“The US Census… had begun to notice Latin Americans in the 1940s” (?) (Painter)

New new immigrants of the post-1965 era, overwhelmingly from outside Europe, were upending American racial conventions. Asians, greatly rising in number, were rapidly being judged to be smarter and, eventually, to be richer than native-born whites. Latinos formed 13 percent of the population by 2000, edging out African Americans as the most numerous minority.

The U.S. census, without peer in scoring the nation’s racial makeup, had begun to notice Latin Americans in the 1940s by counting up heterogeneous peoples with Spanish surnames and hastily lumping them together as “Hispanics.” Though an impossibly crude measurement, it survived until 1977. By that point, the federal government needed more precise racial statistics to enforce civil rights legislation. To this end, the Office of Management and budget issued Statistical Policy Directive no. 15.

Here was a change worth noting: in the racially charged decades of the early twentieth century, governments at all levels had passed laws to separate Americans by race. […] The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 began to change all that, so that by the late twentieth century the rationale for counting people by race had morphed into a means of keeping track of civil rights enforcement. Statistical Policy Directive no. 15 set the terms for racial and ethnic classification throughout American society by directing federal agencies–including the U.S. census–to collect data according to four races (black, [385] white, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander–Hawaiian was added later as a concession to protests) and one ethnic category (Hispanic/Latino, which is not racial). Elaboration was good for civil rights, but it opened the way to chaos.

Under these guidelines the Hispanic/Latino classification portended enormous turmoil. Now that there was a “non-Hispanic white” category, did there not also exist Hispanic white people? Yes, no, and other. Faced with the given racial choices on the census of 2000, fully 42.2 percent of Latinos checked “some other race,” rather than “black” or “white,” throwing nearly 6 percent of Americans into a kind of racial limbo.[1]

In addition, the U.S. Census of 2000 had to increase a deeper and more personal recognition of multiracial identities. For the first time, respondents were allowed to describe themselves as belonging to one or more of fifteen “racial” identities.

History of White People, 384-385.

(N.B.: But this account seems confused. The Census didn’t start counting Latinos in 1940, it started counting them in 1930 with the “Mexican” racial category and then switched to the surname method when protest killed the category. The 1930 decision wasn’t initially developed to serve civil rights law; it was part of the racial “darkening” of Latinx people following the 1920s-1930s and heralded the age of mass deportation. Etc.)

  1. [1]Victoria Hattam, “Ethnicity and the Boundaries of Race: Rereading Directive 15,” Daedalus 134, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 61-62, 67.

CNN, “The Decline of the White Voter: How the Electorate has changed in 2016” (Juana Summers)

In 2016, American Latinxs are non-white / brown / people of color:

Thirty-one percent of eligible voters will be racial or ethnic minorities, up from 29% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. And the share of non-Hispanic white voters eligible to vote will be the lowest in history, the continuation of a steady decline in white voters over the past three decades.

It’s a stark reminder of the shifting demographics of the country: The Census Bureau projects that no one racial group will be a majority of the country by the year 2044. Republicans and Democrats looking to chart an electoral future as the country continues to grow browner and younger will have to take heed of these shifts.

In the 1980 presidential election, white voters made up 88% of the electorate. That year, Ronald Reagan won 56% of non-Hispanic whites and captured the presidential election in a landslide. Four years later, against Walter Mondale, Reagan won them by 30 points, 66% to 34%. Since Reagan’s time though, the white share of the electorate has declined by a few percentage points each presidential year.

[…]

Why the white vote’s shrinking

One reason is because overall, the white population in the United States is growing older and the younger generations of Americans are increasingly diverse, fueled largely by the growth of the Latino population in the US.
Juana Summers, “The decline of the white voter: How the electorate has changed in 2016,” CNN.com (November 8, 2016). Accessed February 2, 2017. (Original URL.)

1936, El Paso: Bureau of Vital Stats reclassifies Mexicans as “colored” population (Foley)

In 1936, in El Paso, Texas, white city officials challenged the traditional classification of Mexicans as whites in the city’s birth and death records. The county health officer, T. J. McCamant, and Alex K. Powell, the city registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, adopted a new policy of registering the births and deaths of Mexican-descent citizens as “colored” rather than “white.”[14] Both McCamant and Powell claimed that they were simply following the regulations established by the Department of Commerce and Bureau of the Census and that officials in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio used the same classification system.[15] McCamant also acknowledged that changing the classification of Mexicans from white to colored automatically lowered the infant mortality rate for whites in a city where Mexicans comprised over sixty percent of the population, most of whom were poor and suffered higher rates of infant mortality than did whites. Because the El Paso Chamber of Commerce had hoped to market El Paso as a health resort for those suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments, it became [131] necessary to disaggregate Mexicans from the white category on birth records and to move them into the colored category, thereby automatically lowering the infant mortality rate for “non-Hispanic whites.”

