Power of One
My name is Brianna, I am a 23 year old woman, and I am a white Latina/Asian American. I know what you’re thinking. That’s a mouthful and probably a little bit confusing or irrelevant for some. Before I delve in to exactly how and why that is my “assigned identity,” I’ll give you a bit of my background.
I was raised mostly by my mother and her side of the family. My grandfather is from Mexico and was living in Texas when he joined the military at the age of 15. While stationed in Japan, he met my grandmother. They had a child, and eventually moved to University Place to settle in at Fort Lewis and had four more children. Eventually my mom met my white (German and French) dad, which makes me one-quarter Mexican, one-quarter Japanese, and half white.
So here’s how I got my “assigned identity.” You know those questionnaires you’re always filling out that ask about your race or ethnicity? Our identifications are broken down into three categories: race, ethnicity, and nationality. Race is how you are perceived by society, based on shared qualities like skin color. Ethnicity is your being part of a social group that has national or cultural traditions; your origin. Nationality is your belonging to a nation, which is, in short, your citizenship.
For me, those questionnaires have been a struggle to fill out for as long as I can remember. Do I just put white? Do I mark other? Does it matter? At home I was Mexican/Japanese and everywhere else,— to everyone else — I was white. This leaves me asking myself, can I really claim I’m Mexican/Japanese? Do I have any right to identify as so ethnic when I’m so white? The truth is, I still don’t have many answers. How am I supposed to find these answers when the U.S. Census Bureau keeps confusing race and ethnicity?
For many years, I stuck with the vague yet simple “other” box. Until I learned that by doing so, I was undermining my own equity. The U.S. Census Bureau undertakes the count of the U.S. Population every ten years, and has included some data on race and ethnicity starting in 1970. It wasn’t until recently that they captured race and ethnicity as separate, and it was almost changed back with the new 2020 format, but the likelihood of someone marking “other” or “white” in the confusion affects the visibility of inequality in the Hispanic/ Latinx community.
The 2020 census will continue to contribute to the false idea that people of Hispanic or Latin origin are all of the same race and color by not including a single Hispanic/ Latin origin group under the “white” or “black” race box.
Even writing this article, I’m left with more questions than answers about my identification. Growing up a white Mexican/ Asian has been an experience to say the least. There are countless facets and complexities to being a white minority that I simply can’t fit in, but I hope at least this can start a conversation about the suppression of a diverse demographic. In a society that looks at color, it doesn’t leave much room for those who are both white and ethnically diverse.