“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.

“The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness,” post-1945 (Painter)

“The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness,” post-1945. “Included now were Mexicans and Mexican Americans … Since the mid-1930s, federal and Texas state laws had defined Mexicans as white and allowed them to vote in Texas’s white primary.”

The Second World War rearranged Americans by the millions. […] Louis Adamic had dreamed of a second, more homogenized immigrant generation, and one had already started in the Civilian Conservation Corps, fruit of the New Deal’s earliest days. Now, a decade later, millions rather than tens of thousands left home.

Let us remember that this mixing occurred with several notable exceptions. Black Americans–who numbered some 13.3 million in 1940–were, of course, largely excluded. Their time would come much later, and with revolutionary urgency. But also excluded were Asian Americans. Even so, other Americans–provided they qualified as white for federal purposes–experienced a revolution of their own. Indeed, the white category itself had expanded enormously, well beyond European immigrants and their children. Included now were Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

[360] The handsome Julio Martinez from San Antonio plays a leading role in the multicultural Army squad of Norman Mailer’s best-selling war novel The Naked and the Dead (1948). […] Since the mid-1930s, federal and Texas state laws had defined Mexicans as white and allowed them to vote in Texas’s white primary.[4] While Asian American and African American service personnel were routinely segregated and mistreated, Mexican Americans fought in white units and appeared in the media of war, witness the boom in popular war movies like Bataan (1944), staring the Cuban Desi Arnaz (who in the 1950s would become a television star as Lucille Ball’s husband in the long-running I Love Lucy series).

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 359-360.

(N.B.: this account is largely wrong, and symptomatic of an all-too-frequent mistake in the historical studies of expanding constructions of whiteness)

  1. [4]Thomas A. Guglielmo, “Fighting for Caucasian Rights: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and the Transnational Struggle for Civil Rights in World War II Texas,” Journal of American History 92, no. 4 (March 2006): 1215-16. After 1945, Native American Indians were included with Caucasians (1232).