The Mexican American community of El Paso, as well as Mexicans across the border in neighboring Juarez, became furious over this racial demotion and mobilized to have their whiteness restored. Members of the El Paso council of the League of United Latin American Citizens and other community leaders immediately filed an injunction in the Sixty-fifth district court. Cleofas Calleros, a Mexican American representative of the National Cahtolic Welfare Council of El Paso, wrote to the attorney representing the twenty-six Mexican Americans who had filed the injunction, “Is it a fact that the Bureau [of the Census] has ruled that Mexicans are ‘colored’, meaning the black race?”[16]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 130-131.
  1. [14]Herald-Post, Oct. 6 and 7, 1936; La Prensa (San Antonio), Oct. 10, 1936; and New York Times, Oct. 21, 1936, in Cleofas Calleros Collection, University of Texas at El Paso, hereafter cited as CCC. All references from this collection are from box 28, folder 1 (“Color Classification of Mexicans”). See also Mario García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship: The Case of El Paso, 1936,” New Mexico Historical Review 59 (Apr., 1984): 187-204. García, who based his article on the same file from the Calleros collection, argues that Mexican American leaders used the controversy over racial classification of Mexicans “to show Anglo leaders that Mexicans would not accept second-class citizenship.” (p. 201). While that is no doubt true, García mistakenly argues that Mexican Americans used the politics of citizenship rather than race in forging racial identities as whites. As Caucasians, Mexican Americans asserted their own racial superiority over African Americans and other “people of color.”
  2. [15]Mr. Calleros to Mr. Mohler, memo, Oct. 9, 1936, p. 1, CCC.
  3. [16]Ibid., p. 2.

1930: U.S. Census guidelines on counting “Mexicans” as “not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese” (Foley)

Third, the U.S. Census had always counted persons of Mexican descent as whites, except in 1930, when a special category was created for “Mexicans.” The question of Mexican racial identity became especially acute during the immigration restriction debates of the 1920s. This broad exemption from immigration quotas led to the historic congressional debates in the 1920s by restrictionists determined to close the door to Mexicans. The Bureau of the Census decided that beginning with 1930 it would establish a new category to determine how many persons of Mexican descent resided in the United States, legally or illegally. Before 1930 all Mexican-descent people were counted simply as white persons, because the racial categories at that time included Negro, White, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. The 1930 census [130] created, for the first time in U.S. history, the separate category of “Mexican,” which stipulated that “all persons born in Mexico, or having parents born in Mexico, who are not definitely white, negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese, should be returned as Mexican.” This meant that census workers determined whether to record a particular Mexican household as “white” or “Mexican.” About ninety-six percent of Mexican-descent people were counted under this new category of mexican; only four percent were counted as white.[13] Mexicans had, for the first time in U.S. history, been counted as a nonwhite group. The government of Mexico as well as numerous Mexican Americans protested this new classification. Bowing to pressure, the U.S. government abandoned the category of Mexican in the 1940 census but sought other means of identifying the Latino population, by identifying those with Spanish surnames or households whose dominant language was Spanish.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 129-130.
  1. [13]

“Further, they sought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as ‘non-white’.” Administrative classification, school segregation, and LULAC. (De Leon)

LULAC’s commitment was to improving the human condition for all within the Mexican community regardless of class, even nativity. Though the organization restricted membership to the native born, it did accept those who were naturalized (the organization argued that the foreign born had their defenders in the Mexican consul, but LULAC leaders worked closely with the consuls in cases involving Mexican nationals). Ideologically, LULAC sought to act upon old problems. LULACers still combated the entrenched racist sentiments holding that Mexicans were “unclean” and the Anglo contention that Mexican Americans were not white folks.[20] In response, the organization launched efforts to secure civil liberties and access to opportunity by trying to overturn segregation; in their view the practice stood out as the most personal reminder that Anglo Americans considered Mexican Americans second-class citizens.[21] Further, they fought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as “non-whites.” Protest from LULAC councils across the state forced the Census Bureau to retract the categorization. Similar pressure exerted upon the Social Security Administration that same year forced the Social Security Board to accept the application of Mexican Americans as white.[22]

Similarly, the league worked doggedly to pry open more opportunities in education. It initially challenged school segregation in the case of Independent School District, et al. v. Salvatierra (1931) arguing for an end to the deliberate segregation of Mexican children in Del Rio. A Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled that arbitrary segregation was unjust but sided with school officials who contended that the students’ retention of the Spanish language made segregation necessary.[23] Without funds to follow up on Salvatierra, LULAC pursued other tactics, such as going before school districts and conferring with administrators to argue for better teaching for Mexican-American children. To disseminate their faith in education, LULACers organized evening schools in barrios and conducted meetings that focused on the topic of U.S. citizenship. They also undertook fundraisers to subsidize the education of good student prospects who might become skilled workers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.[24]

De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 102.

  1. [20]De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, pp. 81, 86, 87-89; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 232.
  2. [21]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, pp. 301-302; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Let All of Them Take Heed”: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas, 1910-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), p. 76.
  3. [22]Mario T. García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” New Mexico Historical Review, LIX (April, 1984), 188, 198-199, 200-201.
  4. [23]Everett Ross Clinchy, “Equality of Opportunity for Latin Americans in Texas” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1954), pp. 188-189.
  5. [24]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, p. 272; San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” p. 81; Márquez, LULAC, pp. 28-29.