basic five categories cited above. The census is also allowed to use a category of “other race.”


The Ambiguity of Race

As a social–cognitive construct, the meaning of race in the United States has changed and will likely continue to change over time with changing sociopolitical norms, economic patterns, and waves of immigration (e.g., the assimilation of some European immigrant groups from “nonwhite” to “white” status in the first half of the twentieth century and the growing acknowledgment of mixed-race origins in the twenty-first century). Moreover, race has and may continue to have different meanings for different groups, sometimes overlapping and sometimes not (Lieberman, 1993). For instance, some Hispanics, who can be of any race in the OMB classification system, identify themselves primarily by ethnic or national origin (e.g., Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican) (de la Garza et al., 1992).5 In contrast, other Hispanics consider Hispanic or Latino to be a race on a par with black, white, Asian, and American Indian (Denton and Massey, 1989; Harris, 2002; U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 1997). Furthermore, whereas historically Americans have most often viewed racial categories as mutually exclusive, Hispanics have tended to see race along a continuum (Nobles, 2000). Thus, there is research evidence that many Latin American and Latin Caribbean immigrants who come to the United States see themselves as being of mixed origin, most commonly European and American Indian or European and African.6

Shifts in societal views on race, political pressures from different groups, increasing diversity in the country’s population, and consequent changes in data collection standards and practices add ambiguity to the way we understand race and interpret data on race. Two specific measurement problems are inconsistent reporting for individuals and groups, currently and over time, and different data collection practices, such as self-reporting in surveys and, frequently, reporting by others in administrative records systems.


Although this identification may vary among Hispanics who are foreign versus native born, first versus second generation, and so on.


Over time and with greater exposure to U.S. culture and society, some Latin American immigrants and their children come to understand the Anglo-American conceptualization of race and shift to the U.S. taxonomy. Indeed, rising socioeconomic status, multiple generations born in the United States, and time spent in the United States reliably predict racial identification as “white,” and such identification is often used as an indicator of cultural assimilation (Massey and Denton, 1992).

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