I just finished reading Richard Alba and Victor Nee’s Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration for my sociology course on ethnicity. I’m in the middle of writing up a summary and critique on the 300-page book. It’s not a bad book, health in fact it’s a great read if you really want to understand theories of assimilation and the gradual assimilation of past and recent immigrant groups. However, they fall short in some areas.
Alba and Nee believe Latinos who choose “white” on the census perceive themselves a white racially and are probably light-skinned. They don’t provide any evidence for this. Their assumption is that the people who chose white are probably less indigenous looking and are probably not black (e.g., Afro-Caribbeans).
I think this is simplistic. The 2000 census didn’t present us with much options for identifying ourselves racially. Our choices were white, black, American Indian & Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian & other Pacific Islanders. I don’t see myself as any of those, but I still marked something when I got my census form at my dorm room.
I chose white.
And I hated doing so because I don’t feel white and I know others don’t see me as white. I didn’t chose American Indian or Alaska Native because I didn’t want to falsely increase those numbers. Choosing this category also meant that I’d have to fill in a tribal affiliation. Despite wanting to feel more in touch with my indigenous roots, I can’t even tell you the names of the tribes my families come from in Mexico. I didn’t choose black or the other categories because I have no knowledge/evidence that I have black or Asian ancestry.
I chose white… but only because I had to choose something. There’s no mestiza/o option on the United States census.