican in him and my mother is english, yet i look mexican and speak only english. everyone assumes i should have always put hispanic but i put white because i do not speak spanish. this would not be a quesion if my father had italian or greek in him.

    1. Tunji Legba1 year ago

      What race is a South Asian (Indian Pakistani Bangladesh) There are almost 2 Billion of them

  15. layla2 years ago

    People from most south American countries are a mix race. So I think there should be a mix raced option on gov forms. Just because one speaks spanish doesn’t mean he is of the same race. People from Spain are white and they speak Spanish.

    1. Agustin2 years ago

      Not really, I am from Argentina and I am of English, Irish and Italian ancestry, other than the mixed nationalities, the race is the same, so why you want me to be a mixed race again?

    2. Parrot Sarnoso2 years ago

      Most “white” americans are mixed too.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        Yes but you’re still white.

  16. Bennie2 years ago

    Most people who are concerned with race are mostly White and Black. The only difference is that most Whites act very aggressive angry, nasty, hateful, and are very serious about how they feel but only show their true colors when truly comfortable and safe and Blacks joke about it, but don’t preoccupy their time worrying about it. #MyPersonalBelief
    Point: say what you mean and get on with your life. #SaveYourMentalHealth which is what is really costing Americans money, not immigrants who have babies in America. #DoTheMath …immigrants or social injustice in America= $$$$$ against all races who are not white #openYourEyes this is a ploy that has gone on for centuries. Why target Mexicans? Largest growing population in the US. That’s why Hispanics is not consider a race, you have to divide your self into Black or white because Whites don’t ever want to be a “minority” so they need more people on their team. When filling out your race, put other and country or Hispanic/Latino. Don’t fall for their condescending shenanigans. They can say Latinos have many races, but so do whites. How many countries in Europe, how many mixed races? Exactly. Is all a ploy. Don’t fall for it, that’s why they call Latinos degrading names like “toilet cleaners” because they think that’s all we are worth. Use you power, which is our number… We will soon be the majority so start to speak up and stand out. Don’t follow the pattern to fit into society, be your self. Because at the end of the day we all know this is screwed up. Don’t ignore it or the problem will become our kids problems. Do it for your family!!!!

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Why is being white automatically a bad thing and why is it that theses comments are never considered racist. You are describing white people as hateful, but you yourself are being hateful. Are we trying to achieve equality or just a different version of inequality. Because from what I can tell it’s just a different version and people like you aren’t interested in equality. How we repeat the same mistakes over again. Racist shouldn’t matter this much my opinion.

  17. Fito Pineda2 years ago

    They clump all the rest of Spanish speakers into one group even though a good 20 % don’t speak Spanish at all . that’s where the confusion comes from we are considered mestizo. Half of Native American, And Half of European. That’s 60% of us, then we have a a 30% that are of native Indian but they do not speak a native language or realize that they are Native Indian. ( the features tell it all). But they think that Hispanic is a race, just because their main language is Spanish, and their is very little education in between. You living in Latin America can tell who is black, Black mix, Native Indian, native Indian mix. or any European decent considered White.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Thats right

  18. Fito Pineda2 years ago

    If they want to categorize us as a Race, then we would be of Native American decent and European. because of the Spanish. But the Spanairds knew this 500 years ago that’s why they called us mestizo race. We are not 100% European, or 100% native american. But you do have 100% native american from Mexico and Guatemala who are 100% native to the Americas. but The U.S census has no category for them even when they speak the Americas native language. it seems like they want to bunch all of the ethnicities of Central and South America into one category. IT’s like saying every Asian, Black, Or European living in the usa would be under Caucasian.

    1. joaquin flores2 years ago

      There is already an option for that its multiracial

  19. Peter B. Ives2 years ago

    This proposed use of Hispanic as a racial designator demonstrates the shallow thinking of the Census Bureau. They seem more interested in servicing other government agencies’ desires to classify citizens for their own purposes than in reflecting reality, which is a vast and variable array of mixtures (mestizo). The irony is that with the increasing ethnic/racial intermarriage rate in the USA we are creating a new mestizo or “raza cosmica”, to use Jose Vasconselos’ term.

