By Abraham Morales
SE2 The Megaphone
George Zimmerman is of mixed ethnic background. His mother is from Peru and his father is white non-Hispanic (a term used by the U.S. Census Department). The younger Zimmerman has been described by some national media as “white Hispanic.” Beyond the controversy and seriousness of this news story, my focus for this piece is the term “white Hispanic,” which could generate some confusion.
Is it possible to be both white and Hispanic? Of course!
It’s a common mistake; usually when we talk about different cultural groups and backgrounds we jump back and forth between race and ethnicity, even throwing in nationality. It’s easy to categorize people as black, white or Hispanic. But let’s remember that – for sociopolitical purposes (not anthropological or scientific reasons) – the U.S. government has provided definitions regarding race. And, according to that criterion, Hispanic or Latino is not a race but an ethnicity. My previous blog post about Romney being Hispanic (if he wants), also talks about that.
Part of the confusion comes from the way we try to describe people. For instance, on the news you often hear a description of a person as Hispanic, for example, or as white. But, that same person could be both. Actor Andy Garcia, Denver Nuggets player Rudy Fernandez and current Dancing with the Stars contestant William Levy are just some recognized faces who are white and Hispanic.
As I have mentioned in recent presentations, I happen to personally know people representing each of the races in the U.S. classification who are also Hispanics. For example, my brother has a best friend whose last name is Isimoto– he is Mexican-Japanese. He lives in Mexico but, if he lived here, he would be considered Hispanic and Asian. I said if he lived in the U.S. because the term Hispanic or Latino is mostly used here. I became a Hispanic 12 years ago when I moved to the U.S. Before that I was only Mexican.
In a similar context, cable network Mund2 put together a series of video interviews about what it means to be black and Latino in the U.S., featuring personalities such CNN’s Soledad O’Brien talking about their experiences.
And just in case you were wondering how many white Hispanics there are in the country, according to the 2010 Census there are a lot! Out of the 50 million Hispanics living in the U.S., 56%, or almost 27 million people, said they are white Hispanics.