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Newsweek Got it Wrong: Hispanics Are Not a Race


September 22, 2000
Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved.

Says Newsweek in its special report on "Redefining Race in America:" "The old labels of black and white can't begin to capture the subtleties of blood and identity."

Unfortunately, the editors blew it when it came to the "subtleties" of Hispanic identity.

The report did nothing to straighten out the very American misconception that Hispanics form a race of our own, distinct and apart from black, white, Asian and Indian.

The mistake began in the lead story, which opened with a brief profile of a Peruvian American teenager who, Newsweek noted, has "dated Latinas, whites and Indians." As if a Latina could not possibly also be white or Indian. A little later Newsweek reported that at Netscape an influx of engineers who are "Indians, other Asians and Hispanics brought whites below the 50 percent mark."

But couldn't some of those Hispanics be white too?

Only in a chart did the magazine acknowledge that Hispanics may be "of any race." The inconsistency speaks volumes about Newsweek's -- and America's -- confusion about Hispanics. The unspoken assumption, in the report as well as in this country in general, is that Hispanics belong to a race other than black, white, Indian or Asian.

That is just plain wrong. There is no such thing as a Hispanic race.

The undisputed fact -- understood just about everywhere in the world except the United States -- is that Hispanic individuals may be of any race or combination of races.

César Chávez was mestizo, the mixed descendant of Spaniards and the indigenous people of Mexico -- two distinct races. Since most Mexicans share similar racial origins, and most Hispanics in the U.S. are Mexican, most Hispanics in the U.S. are indeed mestizo, with the brown-skinned "look" that most Americans associate with being Latino. But then the subtleties that Newsweek ignored come into play.

The fact that most Mexicans are mestizo does not mean all are. There are black Mexicans. There are white Mexicans -- new President Vicente Fox is a white man of Spanish ancestry, like just about every president Mexico has ever had (surely a sign of racial discrimination in Mexico, and a reminder that Mexicans themselves are aware of racial distinctions inside the country).

There are Mexicans of unmixed indigenous blood -- "Indians," to put it in different terms.

Same goes for Hispanics of other nationalities. Yankee pitcher Orlando Hernández is a black man, just like Jesse Jackson; but Hernández is Cuban and therefore Hispanic while Jackson is not. The President of Peru is a man named Alberto Fujimori, whose parents immigrated from Japan to Peru; he is as racially "Asian" as anyone in Japan, but he is also Peruvian and therefore Hispanic.

What Hispanics have in common is language and some cultural affinities, not race.

If Americans can readily grasp the notion that people born in, say, Massachusetts, can be racially black or white, why is it so difficult to understand that the same thing applies to people born in, say, Guatemala? All of this is explained by the parallel history of Anglo America and Latin America.

Both regions were originally populated by what are termed "Indians," whether Sioux in the north or Incas in the south. After 1492 whites from Europe began to arrive, and the descendants of Englishmen are still in "Anglo" America while the descendants of Spaniards and Portuguese are still in "Latin" America.

Then those Anglo and Latin settlers brought blacks from Africa as slaves, which is why Brazil, Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean and the United States all have a black population. Then immigrants from across the world arrived in both of the Americas -- in Argentina millions of people have Italian ancestry, just like in the U.S. In Venezuela, there is a large population of Arabic ancestry, just like the U.S. In Brazil there is a substantial Japanese community, again, just like in the U.S.

It's simple, really, Newsweek. The countries where Hispanic immigrants come from are populated by white people, black people, Indian people, Asian people, people of mixed race. No different from the United States.

So it is only logical that Hispanic immigrants here are white, black, Indian, Asian, of mixed race. No different from the rest of the United States.

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