  20. Angel2 years ago

    I personally hate being categorized. As a child of mixed descent, is it not enough to be categorized as American. After all, that’s all i know. I grew up there and to be asked to identify myself as anything else is insulting.

  21. Robert Xavier Chavez Apodaca2 years ago

    My mother then 80, lived in far-West Texas, was asked by the Social Security clerk, to check her race as Mexican American, to which she refused. The clerk then proceeded to state that my mother was being uncooperative. To which my mother replied; I am an Apodaca, and we have been living in this area since 1683 when my family were all citizens of Spain, and well before Mexico or the USA was independent nations.
    So infact she would be lying if she stated said that she was a Mexican American.

  22. Edga2 years ago

    The term Hispanic or Latino as used in its contemporary form in the U.S. is not correct and only serves to distort the perception of history.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Totally agree.

  23. MHS2 years ago

    1. Very interesting findings. How can one access the documentation for the survey, e.g. survey methodology, sample frame/universe, actual questionnaire and responses?

  24. Edgar Rodriguez2 years ago

    There is a conscious effort to confuse people of American Indian descent into believing they are something other than that. In my opinion it is a negation of their historical importance to refer to them as “Latino”. Also to call a “White Hispanic” “Latino” and portray the “label” as a “colored” label as they do in the media also negates the importance of their role as descendants of the original “discoverers” of the Americas. The “Hispanic” history predates Anglo history in the United States and Americas. To muddle the definitions and intentionally corrupt and mis-apply the definitions of the terms American Indian, White, Hispanic, Latino, is a bait and switch tactic to deny that “Hispanics” of both American Indian descent and “Hispanics” of (White, esp. of Spanish) descent their place in American History.

  25. Jose Luis Rodriguez2 years ago

    I think you missed a key point in your study. You didn’t break it down by national origin which may have helped understand why majority identity Hispanic as a race. I think your study reports the Mexican American view because they are the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in the USA.
    Obviously, Hispanic is not a race. We are made of mostly white, black and Native American with sprinkles of Asian, Jewish and Arab. The majority of Hispanics are of mix of the main three races I mentioned above. And the mixed probably occurred decades or centuries ago. Thats why we mark other mix races as noted in the census. We do not fix in an Anglo box. We are Hispanic!

  26. Miguel Alemañy2 years ago

    The opposite of Hispanic is not black, white or green, the opposite of Hispanic is Anglo. Is Anglo then a race with black white asian and mix people? Does that even make sense? I don’t get why so many people seem confused by this very simple concept.

  27. jbetts2 years ago

    Shows how aggressively we turn somersaults to………..support what we want to believe? We PRETEND to believe in diversity, which is more a political concept with little value. What is diversity? We are ALL diverse, except perhaps progressive fascists. Sorry, slipped out.

    Hispanics, by definition, are defined by language – well, sort of, in theory anyway.
    Why do we even bother with race any more? What meaning can it have, save to collect statistics and feed the distribution trough – oh, and feed that natural propensity of people to not want to have anything to do with people not like them. Actually that means not looking like or acting like them; whatever that means.

    We are hypocrites, pure and simple; but hypocrites that strive to put power on their side.

    1. Min Zee2 years ago

      absolutely agree!

  28. From Spain, Unión Europea2 years ago

    En España somos blancos (no se entiende el término caucásico, ¿quizá del Cáucaso en Asia?) y somos latinos porque somos de los países que conformaban Roma y su lengua, el latín, y somos hispanos que es sinónimo de “español”, natural de las tierras y “naciones” de España, en Europa, por si algún estadounidense todavía no sabe qué es eso y dónde está el tal país, por cierto, origen de ese país que hoy se llama Estados Unidos.
    Nuestra sorpresa viene cuando se les llama “latinos” a los americanos (de toda América) que hablan lenguas latinas; y viene cuando se les llama “hispanos-hispánicos” a los americanos (de toda América) que hablan español o castellano. Y esto, sean de la raza que sean: blancos, amerindios, negros y todas las mezclas habidas y por haber.
    De hecho, los “latinos”, stricto sensu, son los naturales del Lacio, región italiana cuya capital es Roma.
    Pero en fin, que cada uno llame a las cosas como quiera. El problema viene cuando de tanto nombre, se desvirtúan las realidades.
    Buenos días.

