'Hispanic' not race choice on Census

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Roger and Armida Contreras ask a U.S. Census worker why Hispanic isn't a race option on their Census packet. Close to 70 people attended a political awareness forum given in Spanish at St. Patrick's Church on Sunday.

WALLA WALLA -- Roger and Armida Contreras came to a U.S. Census information meeting at St. Patrick's Church on Sunday feeling a little left out.

"Why are we not on there," Roger asked, referring to the race identification section of his Census packet.

The husband and wife commented how they felt excluded from the race choices, which include white, black or a dozen different Asian races.

"I don't consider myself white at all," Contreras said.

According to regional U.S. Census spokesperson Noemi Ortega, Hispanic or Latino are not race options but cultural options. She added it is an issue that comes up every time she gives an informational meeting for Spanish speakers.

"Race refers to the outside appearance of the person. For Hispanics it is really a challenge because what we are learning is most consider themselves cafe or brown," Ortega said.

Almost all the participants Sunday at a political awareness forum, which began with a U.S. Census information presentation, were light-brown complexioned. But light brown or "cafe" in Spanish is not an option on the Census.

"It was the same question (in the 2000 Census). And we had the same challenges. And apparently we did not learn very much," she said.

Ortega couldn't advise Hispanics on what to put on their Census forms. She did note that many Hispanics choose "Other" under race and put in a variety of identifiers: Latino, Hispanic, Mayan, Native American and Mestizo.

"We cannot tell people what their race is. The purpose is for them to identify themselves. We are trying to avoid labeling people," Ortega said.

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