    1. Latino-Americanos2 years ago

      Yo conocí a una familia de españoles negros. El término ‘Latino’ no se refiere a una sola raza. Tus palabras son muy ignorantes. ¿Porque te molesta que usen el término ‘Latino’ para describir a una persona (de latinoamérica) de ascendencia latina europea? Deberías aprender más sobre la historia de latinoamérica. La mayoría de los latinoamericanos tienen ascendencia latina europea, sobre todo ascendencia española y portugués, pero también algunos tienen ascendencia italiana. Tienen el mismo derecho que tu de usar ese término para describir su origen étnico.

      1. Irene Carolina Báez Chirinos Janz1 year ago

        Porque el termino “latino” es una total aberración. Yo soy de Venezuela y soy tan americana como cualquier estadounidense porque America no es un país, es un CONTINENTE. Además, el término es racista, pero como nos han lavado el cerebro y nos han hecho creer que somos “latinos”, nosotros terminamos aceptandolo. Si aprendes sobre historia, te darias cuenta que el primer Lugar en ser llamado America estaba en el sur, no en el norte. Si quieres Defender nuestra historia, empieza a defender tu identidad como americana, al fin y al cabo los que hablamos espannol en el CONTINENTE AMERICA tenemos que empezar a dejar de usar la palabra “latino” que nos simplifica a una “raza” y niega completamente que tenemos nuestros origenes.

  29. Bernadette Sanchez2 years ago

    Interesting findings from your survey. What age group answered your survey? I grew up believing that we are all one race, the human race, however I often wonder who coined the term “Hispanic”. Whose panic? Personally I do not like the term and will avoid using it.
    Thank you for your great work.

    1. Ana Gonzalez-Barrera2 years ago

      Thank you Bernadette! This is among adults (ages 18 and older). You might also want to check this other blog post out: pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/0…

  30. Kelly2 years ago

    Why was it separated out in the first place? White and black make just as much (little?) sense as the Hispanic category.

    1. Ana Gonzalez-Barrera2 years ago

      Hello Kelly,
      Here’s another of our blog posts that might answer your question. pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/0…

  31. María Dolores Bolívar2 years ago

    Being Hispanic is something that is bogus. Hispanic refers to language, in the case of anybody coming from Latin America. In Mexico, where I grew up, nobody in the right mind would ask about your race. If they did, the answer would need an entire genealogical study. I have traced by ancestors back to seven generations and cannot tell their race for sure. In the caste system that ruled in New Spain until 1821 people relied on the corruptibility of authorities, to purchase the right papers. The higher you go into the social strata, the most likely it is to find “sangre manchada” (mixed blood) that is whitened administratively, since it matter to those who wanted to marry into the purer breeds. Aside from that people would find it excessive to answer I am 2% Otomi, 3% Aztec, 10% Yaqui, etcetera. The census should not try to impose the narrow views of race into others who don´t care about race. But if you think you got it and you continue with the categories, then you should be ready to accept that most Latin American Immigrants view themselves as Native Americans; an important group is also African American or Afro Caribbean; and some too view themselves as White Caucasian. My take, eliminate the racial category and move to identifying people by their original nationality, and secondarily their ethnicity leaving it open to whatever they want to answer, not what you think they will answer. The purpose is to count, isn´t it?

    1. Norinda2 years ago

      Well said.

    2. Tunji Legba1 year ago

      The problem people have with nationality is that many countries are very new, nationality tells you less than ethnicity or Race.

  32. Les Biffle2 years ago

    Okay. If Hispanics consider Hispanic or Latino as a racial term, then my race is German, Dutch? My family has been here for about 300 years, but why does this matter? We are American.